In one of his 2014 or 2015 lectures, Jordan Peterson asked his classroom where their sense of identity was located. Most described being in their head, meaning that their sense of “me” is located in their head. He responded that he found himself more in his solar plexus and added elsewhere that he spent “as little time as possible in his head”.
This short interaction, almost without context, left me with a question of how is it possible to exist in different parts of the body. As I found that I was located in my head, I wondered if something was wrong with that. Thus, by trying to emulate Jordan Peterson’s suggestion, I attempted to relocate from my head to my solar plexus.
This “relocation of my sense of I” ended up being an unexpected journey that has continuously surprised me. This short article will attempt to describe what happened and give some indications on how to proceed.
Do You Exist Within or Without?
Before continuing this article, I would like the reader to consider the following questions:
Where are you located? Where does your sense of identity reside? Is it in your body and, if so, where? Maybe it’s outside your body? Or maybe you do not have any defined center of identity? Maybe you “exist outside”?
Please take some time to ask yourself these questions before continuing to read. If possible, write about it in some depth. These questions are meant to be confronting.
Now that you’ve considered these questions, I will give my own answers.
When I first asked myself this question, I definitely felt that I “existed in my forehead”, somewhere between my eyes. That “place” is where I hear my own thoughts when reading or thinking. This “spot” is also closely associated with the sense of seeing and the optic nerve.
This identification with both eyesight and a mental structure can explain why I felt that I existed “outside myself”. By that, I mean that my sense of identity derived from “what I was seeing, reading and thinking”. I processed reality from this limited standpoint and I assumed that it was like that for everyone as well.
These assumptions were challenged by Peterson’s remarks. How is it possible that someone could be located somewhere else in their body? And why would you spend less time in your head? Was I doing something wrong? It’s with these questions that I found the video down below.
In this video, Ishwar Puri makes a distinction between existing inside and existing outside, between focusing attention outside and withdrawing attention inside. He gives a very practical exercise to relocate within starting from 49:55-55:00 (the exercise starts at 53:20).
His exercise is about bringing the hands towards the face until it touches the face. At some point, it will cross the “little self out there”. I recommend listening to this part for gaining clarity on this topic.
An Exercise to Move Attention Within
Struck by that exercise, I’ve tried to repurpose it in my own way. This is how I’ve learned to do it.
First, hold one finger in front of your face.
Focus on it by investing your attention, represented by the shining effect. Your center of attention should be identified with the finger.
Now physically move the finger-attention towards your face until it hits your nose. At some point, you will lose visual focus but you will be able to follow it mentally.
Now that your finger cannot move any further, proceed by extending a virtual image of your finger-attention going inside your head.
Once your virtual finger-attention is inside your head, you can now remove the image.
Congratulations, your attention has shifted from outside to inside!
You can now move your attention inside your body. It might feel destabilizing at first but it will soon come to pass. From now on, pay careful attention to how it feels to have your attention within compared to what you were doing before.
Leaving the Head
If the exercise above was done successfully, you can now attempt to relocate away from the head and towards the body.
When I first attempted this, I felt blocked by a knot of emotions in the throat. It took me a few days to go through them. I had spontaneous visualizations of waste pipes being continually emptied. Your situation will assuredly be different.
In any case, once the knot in my throat was cleared, I was able to move my attention through it. From there, there are two main points to explore: the solar plexus and the heart.
The Solar Plexus
Following Peterson’s advice, let’s move towards the solar plexus first. He writes:
If you pay attention to what you do and say, you can learn to feel a state of internal division and weakness when you are misbehaving and misspeaking. It’s an embodied sensation, not a thought. I experience an internal sensation of sinking and division, rather than solidity and strength, when I am incautious with my acts and words. It seems to be centered in my solar plexus, where a large knot of nervous tissue resides. I learned to recognize when I was lying, in fact, by noticing this sinking and division, and then inferring the presence of a lie. It often took me a long time to ferret out the deception. Sometimes I was using words for appearance. Sometimes I was trying to disguise my own true ignorance of the topic at hand. Sometimes I was using the words of others to avoid the responsibility of thinking for myself.
Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, p. 224
Once you’ve moved your center of attention towards your solar plexus, you can become familiar with this new center of being and how radically different it is from the head. To do so, you can practice speaking and see how your solar plexus responds to the words you are saying. The exercise is to speak aloud and see if the words you pick create a sinking feeling or a sense of solidity and strength.
By doing this exercise, you will see that your body reacts autonomously to the words you are using. This is a great way to detect lies and self-deception as it will feel wrong to use certain words or expressions. For instance, I find myself automatically trying to find different words so I can avoid the feeling of discomfort that comes with a careless use of language.
By speaking in that manner, I’ve found that my relationship with language has changed. At first, I used words to say what I thought about things, which was either motivated or weaponized. On the other hand, focusing on my solar plexus and picking my words carefully feels like translating a stream of formless energy that comes out of my core. It’s a very different experience.
I encourage you to give this exercise a good try. It will be slow at first but, like everything, it gets easier after a while. Learning to speak in this manner has been invaluable.
Residing Within the Heart
Another location to try is to focus your attention near the heart.
The place that feels most right for me is around the top of the thymus. For those who do not know where the thymus is, the position I am referring to is at the intersection between the horizontal and the vertical axes of the human body (see picture for reference).
Focusing your attention on this position will make you engage with what appears to be the source of emotions, for a lack of a better description.
In this case, the dynamism is slightly different from the solar plexus. Depending on how you think, speak, or act, the heart will expand or sink. Just like the solar plexus, this will require practice to recognize the many nuances of the heart.
An exercise would be to locate your attention within towards the heart and ask yourself “How do I feel about X?”. Waves of subtle emotions will spontaneously emanate from the heart. From there, you will have to learn to discern the complex and multilayered information from this center of being.
The exercise above can be done with a variation. First, you would ask yourself “What do I think about X?” and gather an answer. Then ask yourself “How do I feel about X?” and notice another answer. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be astonished at how different the answers can be between thinking and feeling.
Relocating to Other Parts of the Body
Outside the head, the throat, the heart, and the solar plexus, there are other centers to try. Sadly, they have not done much for me.
- I’ve tried arms and legs (typically when doing body scan meditations). I’ve always felt that they have very little “pull” to them. They do not feel like a center of being in which I can feel stable.
- Somewhere below the belly button is the gut. This place feels incredibly weak for me, so I prefer the solar plexus.
- Similarly, the loins (sexual organs) feel weakened or uncomfortable for reasons that are not very clear.
I need to emphasize that these are my own perceptions. It appears that I have a lot of work to do on the lower end of my body. In any case, the purpose of this list is to suggest different centers of being for you to explore.
The Interior Journey
This article is about something fundamental. Some people might be already proficient at it and have their own methods, some will start considering trying it because of this article, some will feel dread at the idea that one can exist outside the head.
Wherever you are at, this fundamental I am talking about is the interior journey from the mind to the heart. It is the journey of inner transformation leading into maturity and it will be endlessly challenging because no one knows how to do it.
As a culture, we have lost the ability to exist from the heart and our sense of identity has been hijacked by believing that we exist in the brain alone. This has not happened to many of the so-called primitive people, such as Australian aboriginals, who still know the difference. In fact, I remember reading that they are scared of western man because “he lives in his head” …
From where I am at now, I do my best to observe reality from the standpoint of the heart or the solar plexus. It has been a completely new experience of being and it feels right compared to what I was doing previously. Indeed, “being in my head” can feel like a battlefield at times so I try to spend as little time as possible in there.
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