Some context: Excerpt from “Unexpected Results” by Standing Awareness practitioner, Marilyn Beech.
We live in the Age of Words. We think about life more often than we experience and feel ourselves alive. It seems obvious that we should identify with our thoughts, and that our conscious selves are the thinkers of these thoughts.
There is a lot of knowledge (and many functional processes that rely on that knowledge) that have always been part of animal life and that continue to function in a big way in the human animal. Our attention has become caught on thought and pretty much stays there, so we do not notice these still-functioning pathways.
But what if, in the long development of conscious thinking, we have merely let these other forms of knowledge atrophy? And what if those other forms actually enhanced many of the functions that we’ve categorized and named as physical, mental, and emotional? What if knowledge pathways that never lead to word formation were actually more effective at directing our lives in some circumstances than all the rational thinking in the world could manage?
Like a muscle that has atrophied from disuse and then exercised back to full function, it has been my experience that nonverbal knowledge pathways are only in a state of atrophy and can also be “exercised” back into full use. Although, I’m not sure if it is actually the pathway that has atrophied or if it is the attention to that pathway that needs rebuilding. There is something about attention that enlivens and strengthens whatever it is attending to.
Our nervous systems are highly complex with a myriad of functions, one of them the ability to create language. Language is learned – we do not come programmed to speak words. And because of this our ability to talk about what we feel is proscribed by the vocabulary we have managed to put together. This may actually limit or change what we can attend to. What I would like to do with this manuscript is help you become able to return to a state of existence that lets youbecome aware of non-verbal, or pre-verbal, input (and perhaps output) from your total system. We will use the neural functions of attention and awareness to accomplish this, and we will unlearn the habit of directed, intentional problem-solving. And mostly, we will learn to pause. My hope is that you will be able to exercise your awareness and attention back to robust use, and let the habits of intentionality and directedness atrophy enough that they lose their “habit” status and become a conscious choice once more.
Before we begin I would like us to be clear on what I mean by attention and awareness. They are not the same thing in this way of working with them. Awareness precedes attention, but only by a hair, at least at the start of the “de-atrophying” process.
Awareness happens when your system picks up information. Attention happens when you consciously notice that your system has picked up information. (“Information” does not just come as thoughts and words – with all of our verbally based technology these days that might not be obvious.)
Information is sometimes encoded as words, but more often it comes as sensation. This form of information is not something current culture teaches us to pay attention to unless it has reached the point of pain or pleasure. After doing this work for awhile I’ve come to realize that there are other information pathways besides the verbal and sensual as well, but we have no useful words for them that would illuminate what I mean so I’ll leave them unnamed.
When awareness reaches the “attention” phase, it becomes possible to put words to that sensation (or thought). They might not be entirely accurate, but we can at least make an attempt to verbally approximate whatever showed up. Awareness is often non-verbal. It is the recognition of something going in your system – but the “recognizer” may easily be a neuron in the motor cortex automatically assessing where down is right now. When we do notice an awareness we tend to instantly put a word, a meaning, and sometimes a whole history to the sensation. Here is where our conscious attention can intervene on itself and begin to loosen the habit of the quick word search and give our systems more pre-verbal time. It is in this consciously attended pre-verbal pause-before-word where we find the unexpected result waiting to present itself.
One of those functions that I and others have experienced is how this self-referencing attention can spur the self-repair of some kinds of system-wide malfunctions. Note that I’m not claiming medical healing, nor would I ever recommend substituting this work for medical intervention. But in general, I feel that our culture’s approach to medical “problems” is too narrow. There is much more connectedness and relatedness amongst our body systems than we can imagine and the habit of working with symptoms and parts bypasses the convoluted processes of a world spun of relationships. As we pay more attention to these patterns, relationships, and processes, medical interventions will change, but that is a ways down the road.
My experiences with this work have also led me to feel that another function we will come to know better might be called “connectedness”. The strong connections within our systems will become obvious quickly as you do this work, but it seems like connections with other people, animals, plants, cars, buildings, systems, processes, and everything else, exist; and this kind of non-intentional attention either makes those connections stronger or else makes them more noticeable. You may experience this sooner or later, and if you do just notice what happens. Perhaps someday we’ll have enough information to know what’s going on.
Above all, the process I will describe shortly is one of absolute experience – no interpretation, no logic, no reason, no judgment, no evaluation allowed! Just pure experience.
There is a part of our brain that is constantly in search of meaning, and will often create rationales that have little to do with reality sometimes, just to satisfy its need for meaning. This work gives us a period of time to let that function stop overworking. It provides a momentary pause between awareness and action, between the experience and the interpretation. It’s a way to “fuddle up” the automatic queuing of a reaction that follows some event that our systems have delegated a particular meaning to. This consciously driven pause is not what our systems expect so they stall out momentarily and are forced to take in more information than they usually do. More information about what is going on right this minute (instead of whatever minute in the past the habitual behavior was learned), and to perhaps toss out to our conscious brain a few more tidbits about something going on internally or externally. It provides a momentary arena in which the information that is locked in our non-verbal functions can surface consciously. It will not come as words, but it does come as knowledge, as information that all parts of our systems can use to reconfigure all pertinent relationships. Once you’ve had an experience of that kind of knowledge surfacing from the depths you will know what I mean.
Observational work is not new – people from J. Krishnamurti to Edgar Tolle have experienced and written about it. The first person, to my knowledge, to bring the entire body, blood, muscle, lungs, personality, everything, into the observational arena was Dr. Marvin Solit. He began his professional career as an Osteopathic physician and early Rolfer. He came to realize that the therapeutic intervention itself made it impossible for certain kinds of healing to happen. He began playing with self-observation of physical sensation and taking the brakes off the body’s un-programmed natural actions. He discovered that this led slowly towards an unwinding of painful patterns, both physical and behavioral.
Coming from a medical profession, Dr. Solit, along with a growing community, were interested in health and pain relief. The idea of repairing and healing the entire human system by a process of unwinding that occurs spontaneously under self-observation is where they initially headed (and found results!). Later some of us found that this was also a process in which information, previously unknown, would sometimes arise. Once in awhile I became aware that I could sense a programmed habit in the split second before it fired off, and that was when I realized that with non-directed observation we have a very powerful new tool. To be able to “see” the brain suddenly initiate some action or thought is to be able to intervene in its learned programming before the action or thought has come into existence. We can lose the automatic man! It’s rather exciting actually.
People who have engaged in the kind of meditation that is not directed in any way instead of the more directed versions like visualizations, watching the breath, or chanting, will have become familiar with how to use consciousness in this way. There are four modifications still to make to this kind of “meditation”: first, that you begin with standing and avoid sitting entirely; second, that you begin your focusing on whatever comes to your attention first, no matter what it is; third, that you set aside all background theory, dogma, or meaning; and fourth, do not call this meditation. Words are laden with meaning and interpretation – that’s their function. Dr. Solit called this work “Non-Directed Body Movement”. He was never happy with the name and I have found it cumbersome and too full of meaning as well. As this is a process for getting underneath our habitual interpretations, let’s begin with as clean a slate as possible.
In keeping with the understanding that this work is about pure experience, I will first give you the rules of the road – the “how to” of what some of us have come to call “standing around”. We have to call it something so we can talk to each other, and this is the most interpretively neutral thing I could come up with. Feel free to call it whatever you like. I would suggest that once you’ve read the how-to section, put the book down and start “standing around”. But, no rules, no expectations – follow your own nose on this and see what happens. Remember, whatever results may or may not arise will be unexpected…..and then something else will happen.