When I was being introduced to the power and practice of orienting, I was at a training in an old monastery in New York here in the United States. Orienting in this context is a focused awareness on what can be seen in the environment. Orienting also encompasses what is noticeable through all of the five senses. The instructions as I remember were to see if I could listen to my system enough to notice where my visual attention wanted to take me. As someone with years of experience in body-based or somatic explorations, I was baffled at how challenging it was to explore my perception of what was happening on the outside. I had spent years tuning into internal processes through my trainings in Rolfing, yoga, pilates, continuum movement, and somatic experiencing. The felt sense is something I thought I had an incredible attunement with and that had served me well. Being able to feel the smallest of experiences in myself was important to me and being able to feel and sense the same in others has been incredibly helpful in supporting the understanding of their experience.
One thing I found incredibly helpful as I learning, was a practice of orienting. I remember taking walks in the woods outside the monastery and allowing my attention to be free enough to notice where my attention wanted to go. Like a meditation of sorts where I am consciously trying to free my thought patterns enough to live into what is happening at the present moment outside of my internal experience. This speaks to the importance of the conscious observer but what I found in the beginning was that my attention only focused on threat and responded with a self-protective reaction. As my eyes would take in the environment and be attracted to something, I could feel subtle levels of tension, often times through my face. I would see a clumping of leaves, and a slight tensing would follow. I would see a rock outcropping, a tensing would follow. I would notice at the time that all of my reactions where self-protective in this way. I lacked the ability at that point to be drawn to things that were pleasurable in the environment. Eventually, I have a bird to thank, for helping my system understand how to shift from self-protective response to a settle response.
As my attention that day in the woods was drawn to a bird that was moving through the forest with me, instead of feeling a tensing in my system, however small, I began to notice a softening would come with seeing the bird. I remember my attention being drawn to the bird song as well. The bird would fly ahead. It would eventually come into my visual field. I would see it and my system would begin to relax or settle even more. It was one of the most profound experiences in understanding how the nervous system works. Understanding it more in the coming months, it would shift in the most profound way, how I came to understand how visual cues in the environment supports nervous system health.