Is the body the scene of all our experiences?
Commentary by neuropsychologist Amilcar Fonseca, San Miguel, El Salvador
What is this that moves within us, what is this that creates a sensation throughout our whole being and that often is difficult to define? Not everything that we feel has its own label, sometimes what we feel as individuals is confused with something that we believe it to be, but is actually not what we believe it to be; it is something different.
As is known, the brain does not experience pain when it is stimulated directly but it does, when the pain is reflected through the body; the brain acts as a filament that conducts every interpretation of the internal or external world, whereas our senses which are the channels through which thousands of stimuli pass to our brains are open windows supported by the complex mechanisms of our being which process all the stimuli that enter it. It is like a constant sun in terms of its function where those experiences that are generated with greater intensity are the ones that are displaced with a wider scope and impact; they slip through the body with greater impetus, with greater impact. The body feels everything or nearly everything. It is the most complete instrument for relaying all of our sensations. Where should we begin in order to understand what we feel or rather to know what we feel? Where do we start, with the classification or identification of our experiences? Should we begin by getting to know ourselves?
What develops in our bodies when we speak about the feelings that we experience every day. How do we find the root from which this whole network is fed, this Gordian knot of sensations that we feel? Where do we start? From an interpretation of the conscious world? Or from the very sensations that spread throughout our bodies?
We must remember that everything within us is dynamic, interactive and constant. Has there been any moment since our birth when we have ceased to breathe for any length of time? Has our blood ever been held up for any length of time during its circulation around the body? Has our heart ever stopped beating? Therefore, the centre of our thoughts where all the phenomena we perceive are processed remains part of a constant flow of information. It is also important to know about the automatic nature of many internal phenomena, and that they operate without the permission of the centre of our thoughts or conscience.
Based on these fundamental considerations we know that the body is the most visible structure in our whole being, the most accessible element that we can use as a tangible entity. We can move across the whole of its surface, feeling, touching, observing and examining ourselves. We do not need to invest sums of money in order to be able to travel across this wonderful map, nor do we need a means of transport to carry us, this journey only requires two companions: our hands.
We are a miracle, the body observing itself. Something that we have within our sight.
We are made for the moment, for today, for the instant. How long will it take to feel the body? Not more than 5 minutes.
Later on we will do a test using an exercise to Pay Attention to the Present, the observation of the face, such an exercise is done mentally, but on this occasion we will introduce a variable as this exercise is normally done mentally, as a change, this observation will be more general and we will use our hands.
– I feel the shape of my face with my hands.
– I feel the skin on my forehead with the tips of my fingers, my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my ears.
– I feel the shape of my head, the touch of my skin, my neck,
passing along the length of my arms until I form a warm embrace (while, I say “this is me”). How long has it been since you felt that?
– I lower my hands down across the whole of my stomach, waist, back, hips going down my legs and – my knees until I reach my feet.
– I touch my ankles, I feel the shape of my toes between my fingers, I rest my hands on the soles of my feet and I feel their heat.
Sensing ourselves is the nicest feeling we can experience, it allows us to focus for a moment on the nearest thing we have, our body.
Moreover, we must remember that one of the learning points in Paying Attention to the Present urges us to ensure that our attention is directed towards a sensation.
In this basic exercise we can experience a range of stimuli every time that our hands touch a particular part of our bodies.
The sensory potential that we have in our skin is great and diverse.
It is very probable that some areas of the body are more sensitive than others and perhaps at the moment when we cross our arms forming a self-embrace we will feel a tremor, or when we touch the skin beneath our feet we will sense more heat in this area, it is also normal that when we rub our heads with our hands we will feel the sensation of shivers running from the crown of our heads down to some part of our torsos, but it creates a sensation of relaxation in us.
In this sense, each individual experiences the sensations in a personal way, no two experiences are the same in terms of the intensity of the sensations.
Another aspect that you achieve with this simple exercise is to develop your awareness. Using our hands to observe our bodies helps us not to become distracted, in some way the hands act as fixed points that help to anchor us when we position ourselves to observe certain areas of the body, personally I find that guiding myself mentally is much more elusive and it is much easier to become distracted but it is something that can be considered in more detail later on. For the moment thinking of the body as an instrument that conducts a series of sensations and phenomena is right at the heart of our reflection.