Monthly archives "March 2011"

Studying Experience

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I like to define “experience” as what happens in the space that defines you. It is made up of two components – story and state. You can think of this graphically as a circle with a line going from left to right across the middle. The top half of the circle is “story”. The bottom half is “state”. Story is anything cognitive – labels, explanations, associations, connotations, stories. State is nothing cognitive – it is energy felt in the body in the moment.

You can locate yourself outside this circle, such that whatever goes on in this space, in this circle is simply part of the environment. This perspective enables you to be in relationship with your experience rather than lost in it. A certain type of freedom grows out of developing that relationship.

Here’s an exercise that can get you started in developing that relationship. It involves breathing, holding your breath, and paying attention.

Lie down, and breathe in a normal breath, then exhale every bit of air that you can. Then breathe in only half as much as the previous breath. Again, exhale every bit of air you can. With your third breath, again breathe in only half as much air as your previous breath. Exhale everything. Repeat this pattern two more times such that with your fifth exhalation, you have what seems like no air at all left to breath out. With that, do not breathe in a sixth breath. Instead, just hold your breath – or your lack of breath – as long as you can.

While holding this, let your attention go to whatever unfolds in your experience. Notice the voices that resist this insult to your need to survive and notice the voices that might support this experiment in letting go. Notice any argument that ensues between these parts of you. Also notice any pulling in of your chest as well as any pushing out. Notice what happens in your head, in your heart, in your arms, in your gut. Notice any memories or associations. Notice the felt sense of panic, or of peace, or of whatever. Simply notice anything, even any judgment that arises in response to what you notice. Hold your breath only as long as you can without hurting yourself and notice the extent to which you are lost in your experience and the extent to which you are the witness. When you can’t hold your breath any longer, give your biological drive the oxygen it so desires. And even as you suck in air, continue to simply notice what happens in these many domains of your experience.

Try this exercise once – with full attention – then try it again a day or so later. See what changes over time with the strength of your ability to separate from your experience and locate yourself as the witness. May this be the start of a beautiful relationship with yourself.

A word of warning – if you have any reason to be concerned about your heart or other relevant aspects of your physical health, treat this exercise accordingly. Be self-responsible.

Copyright © 2014   Jim Lehrman


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To develop an orientation of focusing on the best in yourself and others, notice the instances when you see the negative in a person or situation. In response to that awareness, see if you can understand your investment in seeing it that way. Then, see if you can let it go, at least just this once, and switch to the positive. Watch yourself doing this. Hopefully with a smile. And if there is resistance… stay present and simply notice. Be the witness of this attachment to negativity rather than fusing with the part of you which is being negative. Allow yourself to learn who this part of you is and what this part needs.

Whether you can do this or not, strive to stay awake and simply be patient with yourself. Self-discovery is the best foundation for self-improvement.

Copyright © 2014   Jim Lehrman

The Nourishment Barrier

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Ah, the nourishment barrier… a realm where regardless of surroundings, you find yourself starving at the banquet. In the midst of the feast, you somehow can’t let it in. Whether that feast is food or fun, compliments or community, you paradoxically respond as if that which is nourishing is in fact toxic.

There are people who live at this nourishment barrier. At work, at play, at home, at the movies, in love, even in bed; They have a problem letting in the gifts of life, a problem even letting in what they need, as if something bad would be imminent if they did. Below their level of awareness, they cling to a belief that if they allow themselves to let in something good, pleasurable, or rewarding, that very thing will eventually be taken away or lose it’s thrill, leaving life that much more of a miserable burden to endure. The all too familiar result of their resistance is the collapse into a life orientation of “why bother”.

Don’t get me wrong, these are sweet people – typically even intelligent, endearing and compassionate; very compassionate. Very serving, very loyal, but also not too good at taking care of themselves. This “why bother” orientation can be subtle or severe, depending on how deeply the person is entrenched in the nourishment barrier.

Rather than writing a textbook here, I’ll move into some practical advice and maybe revisit this theme later in my blog. Getting practical is a very good direction to take for people who have the nourishment barrier and its “why bother” orientation.

On the more basic level, it’s good for these folks to start by defining clearly what their needs are. Then, after that preliminary step, to make a longterm project out of studying how they go about the business of resisting getting what they need.

Now as an aside, imagine there is not one of you, but a whole cast of characters in there. These characters started out simply as beliefs, beliefs which served to help you know the territory and the rules of getting around in it back when you were much younger. But after some years, these core beliefs took on a life of their own inside you, where they wait in the wings of the stage of your in-the-moment experience, ready to come out and take center stage upon getting triggered by events that occur.

That, in itself, is not the problem. The problem arises only if, while they are running the show from their position on stage, you think that’s you up on the stage. If you aren’t aware of what’s going on inside you, you identify with these characters and their fundamental beliefs, oblivious to the distinction between them and the adult you.

Your job is to monitor and manage these characters, which requires noticing when any one of them gets triggered. Instead of “getting up on the stage with this character”, which may be your pattern, my invitation is that you take your seat in the front row where you can experience not only the unfolding story of resistance to nourishment, but can get perspective on what this story is really about. You are able to discover what the beliefs are that determine, sustain, and reinforce their existence, so you can choose consciously to indulge their impluses of resistance or not. This, by the way, is some of the foundational work of my approach to self-discovery, Making the Moment Matter (TM).

But let’s get back to the nourishment barrier and see how to apply this perspective there. If you can notice those moments when an opportunity presents itself for you to get one of your needs met, you can shift your attention to study how you organize around this opportunity. This self discovery leads you to see – and likely take – options that you never saw before. Thus, you can stop playing out archaic automatic responses that limit your fulfillment. Letting in nourishment becomes a non-dogmatic conscious act of self responsibility.

My goal for the people I work with is not that they get rid of these often annoying characters who live inside them, but that they develop a more conscious relationship with them. It is through this deepening that the person gets bigger than not only this nourishment barrier but bigger than anything the universe throws his or her way.
Copyright © 2014   Jim Lehrman