Neptune in Pisces Part II – Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness Meditation

Photo: Leo Reynolds

Do We Choose To Step Up or Slide Down?

As I said in Part One, Neptune is associated with spirituality, dissolving of egos and connection to something greater whether we call it divine love or the collective energy of humanity. A practice linked to this idea of connection is meditation.

The way Neptune in Pisces manifests in your life can be either helpful or unhelpful. Either you  become more aware and bigger hearted as a result of the challenges we as individuals and society at large are facing at the moment, or we can succumb to unhealthy means of escapism and denial. According to the Mayans, where the world is at the moment we are at a choice point, a water shed (whether we choose to believe in this is another matter). Do we step up or slide down?

A lot has been said and claimed about meditation. I am not describing it as a means to access divine love or a sense of ‘oneness’ although if you do that is a fantastic (although perhaps a one-off) bonus. I view it as a tool to gain more awareness of the self. After all, it is easy to talk about choosing to step up and not slide down but how do we do it? By becoming more aware.

Stuck Patterns, Unawareness

 The form of meditation I am going to discuss is a practical tool to gain greater self-awareness and meditation. Coming from a gestalt psychotherapeutic background I interpret blocks in people’s functioning as past relational patterns that have become stuck. The individual keeps on reacting without awareness, to present situations in a way that may have suited them when they were five years old but is not helpful now.

For example a daughter with an overbearing father may have learned to creep around quietly with a hushed voice and a timid demeanour to avoid her father’s attention. This would have been helpful behaviour that she developed to protect herself at that time.

However this type of behaviour is less helpful if continued into adulthood and every time she confronts an authority figure she freezes with fear and cowers shyly. She might wonder why she is not taken seriously, why she seems to attract domineering men into her life. In gestalt therapy we call this a stuck gestalt, unfinished business.

 If You Fire You Wire – Awareness

Dan Siegel is a neuroscientist with an interest in how our brains develop and how that development is affected by our relationships. There is much synergy between his research and thinking and that of gestalt therapy. In his words, which I am very much simplifying, if we keep doing things a certain way as a child then certain neural pathways in our brain become reinforced. For those areas that we do not focus on, the neural connections weaken and die off. We have millions of neural connections between different parts of the brain connecting outside stimuli with certain feelings and certain ways of reacting to them.

To go back to the example of the little girl, she is more likely to feel anxious around authority figures and behave meekly because the neural connections are stronger. She is less likely to associate warm feelings of love and acceptance around authority figures (even though there may have been a few instances of this with her father as a child) as the neural connection will be weakened.

This is a very simplified version of Dan Siegel and if you want to read in more depth I would suggest ‘The Mindful Brain’. What is exciting is that through meditation we can grow our neural connections.  Siegel has a catch phrase, “if you fire, you wire”. Meditation is a way to fire neurons so that they connect again.

Back to our example, it means the woman can start to access different feelings and different ways of responding to authority figures that are more helpful for her, than the ways that helped her as a child.

 Intention on Attention

Siegel takes the mystery out of meditation. He describes it as “the act of focussing intention on attention”. In short, it is awareness. No more, no less. It is not about escaping into some divinely realm but becoming very alert to the present moment.

What I love about his Wheel of Awareness Meditation is that he incorporates nine different aspects of awareness. By focussing, step by step, on these  different aspects we are working neural connections that may be weaker. The overall benefit is that we gradually become more integrated as we get in contact with aspects of ourselves that are underused. The domains of integration are the five senses, the inner sense of the body, the mind and the relational self.

For example, we might be a very cerebral person (nothing wrong with that) who is not that in touch with the outer world. This meditation would help them to get more balance. Or we might be a person who is very much wrapped up in their own emotions and not so much aware of others. Paying attention to the relational in the meditation would help to rebalance this.

Again, this is oversimplified. I do not want the meditation to sound like some kind of recipe whereby if you follow all the ingredients then you end up with a gorgeous cake. Furthermore it is no quick fix. I have been practicing the Wheel of Awareness pretty much regularly for around six months. In that time I have had feedback from others in my training group that I am more ‘available’, that I show more of myself: feelings, aspects of my personality. I have also been told that I am more flexible, more able to access parts of myself when I might have got stuck in ‘stuckness’ or negativity before.

 Benefits

For myself, I find myself more mentally flexible. More able to see out of the box in situations where there seems to be an impasse. I have also experienced more intuition, something that I knew only by name in the past. It is that impulse that arises in me that seems to come up from the ground and into me and moves me to do or think something. An impulse as opposed to something that I have been thinking about or struggling with.

I cannot say all this has been because of the Wheel of Awareness practice. That is the thing about life in general and all of these self-development practices in particular. Can we ever really pin point what caused what? Nevertheless I have practiced this meditation, taken a break from it and then come back to it. I have made a commitment to it and that speaks for itself. For me it feels grounded and helpful. At the very least, any type of meditation that helps you to come into the present and enjoy its magic, is a good thing.

I will now give a short summary of the practice however you can get a free recording of the meditation by Dan Siegel, here.

 Summary of Wheel of Awareness Meditation Practice

We are asked to imagine a wheel with a hub and an outer rim. The hub is like the bottom of the ocean. It is calm whilst there may be a tempest (thoughts, feelings) going on at the surface. As we sit in the hub we observe our breathing. We don’t tamper with it, we just observe it.

We then send out a spoke to the outer rim. Here in turn we focus our attention on our five senses: hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touch.

We then come back to the hub, take some deeper breaths and return to watching the breath for a short while.

We then send out a second spoke to the outer rim. We focus our attention on how our body feels from the inside. Our skin, our bones, our internal organs. This is our sixth sense of introception.

We then come back to the hub, take some deeper breaths and return to watching the breath for a short while.

We then send out a third spoke to the outer rim. We focus on and invite in our thoughts and emotions. This is our seventh sense. We observe how they come into existence, how they stay, and how they leave. We also pay attention to the moments when there is no mental activity, what does that feel like?

We then come back to the hub, take some deeper breaths and return to watching the breath for a short while.

Finally we send out a fourth spoke to the outer rim. We focus on our sense of connectedness to people we know, people we see but don’t know, people in our city, our country, the world, the animal and plant world. This is the eighth relational sense. We send out good will and care. We then send care and good will to ourselves.

The last part of the meditation is to come back to the hub and become aware of awareness itself. This is where I focus my attention on the space between the words and feelings. It is a feeling of spaciousness and stillness.

Of course throughout this meditation the monkey brain will wander off many, many times. It may be impossible for you to get a sense of awareness. The most important thing is not beat yourself up. Probably the essence of meditation and the crux of any lasting positive change is learning self compassion. So go easy and enjoy!

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