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  • Andrew Lewis

What is Interoception?

A very recent New Scientist Publication on 'The Human Mind' features an article on 'Interoception'.

It states at the outset, ' How our brains interpret signals from within the body has a surprisingly big influence on the mind, an insight that is leading to new ways to tackle conditions like depression, anxiety and eating disorders.'

The article suggests that it is important to understand 'just how much the brain cares about what is going on below the neck.'

'For any animal, survival depends on how well it can detect physical changes that may signal a threat and to take appropriate action to get things back on track. Interoception -- the ability to detect these bodily changes, from heartbeat to changing concentrations of certain hormones in the blood, as well as the psychological expression of these as feelings and emotions -- is a bit like our sixth sense. Integrated by the brain, these changing bodily sensations feed into our mental state and behaviour, consciously or unconsciously, and have a say in every thought and emotion we have.'

Hugo Critchley, a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex, who has been studying this process says, 'Interoception is fundamental to every brain process and behaviour that there is.'

This research is very welcome and interesting to those of us who practice Mindfulness and Meditation. Notice how, coincidentally, the word INSIGHT is used in the introduction to the article. It is a chief characteristic of Vipassana ('insight') meditation that we remain grounded, with mind and body together. There is no separation. This is one of the oldest meditation practices, at least 2500 - 3000 years old. It is the overriding approach in all our meditations at Equanimity.

So many of our frustrations, fears and anxieties are exacerbated by our focus on external events and situations, many of which are beyond our control. We struggle, wrestle, with what's 'happening out there' and we are neglecting to take care of our internal state or condition. This internal environment is where we can have control. It is our responsibility. Only when we take care of this internal environment, with practice, patience and compassion, can we begin to work positively and realistically with what's going on 'out there'. We don't focus entirely on 'what's happening to me' (external), we focus also on 'what am I doing to myself? (internal). The internal landscape often distorts the external landscape in unhelpful and inaccurate ways. How we see and understand ourselves colours how we see and understand the world around us.

It may sound strange if you have not experienced or practiced this, but your body often has the answer when your mind is in turmoil; it is just waiting for you to come home, to come back to 'ground control'. Solutions then emerge and /or uncertainties are accommodated.

The practice is liberating. It helps to find an inner peace, an inner calm which leads to greater wellbeing and contentment. We notice when we become distracted and we bring ourselves home to safety, peace, and healing.

Call it Mindfulness, or Vipassana, or Meditation or Interoception, it doesn't matter. The core truth and efficacy hasn't changed in 3000 years. They just didn't have New Scientist Publications that long ago!

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A very well written synopsis.

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