Gestaltists believe we live too much in our heads and avoid
sensations in our bodies. Thus, the saying, "lose your mind, gain your
senses." In our culture we tend to disregard what is going on in our
bodies (that is why Gestalt therapists pay so much attention to the
patient's gestures, mannerisms, and body language) but do an
excessive amount of head-tripping, i.e. trying to reason, plot,
manipulate, and self-help our way out of a problem. Without being
clearly aware of the complex and conflicted feelings in our body and in
our "unfinished business," our coping will be impaired. Awareness is
not easy to gain, however.
Your task is to become open to all feelings and sensations in you,
to perceive the environment in detail, to be a fully experiencing
person. Start practicing increasing your awareness. Try to see and
note details in a familiar situation you never noticed before. Notice
facial expressions, eye movement, body language, tone of voice, the
little ways we signal "it is your turn to talk" or "it is time for me to go."
Notice your hand gestures, eye movements, physiological and
emotional responses, your feelings when touched or challenged, etc.
Review your history and try to uncover the origins of your feelings and
reactions to certain people or situations--look for the "unfinished
business." Also, practice describing in detail an interaction you have
recently had with someone. Note what is easy for you to focus on and
describe, and which aspects of the situation you tend to neglect or
avoid. A friend can help you realize what you overlook.
Bodily sensations and body language are peep holes into our
hidden conflicts and feelings. So you can see why, as the patient is
talking about a concern, Gestalt therapists are constantly commenting,
"What are you feeling?," "What is your foot doing?," "Your hand is
making a fist, what is it feeling?," "What does it mean when you
stretch like that?," "Stay with the feeling of guilt and see where it
leads you," "What do you want to happen?" and so on. There is no
reason why you can't constantly ask yourself, "What is going on inside
me?" and, thus, become more self-aware.
It is also important to observe any resistance you have to
increasing your observational powers and your awareness. Are you
uninterested or bored with practicing to increase your awareness? Are
you made anxious by these tasks? Are you saying, "I'm perceptive and
aware enough!"? If you are resisting, you probably do tend to avoid
facing some unpleasant feelings. The feelings, people, and situations in
the past that most upset you are probably your "unfinished business"--
the ones that are inhibiting you from being a fully and accurately
experiencing person every moment of your life.
Another purpose of these Gestalt exercises is to clarify for you the
difference between (1) having an immediate experience--having the
feelings fully here and now--and (2) giving a "clinical" description--
unemotional, cold and cognitive--of the feelings to a friend. I notice
when I share a painful experience (divorce, a troubled child, a failure)
with a group or friend, even though I am genuine, completely honest,