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Thread: Attending to Subtle Sensations

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    Default Attending to Subtle Sensations

    The West Country Clean Practice Group on 28 May 2009 conducted a fascinating experiment.

    Ned had recently attended a Vipassana Meditation retreat where he learned to focus his attention on “the most subtle, the least intense, the weakest feeling or sensation”. This might be a tingle, a slight ache, a pin prick, a vague feeling — any sensation in or on the body that would usually be too low in intensity to pay attention to.

    In Vipassana the meditation is an individual, private activity. We wondered what would happen if the meditator described the subtle sensation and a facilitator asked clean language questions with the aim of keeping their attention on that sensation — with no intention for anything to happen.

    The group of 7 broke into pairs and a three to try this out for 10 minutes per person. In fact, the exercise lasted quite a bit longer as most of us ‘got into it’.

    A number points came out of the debrief afterward:
    - A novice meditator said this exercise quickly increased their awareness of subtle sensations in their body

    - For several, attending to the sensation amplified the experience "like using a magnifying glass. It doesn't change what is being magnified but you know more about it."

    - While several people reported a "loss of awareness of the rest of my body", another noticed a "constant clambering for attention by sensations in other parts of my body".

    - Some found it difficult to find words to describe the sensations, others found it a challenge to stay at the sensory level as symbolic associations where triggered by attending to the subtle sensation.

    - One person got frustrated with the process. This took their attention away from the subtle sensation which faded into the background.

    - Most people experienced a reduction in interior chatter (internal dialogue) as they focused more and more on the sensation.

    - One person could not identify any subtle feelings within their body, so instead they attended to the "quiet stillness inside". After a while they experienced a slight relaxation to a tension in their chest that they did not know they had been carrying.
    General Learning:
    - Clean language is ideal for this kind of activity which involved: (a) keeping a person'a attention on one part of their experience, and (b) staying out of their experience as much as is possible.

    - The exercise could be used to support someone who wanted more access to unfamiliar subtle feelings (perhaps because they paid too much attention to the big and brash feelings, or they simply didn't know how to do it).

    - The exercise would be good for trainee Symbolic Modellers to teach them how to stay with one thing for a good period of time (even if not much is happening), i.e. it could be used as part of people learning how to 'stay on a vector'.

    - As ever, the debrief demonstrated the wide range of sensations people are aware of — from next to none to dozens every second.

    - The activity could be extended to someone who was experiencing a physical symptom (like chronic pain) to help them focus on other more subtle sensations — potentially as a relief from the original symptom, even if that was just for the duration of the exercise. (c.f. some of Milton Erickson's techniques).

    - The process could be used to train someone's attention, say if they were having difficulty meditating or keeping their attention on one thing at a time (possibly someone diagnosed with ADD ??).

    - And finally, noticing subtle sensations was a skill that could be developed like any other, and that the most 'salient' sensation may not be the loudest or most obvious.
    An excellent evening — James
    Last edited by JamesLawley; 29 May 2009 at 10:39 AM. Reason: Formatting improvements

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