Coming back home to the body
In the last Frame, we discovered how the somatic experience of the body is the very foundation of the path of mindfulness and how the breath serves as a gateway into presence.
In this Frame, we continue the exploration of how to bring mindfulness back home to the body.
Here and now
A common misconception about meditation is that we are trying to transcend the body or achieve a state that is beyond physical existence. In fact the opposite is true; if we want to live our lives in presence we have to include the body. When we are in the state of mindfulness, we experience the body and mind together in the same place.
“You cannot be in the here and now if you are disconnected from the body”Peter Levine
How often is the mind and body together in the here and now? How often during the day am I fully connected with my body?
“We get good at what we practice”
This statement sums up the effects of the phenomena that can be observed in the brain as neuroplasticity. Basically, the more we do something, the stronger the habit becomes. By paying excessive attention to our thoughts we have developed a habit of avoiding the body. In other words, the mind is conditioned to resist the present moment and fully entering into the body.
Our natural, deep seated response to discomfort is avoidance. This reactive pattern prevents us from living with mindfulness. We use distractions, medication, consumption (or whatever) in order to tranquillise the symptoms believing that staying away from discomfort will bring us happiness. This strategy never gets at the root of our suffering. Instead, we develop an almost allergic response to discomfort. Even as we successfully distract ourselves, deep down we know there is something we are neglecting – something that needs our attention.
Let us bring curiosity and awareness to this tendency of avoidance. Start by spending a few minutes to inquire into the following questions:
What keeps awareness from resting in the body?
What is the purpose of that resistance?
The trance of unworthiness
When the distracted mind is combined with a sympathetic activation of the nervous system, thoughts tend to become self-centered and fearful. This can feel like a trance state of ensnaring thoughts, worries, doubts and “shoulds”. Whenever we are caught in the trance, we lose touch with the physical body, and hence, the state of mindfulness.
As we begin to practice mindfulness, we encounter the “monkey mind”. We start seeing clearly how the mind keeps escaping the present moment by jumping from one thought to another.
Take a moment to inquire:
What is the experience of the body and mind being together in the here and now?
How does it feel when I am caught in the mental world? Am I aware of my body?
The warrior path
The mind resists the unknown. It wants to stay in the familiar zone of comfort and control. The aliveness of our somatic experience is unknown territory for the mind. It cannot tolerate to let go of control and be with the raw experience of the body.
The only way to make the journey of mindfulness is to enter into the wilderness of the body. Unless we learn to hold the experience and face what shows up, we can never stay in the present moment. The first foundation of mindfulness teaches us how “the way out is the way through“. Tension and blockages are not released by avoiding pain and discomfort. This requires a courageous heart.
Take a moment to reflect on what type of support you need on your journey:
What keeps me motivated on the path of mindfulness?
What support and resourcing do I need in order to deepen in mindfulness?
Freeing up life energy
Emotions can be seen as signals from the body, showing us what we needs attention. Unless we learn to listen and acknowledge them, we are cut off from healing and growth. Emotions contain “life energy” that remains tied up in the body as long as we refuse them. Suppressing unpleasant emotions takes a lot of effort. By freeing the physical sensations and emotions from the stories we attach to them, we also free the energy and aliveness that are tied up with them.
The body remembers all the unresolved “shocks” and traumas from the past. As we bring more awareness to the body, we will encounter these wounded and neglected parts of ourselves. By bringing mindful awareness to these parts, we can begin to release and integrate them.
“What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes. Most people don’t know this! They think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways they make themselves good. On the contrary, that keeps these negatives static, the same from year to year. A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change. If there is in you something bad or sick or unsound, let it inwardly be and breathe. That’s the only way it can evolve and change into the form it needs.”Eugene T. Gendlin (Let your body interpret your dreams 1986)
What is the body trying to tell me? Is there anything I am avoiding?
Am I able to separate the stories from the physical sensations?
Can I allow the bodily feelings to be as they are?
Right now, take a moment to strengthen the habit of embodiment:
– Feel into your body – what do you sense?
– Can you name the physical sensations?
– Can you allow it fully? Can you say yes to what is here right now?
The body is a portal to wisdom
The body holds vast amounts of information that is generally not available to the conscious mind. By bringing mindfulness to the physical sensations of the body, we can begin to tap into this intelligence.
Through practice, we begin to separate physical sensations from thoughts and experience emotions as raw, uninterpreted energy that is constantly moving and changing. When we hold this energy with loving awareness, the body naturally relaxes and begins to heal. This begins a natural process of releasing and freeing what has been stuck. We reconnect with the natural wisdom and intelligence of the body.
This “self connection” is what leads us onward on the path toward wisdom, compassion and freedom. If we go deep enough, we experience the body as a boundless and selfless presence that does not belong to anybody. As guidance, the Buddha offered ways of contemplating the body. This will be the topic of the next Frame. Until then, enjoy the practice of remembering!
3 reminders for coming home to the body
1) Remember to pause
The best time and place to practice is in the heat of the moment as you find yourself triggered. The Zen quote sums it up; “the most important thing is to remember the most important thing”.
Develop a habit of stopping and reminding yourself in your everyday life to come back to the quality of presence. It is helpful to develop an anchor for your awareness in the body, such as the breath in the abdomen. Learn more about the art of pausing:
2) Develop somatic awareness through meditation
Meditations that bring awareness to the physical sensations in the body help rewire the brain toward embodiment. By strengthening the somatic awareness we become more relaxed and less reactive. We learn to rest in our Being.
The body & meditation posture – 18 minutes
Body scan meditation (lying down) – 30 min
Reminder to pause (SOAL) – 5 min
3) Inquire deeper
Develop a curious mind through the practice of Inquiry. When we are curious we are naturally non-judgemental. Rather than trying to improve or manipulate, we approach our experience from an intention to understand and/or nurture. Inquiry can be done with a friend or as journaling exercise.
Another way to inquire into your somatic experience is using a contemplative/meditative practice such as the RAIN practice below:
Take the next step on the path: