I haven’t written on xyz for ages, so here’s an experiment. I learned this from an old miner named Noom.
It begins so. Most of our negative states (worry, anxiety, depression) stem from hanging out unconsciously in the water element. Water is a narrow, internal focus. A thought, a feeling. Something we turn over and over inside our heads. (Usually about something not right with our world. ) We get stuck in this cramped space. From here let’s try a path, a trail of sorts out to a different place. We’re not going to try to replace what’s here with happier feelings or thoughts, or even resolve anything at this level, we’ll leave everything just as it is, instead we’re going to go on a walkabout with our attention.
Focus now on something external. The breath maybe, its feeling on our nostrils, or a specific point of focus in the external world: that coffee cup on your desk, or a single sound. This is fire. Narrow, external focus. We’ve shifted our attention from an internal thing to an external thing. It’s still a narrow focus but we’ve shifted it to something more material than a thought or emotion. And in doing so we’ve shifted attention from water to fire. Keep attention on an object in this external focus for a few minutes.
Next, become aware of the entire field of vision but not any one thing in particular; or of all the sounds without distinguishing individual sounds. This is earth. Broad, external focus. It probably brings naturally in its wake a wave of subtle relaxation. This comes sometimes from unfolding awareness into a larger space than the “point” consciousness of water and fire, a space where we can catch our breath. This broader field state of awareness has been called Hakalua by the shamans of Hawaii. It’s a nice state to be in while walking in a crowd of people, there is a whole flow thing happening. You’ll find you can glide through the crowded subways of Tokyo like a fish through dancing seaweed. Stay in this expanded, external awareness for a few minutes.
The final maneuver to this yoga of attention brings us to where a subtle bliss hangs out, and is antidote to all moods and fugue states which spawn from absorption in water. Become aware of the feeling inside the body, not any particular place, but like the expanded sight and sounds of earth, try to take in the sensations of the entire body at once. This vast and shimmering unified field of sensations that make up the totality of presence in the body. This is air. It is a broad internal focus.
Most people aren’t aware that attention has structure. A particular orientation, either external or internal and a particular scope: narrow or broad. And shifting through these modalities with the senses, in a certain sequence, unlocks specific effects. In this case, freeing our awareness from submergence in unpleasant thoughts or feelings. The sequence is important (but experiment with yourself if you’d like to see if that is so.)
Play with being aware of what structure of attention you habitually reside in. And the effects of opening your field of awareness with earth and air on the quality of your day. For most of us, it’s like shifting to an entirely different mode of being. And with it, comes new channels of information about our reality.
The element Air may first seem strange to assign the body. But when we explore the field of sensation it’s surprising that most of our internal body sensation is actually space rather than a density we might have assumed before investigating first hand.
And we cannot be aware of this field of our body without also being present in the now. In fact, there are entire Buddhist, Yogic and Somatic practices based totally on hanging out here in the body with the air element. With attention spread from head to toe. Students of Gurdjieff are told to keep at least 80 percent of their awareness constantly in the body to become more alive, present and less of an automaton in daily life.
So if you ever need a little taste of lightness of being, especially when swallowed in some fugue or mood or the world closing in around you. Give this little mental asana a whirl and discover how specifically directing attention, in a prescribed sequence, can fundamentally shift the quality of experience. It’s like an escape hatch. And with just this superficial, level one spell of the elements, one might become curious about what else is possible working with elements.
Mastery of our moods and capabilities begins with mastery of attention
So the next post will probably be about a cool trick with the water element that leverages its unique properties in ways even more magical.
- The Structure of Delight by Nelson Zink
- The Awakening Body: Somatic Meditation for Discovering Our Deepest Life by Reginald Ray
- Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness by Will Johnson