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  • Presence and Embodied Awareness with the Enneagram: Exteroception and Interoception

    As we begin to become familiar with our Type and learn about its patterns, the first step towards growth is learning to be a good self observer.  Becoming a good observer of our patterns involves expanding our ability to step back with objectivity and say to ourselves…”Oh there it is.  That’s my pattern of ______”.   We need to catch ourselves in our patterns, in “real time” before any change is possible.  

    Staying present-meaning, the experience of a firm grounding in the here and now without attaching all sorts of meaning to it, is a necessary precursor to being able to observe ourselves accurately.  How do we get to a state of presence?  Embodied awareness is the key to presence, and thus the key to quality self observation.  

    The Enneagram describes three centers of intelligence, or three ways of knowing-the Head, the Heart and the Gut/Body.  Western culture  teaches and prioritizes awareness of our head center above the emotional center, and very little attention is given to understanding the “gut” or body center as a way of knowing.  Modern neuroscience and trauma psychology is quickly catching us up on this deficit, recognizing how important body awareness is in the healing of trauma and other psychological challenges. 

    How do we learn to become more present?  How do we achieve a more embodied awareness of ourselves? Paying attention to our physical cues and experiences invites us to literally “wake up” and become more attuned to our own inner experiences.  Being in tune with ourselves then creates an environment where presence can be cultivated.  When presence is cultivated, we are in closer alignment to reality-not in our own narratives.  And when we are present enough to honestly see ourselves and our patterns, the unproductive ones begin to naturally fall away.  

    For most of us, it is not natural to pay attention to our inner experience on the level of sensation.  Two terms related to embodied awareness can help us to learn to tune in to what is being experienced by our bodies: Exteroception and Interoception are terms that help us understand more about how the body perceives. 

    Exteroception involves perceiving that which is outside of ourselves, and perceived by the 5 senses, which all of us are probably familiar with-sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. We use these senses on a daily basis, but when was the last time you actually really perceived the smells of your garden or your neighborhood? How often are you fully aware of the sensation of the clothing on your body? Do you eat to live, or do you take the time to fully experience the taste of your meal? 

    Interoception involves the visceral experience of what is happening internally.  This is harder to pinpoint than tapping into our 5 senses to things outside of our body.  An example of Interoception is experiencing our own breathing.  Our breathing apparatus operates automatically, whether we are aware of it or not.  How often do you actually notice your breath? How often do you pause long enough to experience the butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous or the tingly feeling of excitement?  

    Pausing long enough to fully experience these sensations brings us into embodied presence.  

    Try these exercises to increase your own capacity for presence.  It’s always easier to start with the more familiar Exteroception.

    1. Take a 5 senses walk in your home area-perhaps around your yard, or the neighborhood around your apartment building. Tune in fully to your senses. What do you see that perhaps you’ve missed before?  What smells are you aware of?  Really take them in!  What noises are in your awareness?  When you really tune in, what else can you hear?  What sensations are arising from your sense of touch?  Can you feel the heat of pavement, or perhaps a cold breeze burning your cheeks? 

    1. Try experimenting with Interoception after you’ve become more familiar with Exteroception.  Find your breath and meet it. What do you notice about it?  Is it shallow, labored…what is its pace?  Stay with it and just notice whatever is present.  Expand your practice to include many more sensations.  Some easy examples are noticing the sensations of when you experience a startle response, or a surprise.  Pay close attention to where the response occurs in your body. Try to stay with the sensation, visiting with it for awhile.  Eventually move to noticing what happens viscerally when you are having emotional reactivity to something.  If you’re reactive to something another person did or said, what is the sensation of that?  Where is it located in your body space?  Does it have a size, shape,  density, or weight to it?  Visit with it for awhile, and you’ll soon develop a much larger capacity for presence. Experiment with this wherever you are, as often as you can.