stanley greenspan

Our embodied life through filters of perception

Embodiment is a way to use your body for greater insight into your mind. To understand how you perceive is to understand how you create meaning. The more embodied this process, the more clarity you can have in your self observations. The more complete your understanding of the perceptual process, the more compassionate you can be with yourself and consequently with others.

Your understanding of the world starts with your experience of it, and it is full of sensory impressions. You navigate the sensory forces in your life through the filters of your interpretation. To understand how that works, you have to go back to the womb, where sensory systems begin to develop.

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Inside the womb, you are held within a pressurized, fluid environment that gives you all you need. Light, sound, scents, and microgravity reach you and begin to shape your sensory perception. In fact, your auditory system, sense of deep touch, and sense of movement are well-formed before you emerge from the womb. The Tomatis Method is a sound therapy program developed by a French Ear Nose and Throat doctor who recognized this before the rest of the medical community did.

Emerging from this enclosed environment, your entire world is transformed with an explosion of light, high frequency sounds, strong scents, and increased gravitational force.  All of these forces are no longer mediated through amniotic fluid, and the pressure systems internal to you reorganize. Your lungs begin to breathe on their own; the expanding pressure of your viscera distends your belly.

Now you begin to create your own filters of perception, your own independent amniotic sac of sorts, to help you organize the overwhelm of sensations.

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The first filter is emotional. Dr. Stanley Greenspan describes the process of how you have learned to use emotions as shorthand guidance for survival behaviors. Emotions are collections of sensations identified with meaning. The process of decoupling sensation from meaning is a process for a mature nervous system. It is a nervous system in self-observation.

The second filter is developmental (learning to be upright in the gravitational field, to nourish and comfort yourself for independent survival, find your boundaries, share, speak your needs, etc.). It is tightly encoded with the lessons you learn within the context of your family. Your culture becomes another filter of understanding as you learn what it means to belong to a larger tribe or community.

The context of the generation into which you were born, or the historical era of your life, is yet another filter through which you process phenomenon such as gravity, light, sound, scents.

To understand personal experience, we can look at the level of the filter. Psychotherapy often works with the filter of development, delving into family history and personal narrative. Immigrants can maintain a sense of belonging by maintaining their cultural filter in their adopted homeland. As a society, we grapple with the implications of the era of information and the implications of addictive, manipulative media on the generation we call digital natives.

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But what if instead of focusing on the filters, we identified with the phenomenon of what we experience through our senses:  light, sound, scents, pressure, gravity? The commonality of our collective human experience is there - something to which we all belong, regardless of the filters of our perception. Learning to experience phenomena with more precision, with more clarity, is a way to anchor into universal forces that are not colored by filters.

Can you embody the force of gravity very clearly through your bones, evenly through your joints, in a way that allows the force of gravity to move through you? It's an act of surrender from the normal 'doing' mode of cognitively-driven tasks. But it is also an engagement with the environment in a way that is driven by refined perception. In some traditions they call this using 'life force' and it feels like a sort of non-doing. There is a sense of action, but it is deeply supported instead combative. Like surfing, you are hooking into a force that is larger than yourself, allowing you to surrender and enjoy the ride. Learning to do this is a skill for a lifetime.