Occupy Your Body—Sense Always

“This work has service at its apex not its foundation.
At its foundation it has understanding what our situation really is.”—J.G. Bennett. Fallen Leaves. Private Collection, 1980.

“Tonight when we reached Hopeless Idiots, G was very solemn and after the Addition, spoke about ‘this small aim’ not to perish like a dog, and how everyone must have this. Everyone must have the wish ‘not be taxi,’ but to have real owner, not a succession of passengers. He gave us all the task of learning to distinguish between feeling and sensing*—when he sees that we do this task, and do it often, then he will be able to give us another subjective task.” — Elizabeth Bennett. Idiots in Paris p. 48.

download >> The Distinction Between Sensing and Feeling. JG Bennett, 1949.

“We had one of Madame Salzmann’s extraordinary practices: first we sat for 20 minutes sensing various parts of the body** and then the whole body: then we did a new canon with more ‘active’ sort of movements than usual: then we worked on the arms and legs, separately, of the First Obligatory, and she gave us an astonishing demonstration of how to balance; then we sat, beating rhythms on our knees, then we marched on the spot, and afterwards round the room, and then she teased us because we could not do it properly, and jumped up, with a little bounce, from the piano, laughing, and ended the class.” — Elizabeth Bennett. Idiots in Paris p. 128.

“This morning I spent an hour on my knees in the Spring House. After forty minutes, I found I had the power to reach the Collected State. Afterward the pain in my legs became too insistent. But once again toward the end, I began to sense my existence differently. I am not sure that I am doing it rightly, so I hope I shall have a chance of asking.” — JG Bennett. Ibid. p. 12.

Anyone who met Elizabeth Bennett—especially those who accepted her as their teacher–knows well and felt clearly her enthusiasm for “sensing”: she lived it! This enthusiasm was once simply-yet-powerfully expressed to us who were at Sherborne on the fourth basic course: (referring to Mr. B.) she said, with a twinkle in her serious light-filled eyes, “In 1949, he came back from Paris with “sensing,” which Mr. Gurdjieff was then emphasizing as the foundation of his Work!”

The rest is history: a corpus of “morning exercises” was developed and introduced by Bennett and his students to thousands. These “active meditations” are founded and grounded in that action of mind-to-body we (today) simply call “sensing.” The without-a-doubt most important experience Bennett transmitted to us during the last months of his life was that of “occupying our own body” through the work of being actively attentive to the organic sensation of life in it!

Wow! is an understatement. We all know and have experienced—or if not yet, then we need to find a source of help to experience—”without a doubt” the equanimous state of attentive mind in which we are present to life in any part, every, all parts or the whole of the body. It’s really simple, this sensing thing—but to come to it “without a doubt” weeks, months, even years of regular practice with right-accommodating guidance from others who have already come to it without a doubt is necessary. Where to find this help?

The intention of this post is to begin a lively conversation on the received benefits of “sensing” and on how to share with others this important human activity for right human development.

—James Tomarelli