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Including Neutrality In Our Direct Experience

By Lisa Meuser.

This is the fourth part in my blog series on discomfort. You can find the first one here, as well as a YouTube link to all of them being read here. In this post I’ll be writing about the topic of neutrality, something I wrote a bit about last year.

Sometimes we humans get lost in two speeds – immersed completely in something, or avoidance of something. Sometimes these two are related: we get lost in a feeling, it overwhelms us, and then to cope with that we turn off.  Feeling pleasure, or pain, involves a lot of body engagement, and let’s be honest, we’re not a culture that has a healthy relationship with body engagement. Even while we may say we want to feel pleasure, or would rather feel pleasure over pain, we may not know how to be comfortable with the body engagement that comes with pleasure. And, as much as we may not like pain, we may be more familiar with managing pain, than opening up to pleasure.

There is a lot of possible territory to explore with all that. I’m not going to go deeper into those specific areas – instead I’m going to write about how we might learn to navigate difficult territories – pleasure, pain, or other expressions – by also noticing and including resonances we’ve not yet become familiar with.

Moving Beyond Binary Traps
How often have you spent time contemplating your neutral experiences – the experiences that exist outside the bounds of enjoyable, or uncomfortable, for example?  For some of us, we can’t help it – the moment we feel discomfort, it feels like ALL of us is uncomfortable. For some of us, we can’t help it – we are driven to pay attention only to that which feels good. Our attention, and the way we think, can be exclusionary like that.

That makes life really narrow and limited, however, because it’s very unlikely that ALL of us feels good, or that ALL of us feels uncomfortable. It’s impossible for all of our sense receptors to be feeling the same thing, and it’s impossible that X <insert that which is being focused upon > is the only experience that is happening. This binary kind of thinking – this, OR that – is very dominant in our culture, and it contributes to how we oppress ourselves, as well as others.

Let’s explore this using temperature. If you scan your body, head to toes, I wonder how many variations of temperature there are. For me, I feel very warm in some areas, while other areas are quite cool, while other areas are a range of “in between.”  From this we can learn that in lived experience we are AND creatures. We experience warmth AND coolness simultaneously. Our binary-trained minds often go against our experiences, however, focusing on just one aspect of our experience, as if that is all that is there.

When it comes to discomfort, or pleasure, our minds are even more trained to focus on just one, or the other. When we focus in such a binary way, we have to exclude everything else. An effect of that is that our world gets smaller – as we become reduced to just that which is being focused upon.

Have you ever felt afraid, and in that state felt very small? This presents a similar dynamic. Parts of our brain are being utilized, and parts of brain are being excluded. Parts of our experiences are being included, and parts of our experience are being excluded.  We often feel small because we’re experiencing life as our child-self did – our child-self who was indeed small, and who was often un-resourced, overwhelmed, and without agency. It can be very disempowering to be a child because of the lack of control we had.  When we become afraid as adults, even though we have more resourcing and agency than we did when we were kids, we can easily forget that we are safe and resourced when fear states come over us[1]. We can easily feel disempowered.

Now, let’s imagine being afraid, and, as we’re aware of the discomfort of the fear, we’re also aware of other things. Imagine being able to acknowledge the discomfort and/or fear, AND also being able to notice that there are sensations in the body that are actually quite fine. Imagine being able to name that we may feel unsafe, but that we can look around the room and notice that we are physically safe.  In that moment, we may escape the binary world of either/or, instead enter the world of both/and. We BOTH feel unsafe, AND are safe. This very quickly changes the dynamic, and we can go from feeling lost in a sensation state, to being in relationship with all that we’re experiencing – the “good, bad, and ugly,” or as I like to say, with what I don’t like, AND what is also ok/fine.

It can feel counterintuitive to take the time to include the AND in our experience. And, at first, it may not seem like it’s changing anything in our experience. It takes time for the AND neural pathways to form, but once they do, the practice of inclusion both becomes easier, and shifts our reality. Just like any practice, it is a process, and it requires time and engagement.

Learning to Expand our Attention
Because we’re trained to think from a binary lens, it takes effort to include the full range of our experiences, rather than just focusing on one aspect. Because we’re trained to think in terms of good or bad, it takes effort to include aspects of our experiences that are neither good, nor bad, and instead neutral (or are “ok” or “fine”).

A profound part of my journey has been learning how to make friends with the territory of neutrality. As I wrote in a past blog post, because I’ve been drawn to highs and lows, and because I have had so many false ideas about waking up and healing, it took time for me to even be interested in what I call neutrality – the space in between “good” and “bad.”

When we’re used to the intensities of “good” and “bad”, neutrality might feel strange at first. For some, it may feel boring, or empty. It may be uncomfortable or unsettling. We may feel “twitchy”, or like we’re doing something wrong. We may feel like there is “nothing here.” It can take time to know that just because something is different, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad, or that we’re in danger. Our entire sense of identity can be threatened when we start to engage the territory of neutral. As another client said, “who even am I if I’m not feeling my usual X  <intense feeling>?”  For them, it seemed that meaning and even vitality was gone when connecting to neutrality. It can take time for the nervous system to reorient towards health when we’ve grown used to the rush of pain or pleasure chemicals. It can be unnerving to not be caught in the binary.  And, it can be strange to be connecting with our bodies in direct experience.

We are laden with ideas of what we think we should be experiencing, and when we, even for a moment, give them up and consider what we’ve not yet been including, we can become very insecure. This is a normal part of change, evolution and growth. AND, yes, it can be uncomfortable. Said another way: including neutrality can bring about discomfort.

Experiential opportunity:

Notice, when you feel discomfort, you will likely also be experiencing “not discomfort.” It may not be comfort that you experience, but you will likely be experiencing something other than discomfort. For example, I may feel a tightening in my solar plexus, which may feel uncomfortable for me. Nearby, I may feel neutrality in my pelvic floor, ease in my chest, and even some comfort with the support that is behind my back. When we pause and explore, we may discover there is comfort, neutrality and discomfort happening simultaneously. It is important for our well-being that we learn how to include more of our experience.

Not everyone is challenged by neutrality. Neutrality might feel like a welcome relief after spending much of their life on the rollercoaster of life:  the erratic ups and downs can be exhausting! For many, including neutrality can be a combination of sorts: challenging AND relieving.  One client shared, “First I thought neutrality was nothing, and the place where I felt the trigger (in my body) was everything. And now I see the neutrality as something full, and “strong.”

As we continue to practice including the full range of our experiences, in the simplest ways that we can, we will slowly learn that there is great vitality in all moments. In each inhalation, there is aliveness. In each heartbeat, vivacity. In each movement of our body, liveliness. In engaging in any of our sense receptors, engagement with life.

It takes time to move from living from our imagination, to living in direct experience. Please be gentle with yourself, and make sure you have loving, compassionate and consensual support. I have recorded many rest meditations that focus on inclusion – here is one, and here is another.  Others can be found on Insight Timer or here.

As always, please let me know what questions or observations you have! If you are interested in these topics, you may be interested in my 10-month Exploration coming up. More details to be released this week, or email me for more information: [email protected]

[1]  I’m obviously not talking about a situation where our life is in real or immediate danger.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.