[Photo: Pearl Eileen Primus (b. 1919) was a dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist.]
In my last newsletter, I shared the Zen axiom that this path (to liberation) requires us “to study the self.” I first heard that teaching in my early twenties. And because, like most of you, I went to school for the first coupla decades of life, I took it to mean study–study.
The way we are taught to “know” things in this society is largely through an intellectual, rational, scientific, material understanding. We start young and spend most of our time being conditioned in this way. Even though education theory has come to include the idea of multiple intelligences, as a culture, we still tend to think of intelligence and knowing as linguistic/mathematical/scientific abilities.
And that’s exactly how I approached the study of self and my self–development in general — I read. A LOT. I was knowing through my head. I’ve written here before about other kinds of knowing; knowing that is embodied, connected, present. But it took 20–something–me another decade and a cancer diagnosis to begin undoing all that education and (re)learn other ways of knowing.
I read and thought and listened to a lot about meditation before I actually started to practice. And while practicing, I mostly thought about my experience before I learned how to be with my experience. I had to attune to the body – a different way of knowing. And it is the balance of different ways of knowing (a full study of the self) that leads to true freedom. I’ve learned to know myself in my head, heart & belly
In the model of human personality called The Enneagram, there are 3 Centers of Intelligence: head (mental), heart (emotional), & belly (physical). I’m a heart type: I connect first emotionally, with all the happiness and hardships that can bring. But, because our whole culture skews to the head – mental knowing – I mostly float up to the intellectual. Generally, each of us gravitates to one area more than the others and, again, in contemporary life, we are encouraged/demanded to be in our heads (and rewarded for it). To undo this, first we must know our habits and then learn to balance the 3 centers.
Of course, there are many other aspects to our self–development, but I’ve found that even a basic understanding of our tendencies in relation to the 3 centers is helpful. Are you a head type — do you think through things intellectually first? Or maybe you’re a body type — you primarily feel things through your body? What ever type you might be, can you learn to balance all your ways of knowing?
One simple outline I’ve been using lately:
- Know Yourself (belly) — Connect to your body by first feeling into your belly with any centering or meditation practices you use. What is present for you in this moment? What sensations or feelings are arising? Where do you feel them? What words or images come to you?
- Love Yourself (heart) — Sense into your chest area. Can you make space for whatever is arising? Can you open to any sensations, feelings, thoughts, emotions, images, memories with a sense of welcoming? Can you offer kindness and compassion to whatever is arising?
- Check Yourself (head) — Take a few deep breaths. What is your sense of what has arisen for you? What would you like to cultivate and what would you like to release? Can you integrate what is beneficial for you? Can you let go of what is not beneficial for you?
In what ways do you know?
Until next time, be well my friends.
With love (’cause I’m a heart type),