​Navel Gazing

“Navel gazing” is an amusing term for the excessive side of what is really a good thing.  It's a good thing to know ourselves.  We go to therapy to gain self awareness.  We turn to religion for help in getting the mote out of our own eye before trying to get it out of someone else’s.  To know ourselves is to be emotionally mature.  It’s interesting that we use a part of the body – the navel – to represent excessive focus on ourselves. If we take the term literally, it also seems to say something about our culture’s excessive focus on body image.

Yet it's rare that we let the body be a barometer of what’s going on with ourselves. I am my body. My body houses everything I am, have been, and will be. Without my body, I am not. But it's easy to imagine it as separate from the real person, the real “soul.”  The soul in the sense of soul food – like heart, like guts. All language of body but body as “just” a metaphor for the real thing. Maybe those many times we imagine ourselves separate from Spirit are related to this sense of body and mind separation.

Three Levels of Awareness

One of the most valuable pieces of the Life/Art process is the exercise of noticing three levels of awareness – the physical, the feeling or emotional, and the imaginal. Sorting experience into these three levels might seem like a fussy brain exercise, and of course, we never can completely isolate the three levels of awareness. But it is still a powerful exercise.

For instance, I might choose a body part like my hands and free associate about this part of myself by sorting my associations into three levels. On a purely physical level my hands might be knuckled, fat, vein-y, scarred, hairy, have bitten nails or long painted nails. On a feeling or emotional level, hands might connote to me openness, nurturing, rejection, or separation. Mental images I might associate with hands are mother, animal paws, food preparation, punishment, the stop gesture, or romance.

After brainstorming this way, I am ready for some hand “play,” a hand dance. This dance may be powerful, beautiful, gross, or ugly. I may dance it sitting on the floor or moving around the room. When it is authentic, it always carries something aesthetically true. Journaling or drawing after such movement gives me distance from my material and allows my life, my body to tell me something. Using this technique, I am grounding my self-awareness firmly in my body. I can allow my body to suggest a response beyond what I am accustomed to. I am relating to my body as the source of infinite wisdom that it is, rather than as a foe.