Interoception is the neuroscientific term for the experience of sensing inside of one’s own body.
It is separate from cognitive logic, yet complementary. Eugene Gendlin called it the “felt sense”–one’s moment to moment awareness of the bodily process of life. It reacts to events both inside and outside the body. This is a different kind of knowing. Our bodies “speak” to us, in flutters and clenches, tingles and changes in heartbeat, breath, and temperature. This sense is often overlooked or dismissed as “unscientific”, deemed too subjective or somehow unreliable.
Inner awareness is deepened with ongoing practice. It’s vital for resolving ongoing reactivity to old issues. It’s a rich source of information about self and the outside world. The body often picks up information that the conscious mind isn’t aware of, unless one has cultivated a relationship with this inborn sense. The inner sense is the wellspring of liveliness and vitality. In my experience, it is an essential component of healing.
My mother is a delightful fountain of colorful (but not vulgar!) old sayings, lovely images that have passed out of the common vernacular, though they certainly shouldn’t have. “Trust your gut,” she always says. “Listen to that little quiet voice within.” She’s referring to interoception. I suspect that people generally had more time for quiet reflection when she was younger.
These days, I am not seeing much support for the development of this “sixth sense” in our everyday lives. Our attention is flooded with more and faster external stimuli than at any other time in human history. I think that yoga or meditation practice is about as close as we Westerners get, to cultivating the rich world within. Still, even these practices can be diluted, distorted, or simply directed towards other goals: Achievement, weight loss, ripped abs, “letting go,” repeating mantras, etc. But where, oh where, is there cultural support for interoception in its purest form: simply listening to and hanging out with our inner bodily knowing?
Well, there’s support in your local SE practitioner’s office, of course. Guidance from an experienced healer is very important for anyone having a significant history of trauma, stress or overwhelm.
Also, Peter Levine has published a guide for using the felt sense to heal trauma. It comes with some CDs, so that he can talk the listener through the exploration of his exercises.
One can also create a simple practice of finding a quiet environment (a room, a park, a garden, even a parked car) a few times per day, and “listening” to one’s felt sense. Being able to perceive and tolerate one’s inner sensations comes more easily to some than others. When someone can’t access their felt sense, or doing so causes distress, there’s always a reason. Anyone having difficulty in this regard should consult an experienced practitioner.
The world within is a profound source of information and existential richness that shouldn’t be overlooked. Its subjective nuances add depth and flavor to life experience in the more objective exterior world. I can’t think of anyone who was ultimately ever sorry they strengthened their relationship to the felt sense. Our mainstream culture drowns us in obligation and distraction…but with a little consistency and guidance, we can exist on both inner and outer planes, creating a deeper and more satisfying life experience.