By Dario Martinez
Based on Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness, I created The Wheel of Meta - Awareness to incorporate Sensorimotor Psychotherapy’s concept of Core Organizers.
This tool can be used to
Build Observation Skills
Deepen mindfulness practices and
Slow down the nervous system to manage overwhelming experiences.
The wheel is an invitation to explore two distinct levels of awareness:
The outer rim of the wheel contains six Core Organizers: the building blocks of “basic awareness.” Each organizer represents a specific kind of awareness. For example, if I step into the “Emotion” area of the rim, I might notice that I’m feeling anxious. If I go into the “Bodily Sensation” area, I might notice that anxiety is causing my heart to beat quickly.
Being able to name my emotional state and bodily sensations are examples of having basic awareness of how I’m doing.
“Meta-Awareness,” on the other hand, is noticing that a part of me is outside of my emotional experience and is actively OBSERVING the fact that I feel anxious. Basic Awareness is the part of me that is feeling anxious while Meta-Awareness is the part of me that is observing myself feeling anxious.
Learning how to differentiate between these two levels of awareness is extremely useful in mindfulness practices because instead of getting caught up in my experience of anxiety, I can step outside of my experience and become an active observer of my anxiety. The heavy red line coming out of the Hub represents a “spoke” that can move around the wheel -- shifting focus from one core organizer to another.
The conscious act of using meta-awareness to shift focus in this way can be really useful when feeling overwhelmed because we can shift into a part of our consciousness that isn’t feeling this way. By doing this, I can literally change my entire experience.
For example, I work with a lot of people who struggle with panic attacks. When they start to feel an attack coming on, I invite them to take a deep breath, step out of their emotional state, and move into the central hub of their wheel. From this vantage point they can choose a less activating Core Organizer. The most common organizer I use for panic is Five Sense Perception. From the vantage point of the hub, I ask my clients to start counting all the red things they see in the room—or I invite them to name 5 sounds that they hear. This literally shifts my client out of emotion and into a much calmer space.
If you want to use this process to manage triggered states and other states of overwhelm, I would encourage you to practice when you’re not feeling triggered. If you practice it repeatedly when you're feeling calm—you'll have much greater access to it when you actually start to feel overwhelmed.
Feel the bottoms of your feet making contact with the floor.
Take a deep breath
As you inhale, imagine your feet are pushing harder into the floor while your back is simultaneously straightening—making you taller. Feel your spine lengthening upward.
Take another deep breath and your feet are getting more “grounded” into the floor while your spine is getting taller.
After several breaths, inhale deeply again, but this time imagine that your breath can carry you into the central hub of the wheel.
Once in the hub, I invite you to notice which Core Organizer is most prominent in this moment.
Perhaps it's emotion—such as anxiety about doing this “right.”
Just notice whatever Core Organizer is most prominent.
Take another deep breath and imagine the dark red “spoke” moving around the wheel to another Core Organizer in order to shift your attention.
For anxiety you might move your spoke to “Relationship” and reach out to an animal that you love and pet it—shifting your attention away from emotion and into relationship with this animal.
Take another deep breath and decide if you want to stay in this core organizer with your pet, or go into another one.
Cognition can also be a useful organizer when feeling emotionally overwhelmed. If you’re feeling anxious, you might use cognition or “thinking” to start creating a to do list—naming all the things that are causing you anxiety.
Take another deep breath and decide if you want to stay in cognition or move somewhere else.
Repeat this process as many times as necessary.
Copyright © Dario Martinez. All rights reserved.
LICENSED SOMATIC PSYCHOTHERAPIST