Thursday, December 03, 2015

Felt Sense/Thought Sense and Choosing What We Want

On our recent trip to Austin, Texas, my wife asked on a long drive to and from Dallas (long story) what I meant when I refer to "felt sense"*. She'd noted I use it a lot - when I am trying to process something I don't (yet) have words for, when talking about EMDR or TRE or other somatic modalities with therapists and coaches and the like. I even used it quite a bit in the most recent Level III Nalanda Miksang workshop I taught, though it is language more from the Shambhala Art teachings than Miksang.

So what does it mean, she said. Coming from anyone else it might sound airy-fairy, but I know from you it must mean something. What?


Later that same day, I opened an email from a client I have been working with recently on a long-term writing project. Because she is a seriously practicing Buddhist, I use a lot of terminology with her about Basic Goodness and Buddha Nature.  In fact, she's the client who offered the wonderful words we've both been collaborating about in regards to choice and doubt in this post.

She mentioned, without saying it quite this way, that she's "understood" for a long time that she has Buddha Nature - is fundamentally alive and awake and has all she needs. However, it's hard to actually FEEL that, grok it, to use a sci-fi term for the kind of understanding that felt sense gives us. In other words, in thought sense - intellectually, conceptually - she agrees/believes/gets it. However, feeling that, not just with emotions, but with body, a shiver of it, contacting it in a moment that is beyond words - that is felt sense. And the main way to strengthen felt sense is to practice - especially meditation. 

Back to Ilana, my wife. I said to her at the time, and this was confirmed through the exchange with the client, that the difference is between reading Buddhist books and meditating. When we read a good dharma book, we often say - Why yes! This is common sense! Makes sense to me! That may feel like all the knowing we need - read and understand, agree and move on. 

But that kind of knowing often isn't enough. 

The kinds of things we take to be common sense - and a lot of that is reflected in teachings like Buddhism - don't actually sink in unless we sit with them. We have to feel in our bodies how true it is - how much we are actually, really, basically good - otherwise nothing in our actions will change.

So many of my students and clients - and myself! - get frustrated by the gap between what we seem to know - thought sense - and how we act. Why do we keep doing what we don't want and not doing what we do want?

For instance, I know that milk products make me sneezy and slow. And yet I eat them. Why!? I am a smart girl. Why would I not do what makes me feel best? Because I don't fully feel it yet, not like I do with gluten. 

For years and years and years, since I was twelve, eating wheat/gluten gives me awful digestive pains. It wasn't until my twenties that I realized the causal connection, and then it took me a good decade to "give it up." I made up all kinds of rationale for eating it, for not avoiding not eating it. I am sure you can relate to this - we all have things we wish we were doing, and habitual tendencies that perpetuate habits we'd rather not do and not set in place ones we want.

So much of this, with all the habit research in mind, can be traced back to not having a real FELT SENSE of what we want, who we are, and cause and effect. So long as our "knowing" stays at mind level only, we miss out on deep knowledge.

On a practical level:
When we focus on disappointment that we don't do what we want - writing, painting, meditating, eating right - we miss out on a chance to really connect to our longing. Under the thought sense of guilt and frustration is a real felt sense of knowing what it is we are needing/wanting. If we stay on the thought sense level of guilt and anger, meta emotions to keep things messy, we miss the simple felt sense human craving, or even what that points to: I want to write because I want to be heard.

Simply being with our needs is powerful, felt sense medicine, and much more intense motivation than telling ourselves we should be doing it and so we need more discipline.
Keep this in mind as we head into the holiday season - facing situations filled with habitual patterns like eating, family interactions and decisions about how to relax. Be gentle. Explore. Be curious. Keep feeling.

*Note that "felt sense" was actually coined by Eugene Gendlin in Focusing, probably at a parallel time to Chogyam Trungpa's development of the use of the term. Similar meanings.

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