Visceral consciousness is experiencing events in their non-narrative form, through our body's pure sensation. This is one of the most powerful ways to clear up those boxes in the basement where we store the scary blocks, the "bosses" that we need to defeat in order to move forward in our journey. You know that thing when you overthink a real problem and end up creating a new one? When we're trapped inside our own mind, it's easy to distort reality and create imaginary monsters. Our gut, on the other hand, is a sophisticated precision tool. Some people call this gut wisdom a sixth sense. I like to call it visceral consciousness.
Just a second, let me ask my gut
I started learning about visceral consciousness about ten years ago, when I discovered adult-sized hula hoops and got moving. Later, when I became a hooping teacher, I had no interest or qualifications to teach circus tricks or a fitness class, so my approach focused on dance and movement meditation. We began each class with a visceral investigation. This meant bringing our hands and attention to our bellies and silently asking ourselves: How am I? What am I feeling?
At first, this was a bit awkward for the women in class (and even to me, at times), but the whole idea was to rethink the mechanism we use to answer the question "how are you"? Most people believe things that happen determine how we feel but in reality the bad things that happened are now just a memory. They're not happening right now. In my experience, the way I feel says much more about my wellbeing than things that come from the outside. Another common and dangerous belief is that being alright means not feeling anything bad. The reasoning behind this fallacy is pretty simplistic: if you're feeling something that's not good, than you're not alright. And if you're not alright there must be something wrong with you, something that needs to be fixed so you can be alright again.
Over time, as we fail to listen to the myriad of information our gut provides, we gradually disconnect from it and go into autopilot. We allow our mind alone to answer the question "how am I?" without getting any additional input to decide. That purely cerebral answer is much more distant from immediate reality than the gut answer. Maybe something terrible has happened (a delay, a boring meeting, a traffic jam, an earthquake or a terrorist attack) and my mind remembers that. From memory, it puts together a story that says "I'm not alright". More often than not, when we feel everything's awful, the source of our information is our head rather than our tummy. As a matter of fact, when things are really awful, our tummy is the first to know (often before our head can catch on).
Eskimos have 50 words for snow and I have no word for this feeling
Of course "good and "bad" are pretty vague categories we resort to when trying to organize infinitely complex feelings, this is why the process of visceral investigation begins with discovering its language. When starting out, it's a good idea to try and be specific. Instead of using "good" and "bad" to talk about how we feel, we use more accurate words: constriction, cold, emptiness, agitation. Over time, our sensations and our body itself develop their own language. Some people prefer abstract, almost poetic words, while others use simple language that sounds a bit technical. When no word seems to fit, we can make one up, just so we can use it later to recognize that feeling (i.e., ... five minutes before my client arrived I got that jooby-jooby in my chest). Through the very act of paying attention to your feelings and sensations, you're already engaged in a creative process: there's are no limits other than what you can feel.
As the visceral connection is fine-tuned, the story we tell ourselves about "how we're feeling" becomes more colorful and complex. We get much closer to perceiving reality objectively and we can sense changes much quicker. This direct line of communication with the core of our being ensures we are instantly notified when something's really bad. But most of the time, what we viscerally feel falls into the spectrum of "alright".
Feelings are heavier made up than felt
After a connection with the all-knowing belly has been established, the next step is shift the focus to grounding. When firmly planted on the ground, our body connects with the earth, allowing us to access the ethers, which contain absolutely everything, both painful and delightful. Sure, the idea of being connected to everything in existence may seem exhausting to some, but it's really the opposite of that. Allowing the feelings and energies that go through us to just be is much less tiresome than the alternative. The alternative, by the way, is believing one single story about how we're feeling and, based on a bunch of external circumstances we cannot control, fulfilling whichever prophecy our mind has decreed ("I'm feeling good" or "I'm feeling bad").
For instance, let's say I stood in line at the bank for the longest time only to get crappy service from the teller. It's totally justified that I'd feel bad about this and my body will likely experience feelings of frustration. If I allow this physical sensation to run its course, it will almost never last over five minutes. But if I'm stuck in my head, my mind could easily replay the narrative of that experience for days, weeks, even months, "locking" the feeling of frustration in my body. Days later, that experience at the bank could still be associated with an uncomfortable feeling. Approaching our general state trough the body is revolutionary because it allows us to access the realm of the magic through the concrete. We get to experience the sacred through the mundane, order through chaos. The bodily experience approach is an accessible tool that helps us make sense of a very chaotic world. All you gotta do is let your body decide how you're feeling and all of a sudden what's going on around you doesn't matter that much anymore. What really matters is the keeping the connection active.
The urge to slam the door on the face of emotions
Like almost everybody, I'd always been really attached to my protection systems. If I started to feel something even remotely not-good, I'd quickly shut down. It was like slamming the door on the face of a family member I didn't wanna see. I'd isolate myself behind the door, bury my head in the sand and pretend everything was alright. The hardest thing was always dealing with weeping, precisely because it's so hard to mask. I'd see myself crying and think "what a ridiculous scene". Even though I never meant to, I'd bought into the idea that sensitivity is weakness and that it was absolutely crucial that I "control my emotions" (instead of simply letting them run their course).
Like most transformations, mine took place over time, almost unnoticeably. The core practice that led to the shift has been pay attention to the moments when I was about to shut down and making a conscious effort to stay open/connected. There were countless times when I tried and failed, but I got better and batter at recognizing the feeling and, over time, as staying open started to feel natural, the meaning of "I'm alright" changed radically. I didn't fully know that this was the process I was starting back when I discovered the gut as a data processor and trusted the experimentation not knowing for sure where it would lead me, but last week, the change became very clear.
It was during a moment of heightened sensitivity. I was in a strange environment, without the possibility of leaving and then something new happened. Underneath the vulnerability I could feel joy emerging as I noticed how my primary instinct had shifted. Instead of reaching for the mask of perfection, instead of shutting down and burying my head in the sand, I noticed that my new "I'm alright" allows room for difficult feelings to appear without the story changing to "oh, no, now I feel bad". And so, at 3 AM I felt very sad and wept because I miss someone dear. I lied on the floor and held the dog as I let the tears roll down my face and, believe me, I was alright.
A different kind of alright
My new "I'm alright" means I'm connected, alive, paying attention as things change from one moment to the next, with the help of my mind, my gut and everything else that runs through me. My eyes well up as I'm talking o a friend at the park and a minute later we're laughing again: I'm alright. I work late, wake up early the next day and feel super tired: I'm alright. I spend the whole afternoon in bed watching sitcoms in the middle of a weekday: I'm alright. I simply feel what's there to feel and I know I'm alright.
It doesn't matter much anymore what someone outside me might think if they see a grown woman crying on the floor, holding a dog: visceral consciousness assures my mind that I'm absolutely lucid. The sensitivity I regarded as weakness for so many years has become a source of power and my tummy makes sure I don't forget this. I feel freer because there's no need to be scared of non-good feelings. I'm alright, after all. For someone who's spent the first 30 years of their life afraid of going insane, under the burden of a family history of mental illness, experiencing this shift in my body is something huge, something that calls for celebration. In my tummy, I feel relief, fresh air, soft fuzziness: as if a boss has been defeated and I can move on to the next stage in the game. Everything's truly alright.