By Michael McDowell
Vivation is the best way I know to enjoy all of your feelings unconditionally. It is comprised of five component skills, known as the Five Elements of Vivation. All are practiced together, each element supporting the others. The purpose and result of Vivation is a more vivid and pleasurable experience of the ongoing present moment. It is a process of embracing reality in new and more satisfying ways. This embrace is called integration. Integration is the opposite of suppression. As you gain skill with The Five Elements, you cause integration more easily and efficiently.
I’ll now describe each of The Five Elements below. Each element is an integral layer of an ever-deepening embrace.
First Element: Circular Breathing
The first element involves connecting the inhale with the exhale in an unbroken circuit of breath. Because the exhale is completely relaxed and not controlled at all, circular breathing is completely safe and does not cause hyperventilation. It is a most relaxing and natural experience, as anyone who watches their cats can see.
Circular breathing creates complete circuits of energy in the body, which enables you to feel more of what’s already there. By adjusting the speed and the volume of the inhale, you can regulate the intensity of the feelings so that you can more easily explore and enjoy whatever sensations and emotions your body gives you.
If you watch a person while they’re Viving, you might notice them breathing more intentionally than usual, and you might conclude that Vivation is a breathing process. Although circular breathing definitely gives you an unusually full-bodied experience, it is only one of The Five Elements. The breathing alone does not cause emotional resolution, but it gives you as much energy and intensity as you want and the access to your feelings that you need for causing integration.
Practicing Vivation makes people better breathers. Suppression of feelings inhibits breathing. Integration of feelings improves breathing.
Second Element: Complete Relaxation
The second element is the skill of relaxing in the presence of any feeling. Complete relaxation allows you to enter more deeply into yourself.
Most of us avoid relationship with troubling feelings. By learning to relax into our feelings and receive the energy in them, we save ourselves from an enormous amount of compulsive behavior and the suffering it perpetuates.
The best strategy for dealing with stress, or any feeling, is to settle down into it and get to know what’s really there. If you relax into the feelings and linger with them, you become newly related to them. The second element is about letting energy flow freely through a completely relaxed body. The only muscles you need to use in Vivation are the muscles it takes to inhale.
Third Element: Awareness in Detail
Beneath Circular Breathing and Complete Relaxation we find Awareness in Detail. Because we rarely spend time listening carefully to our bodies, it takes a little getting used to.
You scan your body and locate the most prominent feeling; whatever is asking for the most attention in this moment. Any sensation or emotion will do. Your body always presents you with the perfect feeling. You can imagine that you’re pulling the breath in through the feeling that you’re focusing on. By inhaling through the strongest feeling you stay in present time, attend fully to the feeling, and harmonize your breathing with whatever feelings arise.
Vivation is a little like listening to music, only instead of cultivating your hearing sense, you’re cultivating your feeling sense. You’re letting your body entertain you with a concert of sensations.
Vivation is a little like snorkeling, only instead of exploring the ocean, you explore the feeling realm inside of you. Just as you don’t judge the marine life you encounter while snorkeling, you let go of your pronouncements about the feelings you encounter inside.
Or to use a gustatory analogy, Vivation is tasting the unique flavor of the present moment, and you drink in the flavor with every inhale. Granted, some feelings are acquired tastes, but nevertheless you can come to appreciate any feeling, just as you’ve come to appreciate foods that you once rejected as a child. By completing your experience of feelings that you’ve been struggling with, you digest them, you metabolize them, and you grow from them. Processing feelings with your body is more effective for resolving emotional conflict than mentally and verbally-based approaches.
Fourth Element: Integration into Ecstasy
The first three elements deepen into the fourth. Because we rarely spend time with the feelings we’re hiding from, it takes a little getting used to. It is the skill of bringing love to the feelings that need it the most. Integration is decreasing your resistance to life. It requires a shift in the way you hold your experience.
For example, most of us don’t like fear. When fear presents itself, we usually make it wrong; that is, we compare it to some imaginary standard and insist that it should be different. This is what makes fear so unpleasant and debilitating. In the absence of make-wrong, the feeling we call fear is simply a pattern of extra energy in the body. We can suppress it, struggle with it, call it the opposite of love, declare its unreality, make it a verdict about us, analyze it, or ignore it. Or, we can embrace it as a traveling companion for the time being. You might ask, “Well, why would I want to cultivate fear as a traveling companion?” You’re not cultivating fear by attending to it lovingly, you’re cultivating the energy in the fear (you’re composting it). Your feelings are whatever they are. If fear is there, it’s wise to walk with it on your arm because, for one thing, that gets it off your back. When we embrace the pattern of energy called fear, it integrates into excitement, alertness and added energy.
Anger is another feeling we habitually reject. Anger needn’t be toxic. Anger is simply intention mixed with feelings of helplessness. If we “surrender-in-place” and receive the feeling, anger evolves into determination.
Sadness is another feeling we resist. If something that we value has changed, or is changing into the past, and we insist that it should be different, we feel sadness. When we let go into our feelings of sadness, they integrate into pleasure and gratitude for what we value.
All feelings integrate into pleasure and healing, when we let go of making them wrong. Even shame is healthy when we feel it. Shame is make-wrong about your being. Embracing shame reverses it, paradoxically, leaving you unburdened by negativity and appreciative of your humanity. Shame integrates into self-love.
When you receive reality as it is and respect the feelings you’ve got, you can create the relationship you want with the present moment and everything in it. Integration is shifting from a relationship of denial to one of acceptance. Integration is digesting your life experiences, and Vivation optimizes the conditions for efficient digestion. It is the physical practice of unconditional love, which is what all of your feelings deserve.
Fifth Element: Do Whatever You Do: Willingness is Enough
The fifth element is based on the fact that having a good relationship with your feelings doesn’t depend on your technique, but rather on your willingness.
Everything that happens in Vivation grows out of your willingness. It’s the skill underneath each of the other skills. Without willingness, no amount of technique will resolve inner conflict.
Without willingness, integration is impossible because it takes heart to hold your feelings up instead of down. Without willingness, awareness in detail often moves away from your body, complete relaxation often returns to resistance, and circular breathing often yields to unconsciousness.
However, with a little willingness, any lack of skill with the process is easily overcome. That’s why we say, “Do Whatever You Do,” because embracing reality means embracing everything just the way it is. You can embrace even your unwillingness and you’ll feel it integrate into willingness; into a more favorable disposition to make peace with your reality.
Willingness is itself a skill and, as with any skill, you can get better at it. It is ultimately all that you need to integrate anything. Knowing this frees you from worrying about ‘doing the process right.’ Vivation is really about you, and it’s impossible to do ‘you’ wrong.
Because it improves your relationship with everything, Vivation is an extremely practical skill. Over the last fifteen years I’ve taught it to doctors, nurses and therapists, people with AIDS, MS and cancer, Buddhists, Lutherans and Muslims, athletes, addicts and authors, prisoners, opera singers and accountants, realtors, hairdressers and professors; to many people around the world interested in knowing themselves more fully and expanding love. It’s a skill that keeps becoming more valuable the more you practice it.