Get Grounded Before Taking Off
All schools can expand their focus beyond the intellectual development of students. Doing so, our growing and budding young adults would more fully reach the potential of adulthood as capable and confident agents in their lives, all of us able to nurture our own well-being and enrich the lives of others in the process.
One practical access to doing this in the classroom, in the faculty room, in meetings, and on our own is the practice of checking in. Checking in is a brief, meditative grounding of our awareness right here, right now.
Mostly, we move from one activity to the next in whichever state of mind shows up. Checking in is an opportunity to bring into awareness the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that already make up our present experience. Bringing them into awareness often allows them to settle, and this reconnects us to well-being and our true nature.
Checking in is a way to foster integrity, to get profoundly related to the present moment. Checking in is also an access to balancing our intellect with our physiology.
For the 10 years or so that I participated in a men’s group, we began every meeting with a round of brief check-ins from each participant. When it’s my turn to check in, I close my eyes and observe what I’m experiencing physically, mentally, and emotionally. (I also consider a spiritual checking in, but I’ll save that nebulous term for another day.) I will then share that check-in with the group, who will simply acknowledge that I’ve checked in and then move along to the next participant.
One of the key breakthroughs that men in our group would consistently have within the first few months of joining us is a breakthrough in distinguishing between thoughts (like judgments and interpretations) and feelings (emotions and their sensations in our bodies). The practice of checking in is a straightforward practice that anyone can do, but it’s one of those habits that can lead to a palpable shift in our experience of life.
There are three main areas of focus when we check in: our physical sensations, our thoughts, and our emotions. The diagram below is a graphical representation of this model of our experience of life:
Right now, I am experiencing sensations. Noticing these sensations is the practice of getting present to my physiology. We’re always experiencing sensations, though most of them we don’t notice unless someone asks us to direct our attention to them (how many years of my life have I lived without even noticing that I breathe at all?).
Right now, I am also experiencing thoughts. Observing our thinking is a key practice in meditation because without intending to, we typically identify with our thinking. In other words, how I think of myself is who I am to myself. Observing my thinking leads to a peeling away of my sense of self from the thoughts that I have. We are, in fact, a being who has thoughts, not a being of thought.
Emotion is a blending of Thought and Sensation. Anger, anxiousness, sadness, excitement, joy, and others: our emotions have sensations and thinking that go along with them. They’re a good place to start when we check in, and it’s quite fruitful to identify and distinguish the sensations and thinking associated with our emotions when we feel them. Emotions can start with either a thought or a sensation, but they soon become a self-propagating feedback loop.
A fun question to explore: if the model above encapsulates our experience of the present moment, where is the you that’s doing the experiencing?
Try this 3-minute exercise on your own:
Settle yourself in a chair or on your feet. Don’t hold anything in your hands.
Look around the space you’re in. Get a sense of where the walls are, where any furniture is, and notice the light and shadows on the walls, ceiling, and floor.
Look forward, then close your eyes. Feel the ground or the chair pushing up against your body. Notice how it actually feels, where and how it’s holding you.
Feel your clothes on your body.
Follow your breath in. Then out. Then in. Then out.
Staying aware of any of those sensations that you’re enjoying, now notice your thinking. Where is it? What is it? Where does one thought begin and another end?
If you’re with someone else, share what you’ve noticed.
Thanks for reading ❤️.
(Note: I rarely, if ever, have an original thought. I've been introduced to the model above in different forms from different sources, but most recently and succinctly from the work of Rupert Spira.)
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