Sensing Exercises are pre-eminently associated with Gurdjieff. Many Seekers in the Gurdjieff tradition will be disappointed to learn that Sensing exercises are previously known in the Hindu tradition as the Tantra practice of Nyasa. Nevertheless, it is an obscure tradition and Gurdjieff’s introduction of it to the West is a welcome and extremely important development. In fact, it may be one of the most important things he introduced to the West, and it is an essential element in all of Gurdjieff’s teachings. Proficiency in Sensing is one of the most fundamental tasks to accomplish in the Gurdjieff Work. The Movements are quite often accompanied by sensing exercises.
Sensing refers to the ability to take in Impressions generated in and by our Physical Center. These include the sensations of touch, pressure, heat, cold, position and balance of our physical Being. Modern science has identified about 21 different types of nerve receptors (see the table on the right) that relay consciously perceivable information to our Instinctive brain.
The Sensations for every part of our body occur in a region of the brain called the neo-cortex. This area has been dubbed the Homunculus. When we learn to Sense we are exercising our brain and learning to control the flow of energy and consciousness. Learning to Sense our body is an essential and basic task of the Gurdjieff Work. All of the Work exercises require Sensing the body all of the time. Sensing is the quintessential exercise for including the physical center in all three centered exercises. Get to know it well and strive to include it in all your Work on Self Remembering.
The Basic Sensing Exercise
To start with the experience Sensing, take a comfortable position and become aware of your feet. Imagine that you are being filled with a warm, thick, honey like liquid and that it is slowly filling your body, starting from the feet and moving up to your legs, then pelvis, then torso, then arms, then chest, then head. Be aware of the sense of gravity pulling your body towards the ground. Be aware of the position of your limbs. Strive to maintain an awareness of Sensing in the whole body. This requires your whole Attention.
The Great Heart Sensing Exercise
Simply be aware of the sensations of the heart beating within the chest and the pressure of the pulse throughout the body, arms and legs.
Partial Sensing Exercises
When Sensing is combined with exercises that involve physical action or involvement of the emotional and intellectual centers, sometimes it is desirable to limit Sensing to a particular part of the body in order to free up Attention for other tasks. In those instances one may limit Sensing to one or another part of the body. For example, while washing dishes, sense the hands; when walking, sense the feet; when writing, sense the fingers; when reading; sense the buttocks; when talking, sense the face. Many variations are possible, limited only by your imagination.
Sequential Sensing Exercises
Sequential sensing exercises involve sensing various parts of the body in a particular order. These are good when doing repetitive tasks and help keep the intellectual center quiet and focused on maintaining the sequence. Prayers or verbal repetitions can be combined with the sequence, such as I Wish, I Can, I Am or the AIEIOIUOA.
Sequential Sensing Exercises can be as simple or as complex as you want or can handle for the task at hand. The more complex patterns are probably best used as preparation for meditation. Bennett had one called the Sixty Point Exercise. Some of the Movements include sequential sensing exercises.
Advanced Sensing Exercises
60 Bone Exercise
Direct the Attention to the three bones of each of the fingers and toes in the following sequence 3 times while repeating the Holy Affirming Prayer. One line of the prayer with each finger and toe; one complete prayer for each hand and foot. Total sequence = 4 prayers x 3 sequences = 12 prayers.
1. Right hand beginning with the thumb.
2. Left foot beginning with the little toe.
3. Right foot beginning with the big toe.
4. Left hand beginning with the little finger.
Transubstantiate in me,
For my Being.
10 Bone Illumination Exercise
Direct the Attention deep into the marrow of the major elements of the bone structure in the following manner. Whenever the force of attention permits, visualize a brilliant light emanating from the marrow of the bones where magnetic center possibly resides. The Seeker is encouraged to research what is presently known by the medical community about the structure and function of the bones and bone marrow. The Seeker may also repeat a prayer in conjunction with each bone, such as : Holy God, Holy Firm, Holy Immortal, Have Mercy Upon Us, or by repeating a counting sequence. The length of time that the attention is held on each bone can be varied.
1. Lower right leg bone.
2. Upper right leg bone.
3. Pelvic bone.
4. Upper left leg bone.
5. Lower left leg bone.
6. Spinal column and skull.
7. Upper right arm bone.
8. Lower right arm bone.
9.Upper left arm bone.
10. Lower left arm bone.
12 Joint Exercise
While walking or during some physical activity the Seeker will continuously bring the Attention to the main joints of the body in the designated sequence while repeating a prayer such as the Holy Affirming Prayer, or by repeating a counting sequence. The length of time that the attention is held on each joint can be varied.
1. Right wrist.
2. Right elbow.
3. Right shoulder.
4. Left hip.
5. Left knee.
6. Left ankle.
7. Right ankle.
8. Right knee.
9. Right hip.
10. Left shoulder.
12. Left wrist.
5 Bone Exercise
While doing a Sightless Gaze – breathe into the right arm 3 times; breathe into the spine and skull once; breathe into the left leg 3 times; breathe into the spine and skull once; breathe into the right leg 3 times; breathe into the spine and skull once; breathe into the left arm 3 times; breathe into the spine and skull once.
Continue for 15-30 minutes, whatever feels comfortable for you. For 5 minutes at the end, transform the results by impartially savouring the state of inner quiet characteristic of all-brains-balanced-being-perception.
Repetition of a prayer, mantra or counting sequence may be added to the exercise.
Situational Sensing Exercise
“When walking, the practitioner is aware, ‘I am walking’; when standing, is aware, ‘I am standing’; when sitting, is aware, ‘I am sitting’; when lying down, is aware, ‘I am lying down.’ In whatever position one’s body happens to be, one is aware of the position of the body. When one is going forward or backward, one applies one’s full awareness to one’s going forward or backward. When one looks in front or looks behind, bends down or stands up, one also applies full awareness to what one is doing. One applies full awareness to wearing the robe or carrying the alms bowl. When one eats or drinks, chews or savors the food, one applies full awareness to all this. When passing excrement or urinating, one applies full awareness to this. When one walks, stands, lies down, sleeps or wakes up, speaks or is silent, one shines his awareness on all this.” So said the Buddha.
I AM Exercise
This exercise is given by Gurdjieff in his book Life is Real. It is actually quite simple, yet profound.
One intones out loud or silently, depending on the situation, “I AM”, and tries to Sense a reverberation or flow of energy in the solar plexus.
Another variation is given by Ouspensky :
On one occasion, in connection with the description of exercises in concentration and bringing the attention from one part of the body to another, G. asked:
“When you pronounce the word ‘I’ aloud, have you noticed where this word sounds in you?”
We did not at once understand what he meant. But we very soon began to notice that when pronouncing the word ‘I’ some of us definitely felt as if this word sounded in the head, others felt it in the chest, and others over the head–outside the body.
I must mention here that personally I was entirely unable to evoke this sensation in myself and that I have to rely on others.
G. listened to all these remarks and said that there was an exercise connected with this which, according to him, had been preserved up to our time in the monasteries of Mount Athos.
A monk kneels or stands in a certain position and, lifting his arms, which are bent at the elbows, he says–Ego aloud and drawn out while listening at the same time where the word “Ego” sounds.
The purpose of this exercise is to feel “I” every moment a man thinks of himself and to bring “I” from one center to another.
(Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 304)
I Wish, I Can, I Am Exercise
This is similar to the I Am exercise. One repeats silently or aloud, “I Wish, I Can, I Am” and tries to Sense a reverberation in the head, the heart and the solar plexus, respectively. Each phrase should be done with a fresh breath.
Pondering on Sensing
Who is Sensing?
What is Sensation?
Why is Sensation important?
Can I live without Sensation?
How many types of Sensation are there?
What Sensations do I dislike?
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