Becoming an Artist of Inwardness

Alan Briskin and I are writing a book about “fields:” personal, social, and noetic. I have written several posts about them including one on the personal field. The piece below (a five-minute read) continues to explore the value and practices for perceiving and influencing the personal field. Thank you for your interest.

Given the plethora of distractions and diversions at our beck and call, perhaps it is time for all of us to learn or relearn what John O’Donahue calls the “art of inwardness.” By inwardness I mean the art of being able to pay attention and listen deeply to what is going on inside ourselves.

“An artist” is one skilled in any art or craft. The root of “art” is ar, meaning to “fit together”. So, one way to think about the art of inwardness is making sense of, fitting together, all that goes on with our body sensations, emotions, and thoughts. In other words, fitting ourselves with ourselves, developing a compassionate relationship with the interior world, akin to a kind of internal communion.

Learning the art of inwardness is a way to perceive and feel the interconnections inside and with everything around us: people, nature, and the space around us. Experiencing interconnection lessens the sense of isolation, separation, and loneliness that many of us experience in our lives.

In addition to interconnection, the art of inwardness is also an essential pathway to insight and compassion, feeling what others are feeling along with a desire to relieve their suffering. When we develop awareness of our inner space, we are better able to perceive what is emerging inside and around us. This invites insights to arise and caring to grow, for others and for us.

It is a paradox. The more we go inward, the more interconnected and caring we feel outward. How does that work? When we stay present and curious about what is going on inside, we can sense what might be going on inside others, including our impact on them. Accurately perceiving our impact on others is an instrumental skill in being a compassionate human being, regardless of what role we play in any given moment: leader, employee, parent, sibling, neighbor, or friend.

However, our body sensations, emotions, and thoughts can sometimes be at war, or at least not congruent with one another, the very opposite of an internal communion. Using the six practices below can help integrate what is separate inside us.

Six Practices in the Art of Inwardness

  1. Pausing. Practice pausing and stepping off the train of incessant internal chattering and descend into a bodily experience of being alive. Pausing might be the last thing you think you have time and space for. However, my experience is that pausing creates more time and space. As German philosopher Martin Heideggar captured it, “We make a space inside ourselves, so that being can speak.”
  2. Sensing. Tuning into the body and the sensations therein helps slow the insistent yammering in the mind. For example, feel the length and breadth of your body, notice the sensations there like the energy in the hands or the vibrations in the torso. Note the difference between thinking about your hands or torso and experiencing what’s alive in them. This step might be easier, more mundane, and more powerful than you think. When you pause and sense what’s going on with the body, you become more present to yourself, and you can ask, or simply listen for any thoughts, emotions, or images arising with the sensations.
  3. Noticing Thoughts and Images. Noticing thoughts and images as they arise is a corollary practice to pausing and slowing the mind. When we observe our thoughts and images we are less likely to get lost in them. It’s like taking a step back to get a larger view of a work of art. This enables us to notice the pattern of what’s emerging inside and what the interiority is trying to tell us about what is occurring inside and around us.
  4. Sensing Into the Space. The fourth practice, sensing into the space around us, might be the least familiar. Awareness is not confined to the body’s boundaries. It is possible to become aware of the space around us by expanding our attention to include it, noticing what it feels like. Does the space around you feel open or closed, spacious or constricted, narrow or wide? There is an uncanny synchronicity between what we sense in the space around us and the space within us. What might your perception of the outer be communicating to you about your personal field? 
  5. Considering from Where You Perceive. Russell Delman, founder of the Embodied Life School, suggests, notice from where you are perceiving what’s going on inside and the space around you: the head, heart, torso, or the whole body? Experiment with shifting where you are perceiving from and notice whether there are differences in what you are perceiving and its impact on you.
  6. Tending the Internal Relationship. How we relate with ourselves and the space around us influences the personal field that in turn affects everything and everyone around us. Our relationship with ourselves changes in relation to what is going on in the personal and social fields. However, there is often a foundational feel to this relationship that has a history and influences us in the present moment. What’s the foundation of your relationship with your interior world? Kind curiosity? Critical self-judgment? Ignoring it? Compassion for yourself and others? How does your relationship with yourself shape your relationship with others and the larger social field?

Signs at casinos scream in neon lights, “YOU MUST BE PRESENT TO WIN.” Winning with these practices in the personal field means being present enough to know what is going on inside your body, mind, and heart so you live as a caring artist in your relationship with yourself and with others.

Using the Practices Effectively

One key to effectively using these six practices is doing them without self-judgment (good/bad, like/dislike, smart/stupid) and remaining in what poet John Keats called “negative capability.”

Negative capability involves withholding judgment, leaving the space open for perceptions to emerge along with their meaning. The brain processes and communicates faster than the body. It takes time for all channels like the mind, heart, body, and soul to integrate and synthesize the message, for deeper truths to emerge within.

Judging our internal experiences is like startling a snail when we touch it. It withdraws into its shell and becomes hesitant to reappear and pursue its original trajectory. So too with the wisdom emerging within. When judged, or not listened to, our inner life tends to withdraw. It becomes reluctant to come forward and communicate what it knows.

These practices take time to learn and use so that our inner wisdom is more accessible to us and those around us. Developing the art of inwardness helps us live in a larger, more interconnected space with the ability to influence our personal and social fields for good. We can invite our inner lives to emerge and speak to us through these six practices.


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