Relational mindfulness offers a different perspective on how we know what we know.
It has forever been a cliche that “experience changes us”. But how? Now, we know that this is not just a metaphor. Experience actually changes our brain, as Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel states:
“The growth and maintenance of new synaptic terminals makes memory persist. Thus, if you remember anything of this book, it will be because your brain is slightly different after you have finished reading it.”
— Eric Kandel: In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.
We respond to experience as we live it. This is a bottom-up, whole-organism response, as opposed to a top-down response (meaning, intellectual analysis of the situation that would then lead to physical response).
This bottom-up, whole-organism response is not an abstraction, but an embodied reality. It is implicit action, i.e. action that is taking place, below awareness, in response to our situation as we perceive it. It happens, to various degrees depending on the situation, in our brain and nervous system, and our muscles: we are getting poised for action.
What we call a felt sense is just the experience of this implicit action. It gives us a gateway to the implicit movement that is already here: As we intentionally shift our attention from our thoughts to our bodily sensations, we start to sense into the implicit movement that is our whole organism’s response to the situation.
Gene Gendlin famously says that the felt sense “carries forward.” It is actually not the felt sense that carries forward, but the underlying implicit movement that we get in touch with, and process, through the felt sense.
We start with a fuzzy felt sense of how we are orienting in response to our environment. As we stay with this sense, we experience it as an implicit, unfinished response that needs to be completed. As we allow it to complete in an appropriate manner, we can come to an explicit understanding of it.