When asked the question, “Who are you?”, we might respond with some obvious things, like our name, our gender, our occupation, our likes and dislikes, political affiliations, etc..
If we are capable of a deeper sense of reflection, a question of this magnitude might bring us to pause, followed by a response more spiritual or religious in nature such as being a Child of God, consciousness itself, infinity localized in finite phenomena, etc…
During the course of my own spiritual journey and mental training, I have come to notice that ‘Who I am’, at the level of awareness, is not such a static thing to describe.
Sure, the above-mentioned responses are true to their own degree, but sometimes life can get rough, dirty, and confusing and reminding ourselves of the big picture Truth’s don’t always succeed in grounding us in them.
For those moments of anxiety, fear, hyperactivity, absent-mindedness, or even physical illness, I have found the following exercise to be a tremendous tool to use in overcoming these moments gracefully.
Co-Arising Dimensions of Experience [Primer]
One of the more influential schools of thought I have had as a resource in my life is the Integral Framework which was founded by Ken Wilber, built upon the data and discoveries made by some of the world’s leading minds in developmental psychology, sociology, neuroscience, spirituality, and political science.
Within this framework we learn of something called AQAL which is short for “All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines, All States, All Types”. Its a theoretical framework used to understand everything from the Big Bang to how an individual matures from child to adult.
For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing mainly on the Quadrants element of AQAL.
There are 4 distinct quadrants which together form the co-arising dimensions of experience. That is to say, every moment of experience is a matrix of information derived from 4 distinct ‘sources’.
In Fig. 1, we can see that these four quadrants include both the Individual interior and exterior, as well as the Collective interior and exterior dimensions of being. Each of these plays a role in how we experience the world and ourselves, moment to moment.
Most disturbances we experience, either physically, emotionally, or mentally are caused by a lack of general awareness of what is going on in each of these quadrants. So if we are having a rough patch in our day, or a strained moment, checking in will be a wonderful tool to return to the present moment and become more conscious of what is transpiring there.
Nothing special is required for this practice, beyond a willingness to be present with the moment and to not be engaged in a potentially dangerous activity which requires your full attention.
This practice works well when going for a walk, or if you have a chance to take a moment anywhere else you won’t be drastically distracted. The practice may last 5 minutes or longer, depending on one’s need, and may be repeated.
To begin, we are going to bring our attention to our own interiority.
First, center your attention on your emotional body. This brings awareness to the dimension of your emotions, bringing the light of awareness to whatever you may be feeling in the moment. Notice the emotions, but do not force them and do not pass judgement on them. We only want to bring awareness to them.
Be sure to maintain a steady but slow rhythm to your breathing, in from the nose, out from the mouth.
Next, move your attention to your mental body or the dimension of your mind where our stream of thoughts take place. Gently hold your attention here, allowing whatever thoughts that may arise to come and pass. Perhaps take notice to any consistencies of thoughts or repeating thought patterns (like positive or negative thoughts), but again, do not force the thoughts or pass judgment.
Now we are going to move to our perceived exterior dimension, or the body.
Begin with the feet by focusing your attention on even the slightest sensation of walking or if seated, wriggling your toes. Spend a few moments there, then move up, to your shins, calves, knee’s, the entirety of your legs, and so on.
At each part of the body, pause and spend a few moments holding your attention on even the slightest sensations you may experience. Be aware of how the experience of your body shifts just by holding your attention on it. Once you have cycled through every part, hold your attention on the body as a whole. Remain here for several moments.
Next, we will move our attention to what our 5 senses are reporting.
It does not matter which sense you begin with, but for each one, spend time allowing greater depth and distinction to develop for each. For example, with hearing, allow yourself to take in as many specific sounds as you can and before moving on, hold awareness on the experience of all the sounds as one. These are two very distinct experiences, so spend time on each.
As you move to your vision, be sure to allow for greater depth. For instance, if you were to notice a cat walking by, focus in on even the slightest movements of the feline’s body. Notice how the grass parts with each of the animal’s steps.
Once you have cycled through all of your senses, again, try to hold attention on the entirety of the sensory dimension, accepting the information from all senses to be processed as one experience.
The “We” and “Its” Space
The following two quadrants can be combined together for the purposes of this practice. The essential goal is now to extend our attention to the dimension of value and meanings. This is not like before when checking in with our vision, where we might have taken notice of inanimate objects or animals or even people, but instead we are allowing our attention to be held on the interior of exterior phenomena.
In this phase of the practice, if we were to look at a tree, we want to be rid of any pre-conceived meaning or value we might put on the tree. Instead, we want just be present with the beingness of the tree, to stand as the tree, to accept the tree as ourselves.
Try to spend as many moments as you can with each thing which arises in your awareness, whether its an object or a person. Allow the deeper dimensions of the sacred other enter into your awareness, potentially dissolving the imaginary line of “I and Thou”.
Once you have moved through each phase of the practice, spend some time taking notice of how your overall experience has shifted. You have now engaged with every dimension of your being, which will by the very nature of awareness, heighten and expand your consciousness. This, in turn, minimizes any minutiae which may have been the cause to your anxiety, distress, fear, or illness.
This is, of course, not a miracle cure for anything, but a practice to be incorporated into a daily routine that will, in time, bring greater health, balance, consistency, and peace to your life.
You are a human being, so let us learn how to be in that fully.