Some of the most profound human experiences have identifiable and multiple factors that impact outcomes- from love to loss, to encountering mental and/or physical illness, to cultural and historical experiences of triumph and order to chaos and entropy. But there’s also aspects of experience we may not fully be able to have knowledge of and/or access. Here, releasing the need to know and inviting more helpful questions may provide a deeper understanding of the self and the object of inquiry.
In our individual lives, self-awareness is key. In building self-awareness, it’s useful to utilize cognitive understandings (our mind), our physical body (it holds a wisdom of its own), and our heart (internal emotional/spiritual understandings). In the West, we place a great emphasis on our minds, or “science,” and while the mind is beautiful and has its rightful place, we want to also connect it to our physicality and our heart.
How does this work? I think this is a lifelong process-and I certainly haven’t perfected the art-but there are areas we can condition regularly to support living well into the mystery. Let’s take a closer look at each of these:
Cognitively: As we notice our “automatic thoughts,” we may find we utter words to ourselves and/or others that are not helpful and not true. These thoughts can get us stuck in ways of “seeing and knowing” that aren’t quite skillful and limit our understanding. As we notice these things, we can change the language, and begin to dissolve the automatic thought, invite different thoughts and more helpful questions, which likely will provide more helpful answers. We can also examine our thoughts and most importantly, our fundamental beliefs: We may visit ideas taught in our family of origin, our culture, the Western and Eastern intellectual traditions and be in conversation with the teachings to find wisdom, direction, and perhaps gaps in understanding as many ideologies can reduce their system of thought to some “ism” of sorts: economics, nationalism, feminism, racism, individualism, environmentalism, among other “isms” with presentist assumptions. As we visit different philosophical landscapes, we may find a verdant field of more possibilities-and more mystery-which extends deeper humility in attempting to answer some bigger and complex questions, and extends respect to others that orient differently.
Physicality: Our bodies hold an awareness of their own. We feel and we can also change what we perceive and feel by our breath, movement, posture, temperature, etc. At a very basic level, notice whether you feel light or heavy when you think about someone or something. Notice your posture, your hands, your jaw, your brow, your chest, soften and open. In breathwork, yoga, EFT/tapping, meditation, somatic approaches and in therapy, people often release emotions stored in their body. Crying, shaking, rocking, verbal sounds are ways the body may release, untie physical and emotional knots and at times open one to seeing that the “this or that” of the perceived challenge holds more invitations to understanding the self-far beyond the mind-and that the body itself is in a dynamic interplay with mind and heart.
Heart Practice: Opening the heart is a beautiful practice that allows us to hold life with gentleness, connect with self/others by virtue of seeing ourselves and others in our/their totality, releasing/forgiving hurts, and increasing joy by gratitude! Practices can include: i) text study with application to something in your life: for example, reading about the importance of generosity and giving time or money to something important to you; ii) gratitude: listing, recalling, writing about, taking in the things, people, moments your grateful for, magnifying them and celebrating that you have the ability to recognize and experience the gifts of life-many intangible; iii) meditation: metta or loving-kindness meditation for which a felt sense of self, others, groups, the world are taken in with each inhalation and exhalation with blessings you wish upon them, and iv) I think a heart practice can be anything that gets us outside of self-focus, and gets us into our body, into our heart, in a dance of life that holds not only the joy, but also life’s pain and experiences Life holding all beings as precious, valued contributors to the known, the less known and the unknown…inviting us to more and more beautiful questions.