Self-knowledge and felt sense
By: Dr Claus Springborg, Januar 2022, Copenhagen
Developing self-knowledge is at the heart of any serious practice for personal and spiritual development, be it jnana yoga, psychotherapy, enneagram work, journaling, or something else. “Know thyself” was the first of three maxims inscribed at the entrance of the temple in Delphi, placing the development of self-knowledge at the heart of this mystic tradition.
However, our brains are wired in ways that make the development of self-knowledge difficult. We have confirmation biases making us ascribe too much importance to facts that support what we already believe while blinding us to facts that contradict those beliefs. We have rationalisation and confabulation processes that produce fake accounts of why we behave the way we behave. We have misconceptions about the nature of reality which makes us seek happiness in ways that end up being the cause of our misery.
Our capacity for conscious analysis and reflection is an excellent tool for developing self-knowledge – but it is not enough. If we rely solely on conscious analysis and reflection, the above-mentioned processes will almost certainly lead us astray. Using our minds to develop self-knowledge is a bit like asking our eyes to look at themselves. We, therefore, need a complementary tool.
An excellent tool for developing self-knowledge is attending to our felt sense. Felt sense is the, often vague and inarticulate, bodily sense or atmosphere pervading your inner life in a given situation. It is the sense of the whole of the situation as opposed to any particular thoughts and emotions in the situation. It’s the tightness in the chest, the lightness and floating atmosphere, the sinking feeling, the energised and expansive feeling, etc.
Felt sense offers you a way of exploring your inner life that can help you bypass biases and rationalisations – and correct misconceptions. Ever since Eugene Gendlin published his pioneering work on felt sense, it has inspired many somatic approaches to therapy, including Gendlin’s own Focusing, Peter Levin’s Somatic Experiencing. Ron Kurtz’s Hakomi method, and many others. Attention to felt sense also plays a pivotal role in the inquiry process used in the Diamond Approach developed by Almaas, Karen Johnston and Faisal Muqaddam.
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