As I have said elsewhere, genuinely knowing ourselves includes experiencing ourselves at a visceral, feeling level in our bodies. This is how much of the first part of the gestalt Cycle of Awareness and Contact happens. The question arises, of course, about how to experience ourselves in this way.
Actually, the answer is rather simple. Pay attention to your body as it comes in contact with your world–both inner and outer–and you will learn a lot about yourself.
We live in constant contact with both the world around us and our internal world. As a result, the interface between us and the world has two sides: us (in all our many parts) and the world. When we feel the wind blowing on our face we experience not only the wind, but the sensations on our face caused by the wind. There is a “face” side of things. So when you are with a friend, pay attention not only to your friend, but what you feel in your body when you are with your friend.
Paying attention to yourself in this way is part of a practice called mindfulness. It has to do with being observant about yourself in various situations. For example, what do your feel in your body when you sit down at your desk, say hello to a new neighbor, or go running? How does your body respond when you eat certain foods or buy new shoes? You can learn a lot about what “works” for you when you’re mindful regarding your body throughout your day.
Feeling in your body involves actual physical sensations…tightness, warmth, or quivering, for example. After you identify the physical part of things, find a feeling word that seems to go with the sensation, such as happy, sad, upset, or tired. If you do this you will get a better sense of what you feel. If you always feel tired and listless around a particular friend, that could lead to a significant insight about how your experience your friend. Or if your body becomes energized when talking about gardening, you may run have across some helpful information about what you like.
Whole books have been written about this topic. Author Babette Rothschild, in her book about safe trauma recovery, has an excellent chapter about the surprising and useful things you can learn about yourself in this way. It’s well worth reading.
Of course, don’t be surprised if awareness leads to change. When done in this way, it just might!
8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery: Take-Charge Strategies to Empower Your Healing, Babette Rothschild, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.