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  • Zeb

Inner Attunement & Balance

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Why, and how does embodied nondual meditation heal our injuries? Is it simply about “letting go” of our psychological conditioning or is there something more to it? Answering this involves understanding what we experience.

In meditation we become aware of the most subtle expressions of our inner experience. We come to feel all the "micro-expression" ways we respond and behave that occur within fractions of a second that we were previously unaware of. We begin to notice how each moment involves an expression that communicates to the next moment that receives this expression and contributes to it with its own expression. Experiencing this perception response process involves inward attunement with a very subtle awareness.

In meditation we gain a first-hand experience of how distinguishing these kinds of subtle perceptions and streams of awareness from each other, help us link our perceptions so our mind and body become integrated. This integration allows us to respond to our perceptions in new ways, becoming free from prisons of prior learning, limiting habits, and trauma.

One way of deepening our understanding of this inner experience of attunement that we have in meditation is through Stephen Porges’s polyvagal theory. Porges (1998) explains that it is the act of attunement between two people that helps us feel a sense of connection. This sense of connection can create an inspiring feeling of safety and comfort. This kind of attunement helps us be able to quickly establish a sense of connection with a friend who is cautious, gently disarm an aggressive one, or get a tightly restrained partner to finally let go and communicate.

Attunement between people provides the familiarity in relationship that allows us to form a secure bond and arouses a good vibe within us. This experience has precedent. When a parent becomes attuned to the internal world of a child, the child becomes more balanced and grows the ability to manage what feels overwhelming. In this sense, attunement plays a central part in forming a healthy identity and evolving sense of self.

Porges explains that attunement is what we use when we encounter an unfamiliar person. In this process the “amygdala,” which is the part of the brain responsible for evaluating trustworthiness, scans the stranger’s often unconscious nonverbal expressions and makes a split-second threat analysis. If the amygdala assesses that the stranger is safe, then the brainstem’s vagal and autonomic nervous system responds and activates the brain’s “social engagement system.” The brain’s “social-engagement system” gives us a sense of open receptivity. We become receptive to engaging, connecting, and “feeling-felt” in relationship. The social engagement system is the brain circuitry responsible for certain types of vocalizations, facial expressions, and gestures that elicit feelings of trust and openness in other people. These expressions are the primary ways we exchange messages that signal either safety or danger. People who seem to have the magic touch when it comes to putting people at ease and relating to others, have an activated social engagement system.

What is often not commonly understood is that many of the same processes that occur in our “evolving-self’s” attunement with other people (inter-personally) also occur between different aspects of our self (intra-personally). Psychology recognizes that the self is not one thing but a complex of multiple parts that can interact with each other (Fritz Perls, Richard Schwartz). The potential problem with this understanding is that we segment the self into different compartments and fail to recognize the self in its more unified nature. Yet to deepen our understanding of our “self,” it is valuable to look at its different components, such as its mental, emotional, and sensory nature. When injury caused these aspects of our self to become disconnected and fragmented, understanding the parts through the practice of attunement can help us effectively integrate them back together.

In Richard Schwartz’s view, the mind is like a family in which the members or parts of our self have different levels of maturity, wisdom, and disposition to become overwhelmed. Each part is not an emotion but a way of being in relationship. These parts of our internal family form a network where change in one part influences all the other parts. When we experience trauma the different parts of our changing evolving-self go into conflict with one another. For instance our mind and body become disconnected or are at odds with each other. With this same understanding, Fritz Perls often guided people to have the different parts of our self be in conversation with each other to heal trauma.

The intra-personal inner attunement involved in this “conversation” is something we learn to do in embodied nondual meditation. To access the nondual qualities of our unchanging-self’s Buddha nature in embodied nondual meditation, requires a very subtle inner attunement. What we find in meditation is that inner attunement initially allows us to feel the surface layer of our evolving-self’s shifting sensations, passing thoughts, and impermanent emotions. As our senses become more refined, we can feel what lies deeper than all the evolving and changing aspects of our self. We can feel the inner space within which all this movement is happening. It is as if we perceive the space between the particles within each atom. Within our sense of this inner space, we recognize the space is not a void but that it is conscious. We recognize that the space is not something separate from us, but that we are the conscious space that pervade our body. It can be said that we feel the stillness of our fully balanced state of being, our “unchanging-self.”

The sacred communion between our ever-changing “evolving-self” and the stillness of our “unchanging-self” is based on the attunement that happens between the dual and nondual dimensions of self. In a similar way to the interaction we have with others, our inner attunement to the nondual attributes of our unchanging-self (unchanging, stillness, balance, unity, etc.) cultivates the experience of being securely attached to what seems like our own inner best friend.

This inner bonding experience becomes a very valuable way to enhance our ability to respond to what we feel in a way that is not dependent on our habits of mind and body. It increases our overall resilience and the dynamic equilibrium (balance) within our evolving-self’s body-mind system. With practice our attunement to the sense of inner peace and unconditional love inherent to the unchanging-self of our Buddha nature, becomes a stable experience. In this way we incorporate the feeling of balance within our physical, mental, and emotional life.

The feeling of balance activates our vagus nerve, which is what allows our "rest and digest" parasympathetic physiology to come on-line. When we have “vagal tone,” we increase our baseline of dynamic balance and overall resilience within our evolving-self’s body-mind system. But more importantly, when our unchanging-self becomes a stable experience, we also open to experiences that naturally result from inhabiting our body as our unchanging-self. Our unchanging-self is deeper that any injury and inherently gives us access to feelings of unity, wholeness, and even unconditional love. As a result, we experience compassion, self-love, and self-worth. This naturally quiets down our habitual self-criticism and negative voices that keep us shut-down and unable to relate to people in healthy ways. We become more present to our self and to other people. This establishes a foundation for us to define healthy emotional boundaries in relationship.

Dr. Zeb Lancaster

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