I’ve been wanting to write about Open Focus for awhile, but am not sure how since I found it so odd when I learned about it. I learned about Open Focus meditation when I started the pain clinic over a year ago and have been practicing it since.
My case manager recommended it to me because I was having a lot of anxiety around the (very gentle) PT exercises the chronic pain Physical Therapist was giving me. I was afraid to try new things and apparently was holding onto A LOT of fear around my previously injured area. My case manager wanted me to be able to relax and also start a dialogue of sorts- I could train my brain to imagine new things and try out new beliefs, while also tuning in and listening to what my body was telling me.
There are two dudes associated with this. Dr. Les Fehmi came up with the method, and Dr. Joe Dispenza has built on it. I found Dr. Fehmi to be a respected academic studying brain waves, biofeedback and discovering this open focus type of experience, whereas Dr. Dispenza has turned his discovery into a self-help empire with a new age feel. Nonetheless, my case manager, who is an academic and whom I trust very much, is a Joe Dispenza fan. So I jumped in!
Open focus is a type of meditation where you imagine the space between things- it can be between different body parts or the space of the room, or the vast space of the universe. Something about makes our brains create alpha waves.
When we’re in this state, the sense of the boundaries of our bodies disappear, like how we can get during a good shivasana at the end of a yoga class. We’re kind of “merged” with the space around us. It’s a really pleasant feeling actually.
From what my case manager has said, apparently more of our subconscious is available to us in alpha waves, because it’s just different state of being/thinking, and it can be a bit like self hypnosis I guess. (I know there’s a lot more scientific info about what’s going on in the brain here that I’m missing, but that’s the basic understanding I’ve gleaned.)
To get into Open Focus, at first it took awhile and I’d have to spend a lot of time with the meditations imagining the space between things. Now I can do it more instantaneously, just by hearing the music from a Joe Dispenza meditation.
Once I’ve gotten into Open Focus, there are a few things I like to do. Actually four of them I guess. First of all, it’s just a really nice relaxation. Sometimes I just “hang out in space” as my case manager called it. Or I can be more focused. The second thing I can do is tune into my body to try to hear what’s going on- as my case manager has called it, tuning into my “body wisdom.” I’ve had interesting insights early on, like my injured knee wants sun on it. (It had been covered by PT tape or a brace for over 2 years.) Or just stay a little longer while I’m standing, even though it hurts. Nothing mind blowing, but it’s a nice relationship building with my body. The third thing I can do is make suggestions to my mind and body in areas I want to change. This is Joe Dispenza’s area. He thinks you can use the placebo effect, and bring in new beliefs. For me, this was huge. To change your beliefs, you have to realize what beliefs are already there. I realized I believed a few things I had never even noticed before because they were so ingrained I just thought of them as the truth. I believed I would never find the right way to get better and be able to walk again. I believed I would injure myself again. I believed the nobody could help me and it was hopeless. Um, HELLO?! Those are crazy toxic beliefs to be holding onto, but there they were, just below the surface. I started Joe Dispenza meditations where you choose two new beliefs and you imagine what it’d be like to live that way, from 360 degrees. How would it feel? How would you behave? What would you do? The first belief I “tried on” was that my walking would improve and I wasn’t going to hurt myself doing it. I’d imagine walking farther than I think I can go, relaxing while standing at parties chatting with people, standing while cooking, instead of sitting on a stool. Really the options are endless when you’re imagining your new life with this belief. The second belief I tried on was that I love my body. This one was really hard at first, but then it just came to me. I felt feelings of love and tenderness and a desire to take better care of myself. It was really strange- almost immediately, I started grooming myself better, eating better, and feeling more at peace with myself. I finally got it that this is neuroplasticity at work. Science for the win. The FOURTH way I use open focus is Dr. Fehmi’s dissolving pain exercise. I get into Open Focus and then I imagine my pain in space, like what does it look and feel like in 3D? I can kind of hold it in front of me and see it, instead of feeling it at the location in my body. Then I imagine the space between the pain and all different parts of my body. The second half of the meditation has me imagine the pain dissolving and diffusing in all directions. Sometimes this meditation doesn’t work at all, but it does seem to lower my pain later in the day. Mostly it brings me to a place of peace and oneness. I’m not in a state of resistance and tension. I’ve merged with the pain and let it wash over me, which seems to at the very least diffuse a ton of tension and at the most decrease the pain a bit.
This week I woke up in the middle of the night with lots of pain after my first aqua therapy. I was able to do the dissolving pain method on my own without a guided meditation. I went from resisting the pain to melting into the pain and merging with it. I don’t mean this in any crazy way- it was just a complete relaxation into what is, instead of being in my negative thoughts and resisting. It’s almost like a loving kindness meditation that envelopes the pain area too, where there are no boundaries. I had never been able to do this before, but when I woke up with the pain, it kind of came to me and I thought about open focus and dissolving the pain and merging with it, and I was able to get back to sleep. I did this, instead of being miserable and sad. Wow.
Open Focus is still so strange to me, it’s like I don’t know how to put my finger on it and how it’s changed me, but I do feel like it’s broken down barriers in myself, like I’m less compartmentalized. A word that comes to mind is integration. I think I’ve uncovered my underlying beliefs and, as more beliefs are created, I’m able to be more self-aware. (Like, “oh I’m avoiding going to that party because of the pain. I’m afraid I’m going to hurt myself. It’s very unlikely that will happen and I can find a place to sit and still have fun.” Whereas before I’d just not do it). I can lean into fear and pain and “be with it” and let stress, anxiety and tension dissolve. Beliefs, fear, tension, anxiety, pain do keep coming at me anew but I have one more tool to process what’s I’m dealing with.
This is probably a whole other post, but I’ll briefly share one more thought: the concept of healing is interesting to me. It’s not like I’m simply getting back to my abilities before. I ‘m in a new place, with new skills, and the process has really changed me, in large part because of the skills and tools I had to learn and develop to heal my injury. Hmm….