Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the Week of November 8, 2021


Three-Centered Awareness

(Fourth Way Practice: 2)

The equipment we have for this life can be broadly categorized as our body, our emotions, and our mind. Looking into our experience of living, we can see that our usual state consists of being primarily in one of the three. Very often we are just in our thoughts, with little awareness of anything else. Sometimes we are taken by our emotions, especially when we experience strong ones. And sometimes we are primarily in our body. We might also notice that our better moments occur when we intentionally engage with more than one of the three, when we feel what we are doing or thinking, when we speak with passion, when we see with awe or gratitude or love, or when our body and mind work together, such as in learning a new skill or in simple physical presence. And our very best moments tend to bring all three together: we are in our body, in our emotions, and in our mind, with body alert and sensitive, emotions either at peace or otherwise positive, and mind quiescent and aware.

Some Fourth Way practices aim to bring awareness simultaneously into body, emotions, and mind, which we call centers. The practice of sensing our body, for example, brings visceral body awareness to our mind, while stabilizing us enough in our body to enable us to be aware of our mind, thus engaging two of our three centers. In this condition we have awareness of both our body and our mind. This is a huge step forward, brightening our experience with a steady stance in the present moment and giving us a way to enter that state intentionally at will.

We contrast that with unawareness, or minimal awareness. This is not unconsciousness like when we sleep at night. As an example, take the thoughts that are nearly always careening through our mind. They generate themselves, one thought arousing the next, or some event starting a whole train of thoughts. Sometimes we think our thoughts intentionally; in that case we are at least fully aware of our thoughts. But much more often, our thoughts are not intentional, not driven by us, but produce themselves automatically. Those thoughts go on and on, with or without our awareness of them.

An interesting thing happens when we do pay attention to the automatic stream of thoughts: it tends to subside, or even stop, temporarily. When we are aware of our mind it tends to become quiet, the thoughts losing their punch and receding to the background, leaving us in a zone of mental peace. This does not mean intentionally and directly trying to stop our thoughts, which just gives them more energy to perpetuate themselves. The slowing down or temporary stoppage of thoughts occurs as a side effect of paying attention to our mind and its contents, simply and without judgment. This can also occur through the practice of sensing our body, which draws energy out of our automatic thoughts.

To work toward three-centered awareness, we begin with sensing our body, bringing our attention into our body. At the same time, we also include our mind within our attention. Staying with this two-centered experience tends to awaken our feelings as well. We further open our attention to include our chest, solar plexus, and the feelings within them. By relaxing our chest and solar plexus from the inside, letting the physical and emotional tensions drain out with our exhalation, we open our feeling center. At this point, we are three-centered. This does not mean dividing our attention in three to focus on body, emotions, and mind, which is an awkward and unnatural multitasking. A more stable and natural way consists of broadening our attention and awareness to include and embrace all three centers. Doing so can enliven our whole body with sensation, quiet our mind with cognition, and awaken our heart to the world around us.

It is useful to practice three-centered awareness in a seated meditation session. That familiarizes us with the three-centered state and how to enter it, enabling us to bring that state into our daily life, though always with the caveat of respecting safety-critical activities by giving them our full attention.

For this week, please practice three-centered awareness. It brings more life to our life, enriching each moment lived that way.


     

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