Seeing

 

A couple of weeks ago, I had an experience where a bug flew into my eye. This was unlike any other experience I have ever had of this nature. Without being dramatic, it felt like the equivalent of having acid thrown into my eye; leaving it red, painful, and swollen. Not only did the surface of my eye feel burned, it also felt as though I had been struck by a blunt instrument. For a couple of days, pus oozed out of it, and so, like an old school grandmother, I had to tuck a tissue into my waistband to have at the ready to soak up what was coming out of my eye.

Literally, for days there was not a single moment that the discomfort and the strain did not stand between me and whatever it was that I was doing. It was not until it had cleared, and an enormous sense of ease washed over me that I realized how hard I had been working; every single moment of every single waking hour. Until it was gone, I had no idea how much energy I had been expending. And while there was most certainly an uncomfortable physical reality, the real effort, and consequent exhaustion, emanated from the thoughts in my mind. All of the ways that I wanted it to be other than it was. All of the ways that I kept replaying what had happened over and over and over again. But most important and essential of all, all of the ways that I was focusing on the physical discomfort in an attempt to avoid the meaning underlying the experience.

Which brings me to the yogic practice of using the body as a doorway into a greater sense of who we are. A portal into deeper levels of our truest nature and our connection with All That Is. From this perspective, everything that happens in and to our bodies is an opportunity to travel a little deeper. Get to know ourselves a little better. Understand our connection to Spirit and our own souls a little more.This as opposed to getting hung up in limited ideas about what it means to be in a body. Getting caught up in the illnesses, ailments and accidents as if they were only something to be avoided, medicated against, done to us and gotten over.

To illustrate, I could just leave it at “a bug flew into my eye and it was an inconvenient, uncomfortable and sometimes socially awkward experience.” Or, I could tell you that at the exact moment that the bug hit my eye, I had gone from a very connected, open, grateful state of consciousness to a small, petty and resentful mind state. I could tell you that the experience was nothing more than some random thing that happened to me. Or, I could tell you that at the exact moment of contact, I knew that I had made a choice I did not want to get behind. I could tell you that The Universe played no part in this. Or, I could tell you that this was a Divinely guided moment to help me choose whether to look through the eyes of resentment, or through the eyes of love.

And while this may seem nutty or even downright untrue to some, the veracity of this is not the point. Nor is it up for grabs. The point is, and always will be, how we choose to see our embodied existence is always up to us. A choice we make each and every day. For the Truth is, where you wind up is most definitely based on how you choose to see.

 

Effort

 

Hips are my Achilles heel. The place where imbalances, misuse and conditioning all come together to form a perfect storm of discomfort, stiffness and pain. Recently, while noticing how clenched one of my hips was, I caught myself saying to myself; “I don’t need that level of effort to hold myself up.” The thought stopped me. And while I was talking to and about my musculature, it also served to reference a way of how I am in the world. As in all of the ways where I do more than my share, and then clench against the effort. The ways where I tighten up against what another is doing. Or not doing.

We all do it. “It” being the way we clamp down, tighten, stiffen, and over-effort. All of the ways that our bodies express and hold the tightness that our minds cannot seem to let go of. And while it is so very easy to be annoyed and frustrated by what the body is dishing up, it literally holds a truth the mind is just not capable of. But to know this takes practice and patience. It takes more than anything else perhaps, a willingness to want to know. To move beyond the inconvenience and the conditioning. To move even beyond the places where you feel like you do not know enough, or aren’t capable of this level of communication with your very own body.

So, next time some part of your body is sending out a strong signal of pain or imbalance, could you carve out some time, as soon as is possible, to be with your body for a few brief moments? Maybe it is in the bathroom at work, or right before you fall asleep, or sitting in traffic. Slow your breathing. Feel what your body is supported by. Then say, “If this part of me could speak, it would say…” And then really, really listen.

Do you hear anything being spoken by your body that in any way describes how you are doing? Or what you are up against? Some larger theme in your life? Where you are stuck? A place where you just can’t let go or move on? An effort that needs to be put down? A fight that cannot be won?

The body is a messenger, and as the old saying goes “Don’t shoot the messenger.” How about if we took this one step further? How about if we wholeheartedly embraced the messenger? Especially when we found the message to be impossible to bear.

I Am Here

 

“Am I here?”

I find this question, along with, “Where am I?” and  “How am I?” to be about the most important things I can ask of myself in any given moment. It sounds so simple. So obvious. So ridiculous even. Of course I am here. But am I? And if I am here, do I actually know how I am doing?

Too often our bodies are in one place, and our minds are in another. That means that we cannot actually be in relationship to who we are, where we are, what we are doing, and who we are with. Really think about that. If we are not in relationship to any of these things, how could we possibly know who we are and what it is that we need? And if we do not know who we are and what we need, how could we possibly know what choices to make; whether we are on the “right track” or not? Whether we are helping or hurting? Whether we are making it all up or not? Whether we are living our one true life, or playing out some well-rehearsed, habituated fantasy?

We are living as animated objects passing through some artificial background when the body is in one place and the mind another. This leaves us as little more than robots. Zombies. Automatons. It is as if we are actors walking across a stage, separate from the scenery that surrounds us, and the roles that we play. And it leaves us hungry. Yearning. Dissatisfied.

And it is from exactly this place, that it is so very easy to reach outside of ourselves to feel something. Anything. Just to feel. Just to know that we are here.

To be here is to feel. It is to notice. It is to bump up against. It is to take it all in as often as we can. It is to be in a body. As is. And to inhabit that body fully as the surest route to reminding us of who we are, and why we are here. To dive deeply and courageously into flesh and bone is to find out what it is that we truly need, and most important of all, to know that we are here.

Every morning and every evening as you lie in bed, put your hands on your body and say “I am here.” Just like you did when you were a kid and would scribble or graffiti  those words on some tree, or desk or sidewalk, with your name attached. A way of announcing to yourself and to the world the most important thing you could ever know, even without knowing, that you are here.

House Guests

 

It is always amazing to me how much can be learned just by paying attention to the ways that the most obvious occurrences in our lives relate to larger themes around how we are with ourselves, and with one another.

Recently, we had a house guest come to stay with us while he was in the area working on the new home he is building. As it was a night that I teach yoga, I came in on the later end of my husband and our guest finishing up with dinner. As I was sitting down, our guest asked if I would like some wine from the bottle he had brought with him as a thank you to us. I actually did not want any, but in an attempt to make him feel comfortable and show appreciation for his thoughtfulness, I said yes. To which my husband responded that he also would take a little, even though he had earlier declined.

The next morning I woke up feeling a little off. What’s going on? Am I getting sick? No, I realized, it was the wine. Despite the paltry amount that I had imbibed, what was leaving me “off” was the taking in of something that I did not want. It was the agreeing to something that did not suit me in order to stay in the good graces of another. It was the story that I had told myself about who I would be if I said no to his gracious offer.

Later that day, my husband mentioned that he had woken up that morning with a bit of a sinus headache. He attributed this to the wine. To the handful of sips that he too, had taken when he actually did not want any; getting into it only because I had taken some, and he didn’t want to seem ungrateful in light of my saying yes. He then went on to tell me that when he had seen our guest that morning he had asked him how he had slept. “Not good,” he was told, “I think it was the wine.”

Round and round and round we go with one another. Doing things we really do not want to do in order to please another. We do not want others to think we are rude, selfish, ungrateful, anti-social, or some other characterization that we have whipped up in our minds that we do not want them to label us as. It’s all so ironic. And sad. For in denying who and how we really are, we deny what we most yearn for; authentic and satisfying connection with others. And because we have not given ourselves permission to be as we are in any given moment, we cannot give permission for others to be as they are. Which leaves us coming together based on something that none of us are.

What if we leaned into, banked on, had faith in, that when we speak our truth in the company of another, no matter how difficult, awkward, inconvenient, or socially inappropriate, that it will always be for the best of all concerned? Despite any difficulties or hesitations that we might encounter.

In our home that night a domino effect was created. One that parallels what we do with one another on a regular basis. Our house guest brought something to us possibly because he felt like that was the thing you do when you stay at someone’s home; that we would  think him a thoughtful person for bringing us something. Or maybe un-thoughtful if he didn’t. My husband and I took something we did not want because we felt obliged, wanting him to feel at home with us and included; believing the false gesture of taking something we did not want would pave the way for him to feel welcome.

While there is nothing wrong with offering appreciation to another through a gift, there is most certainly something amiss when we allow ourselves to be locked into habit patterns with one another that keep us from allying with the truth of our experience. Whatever that truth may be. Whether or not that truth is convenient, inconvenient, easy to say or hear, hard to say or hear. It takes tremendous clarity, conviction, and courage to stand in the truth of your experience when in the company of another who has expectations of you. Or who you believe has expectations of you.

Can you imagine, though, what might happen if we all took responsibility for our own experience while in the presence of another, and acted on that as thoughtfully and straightforwardly as we could? Could you imagine letting go of the social “niceties” that keep us pinned to the wrong things? Can you imagine how good it would feel to not have to fake your way through an interaction?

And when we get hung up on how relating in this way is not possible for one reason or another, can we remember that, maybe, just maybe, we would all be doing one another a huge favor. That maybe over time, we would all let out a collective sigh of relief around the fact that we that we no longer had to act in ways that left us feeling “hungover” with one another.

Embodied Need

 

I teach yoga from the Kripalu Yoga Tradition. The core teachings hold that the body is central and seminal to who we are. It is what we come back to moment by moment; both on and off the mat. It is the entry point to Presence. It is the grounding place to further explore the mind and our relationship to Spirit. It is a starting locale for a healthy, happy life, and a deeper connection to All That Is.

Personally, this perspective and practice has saved me. It has provided me with a way not only back into right relationship with my body, but back into my life, and its connections to self, other, and Spirit. This is no small feat in the body-hating and alienating times and culture we live in. And in case you believe that the times we live in allow more freedom for how we express our bodies, personal and societal exploitation of the female form by both men and women does not, has not, and will never constitute a respect and reverence for the body; despite what many think, or have been taught to believe.

To come back to the body requires great skill in navigating your way through because many of us have come to see the body as a foreign, awkward, uncomfortable, de-personalized, and even dangerous place to inhabit. Which is why, as it turns out, so many of us just don’t. Which is why so many of us tap into whatever we can to avoid coming into contact with what is there through the seemingly infinite multitude of ways to numb out. We can do this so effectively and continuously as to dis-inhabit our bodies on a daily basis.

Take bodily need for instance. Pure, unadulterated, straight up, real live needs of the body.

An exploration of need would reveal that many of us have been told what it is that we need by an outside source. And that that telling has often been in contradiction to our direct experience of what it is that we actually need. And then, of course, there is all of the approval and the intrinsic reward of being someone who doesn’t “have needs.” Those of us who subjugate our needs for others. Those of us who never make a wave, issue a demand, or have any kind of a need that might even slightly inconvenience another, or rock the boat of the status quo.

How often have we been forced to accept what most assuredly does not truly feed us? Or make any sense at all to us. How often has the legitimate meeting of needs in our culture been relegated to the “needy” bin; disdained for its “inconvenient” and unsightly requests? How often have we been frozen and locked in terror around speaking a real need? How often have we been unaware that we actually have a choice around how our needs are expressed and met? How many years have we spent being conditioned into the inability to be able to properly identify what it is that we most need? Or bullied into believing that it is not safe to articulate such? And in how many ways have the avenues for healthy recognition and expression of our most basic human needs been closed off? Obliterated.

It takes great courage, commitment, and determination to know yourself at the level of raw human need. It is a scary and sometimes uncertain place. It is a place that might draw ridicule or censorship. Interestingly enough, the humiliation and censoring is just as likely to come from within as without. Through it all of course, is the conditioning that each of our minds creates, listing out all of the reasons why it would be best to not enter into the deep, dark, uncharted territory of pure human need. That it would be better to go without. Or accept what does not satisfy. Sadly enough, this level of neglect and denial will be supported by those around us who are trying just as hard as we are to deny and ignore real need.

Such a quandary. Where to begin in the midst of this? Why with the body, of course! And we begin with what is most basic. As basic as, do you know when you are hungry, and can you feed yourself in a way that nourishes? As basic as, do you know when you are tired, and can you allow yourself to rest? As basic as, do you know when it feels good or not to be in the company of another, and can you allow yourself to act accordingly?

The body cares not for clocks, outer imposed schedules, or social niceties. The body needs what it needs, when it needs it. Period. For your sake, and for the sake of the world, find a practice that puts you back in touch with the Timeless Truths of the body’s deepest and truest needs.

Participation

 

I am in a yoga class, and the teacher is encouraging us to be sincere about our willingness to pay attention to the signals that the body is giving us. Instead of forcing or imposing something on the body, she asks, “Could we consider participating with the movement of our breath, and the true rhythms of our bodies?”

I cannot get this question out of my mind.

What would it be like to participate with myself in this way? How would it feel? Where would it take me? To participate is to share in something. To take part of. To enter into. To join in. There is no part of this definition that proposes a “doing to.” Or worse yet, a “getting done to.”

Think about it. How often do you do something to your body that does not feel good to you? Maybe it is eating or drinking too much, or ingesting the wrong kinds of things for your constitution. Maybe it is not getting enough sleep, or satisfying movement each and every day. Maybe it is using sugar or caffeine to perk the body up, only to go through the inevitable crash later on. Why do we do this? How is it that we have created a kind of split within ourselves where we can be feeling and knowing one thing, and then choose something in violation of that?

And how is it that not only do we do these things to ourselves, but that we also “let them” get done to us? Maybe it means working in a job where the corporate culture does not make enough room to meet the basic needs of the body; ones like respect, hunger, elimination, a sane pace, and rest. Maybe it means being in relationship with people who are so unsupportive, difficult, or harmful to be around that the best our little bodies can do is to ingest emotional toxins and turn them into tension, fear, and armor in the body.

To participate with the body is to enter into a relationship that is already there. Already set up for us to join into. Already available to share with us the gems of what it means to be an embodied being. We have forgotten this because we have come to believe that we can live outside of ourselves. We have come to believe that we can override the instincts and the messages of the body. We have come to believe that not only can the body wait, but that it should be able to line up with our modern day machine ethics of going and working 24/7.

It demonstrates just how far we have gone astray as people that we even need to make this a thing that we remediate and work on. No baby needs to be taught this. Nor any toddler. It is only as we get more and more conditioned that we lose track of the truths of the body. That we start to ignore or abhor its functioning, its needs, and its wants.

Try this. The next time you feel at odds with what is happening in your body, pause. Take a breath. Then, gently ask your body; What do you need? And then, go get it. Or do it. Or stop doing it. Whatever it would take for you to honor the need and participate fully with your experience of being in this body, in this moment.

The truth is, the only way that we can participate in this life is through a body. There is no other way. No other option. Instead of seeing this level of participation as a chore, an inconvenience, or unnecessary, what if you made the decision to fully show up for what it was that was happening with your body? No questions asked. Only a willingness to learn to remember what you have forgotten, but that is coded deep within you. Just a curiosity and a commitment around how you could develop into becoming a better participant.

 

Embodiment

 

I am hung up in more traffic than I want to be in. It is hot. The glare of the day is wearing on me. I have to go to the bathroom. I am all done with the whole errand thing. Physically, and by association, emotionally, I am on overload. I just want to be home.

Because of how much I do not want to be where I am, I have found my way into an old thinking loop about someone else. None of what I am thinking about is pleasant, in my control, or any of my business. Suddenly I catch myself: Where are you, and why, of all places to be, are you here, in this particular place, in your mind?

Now, I could give you all kinds of reasons around why I am trapped in this ancient thought pattern from the past. And it would sound real, true, and legitimate. Yet, something in me knows better, and it has been revealed in the question I have been willing to ask myself.

What I see in this moment is that I have left myself. I have flown the coop of my own roost because it is just too uncomfortable to be here in this body right now. And as uncomfortable as the thought pattern about this other person is, it somehow feels preferable, less awful, than how I feel right now in my own body. Recognizing this, I jump into all of the sensations I have been avoiding.

I turn towards the heat which leads me to adjust the temperature in the car. I turn towards being done with errands, getting that message loud and clear; leading me to cross everything else off the list for the day. I turn towards needing to go to the bathroom, and decide that despite what my mind has said about waiting until I get home, I am going to use the porta potty at the farm; no matter what shape it’s in.

This all sounds so obvious. Ridiculously simplistic even. It almost feels embarrassing to point it out like it is some kind of revelation. And I could almost go there, except for the fact that I know better. And what I know is this. Despite how natural it should or could be to turn towards our most basic needs, we often do not. Despite how obvious it seems to make the adjustments we need to be comfortable across a day, we often do not. Despite the simple truth that as mammals this is built in, for far too many of us, we do not connect to this for it has been lost to us.

It is nothing short of revelatory to notice that when your mind is going nuts, there is a absolutely a physical origin or corollary. And that if you can crawl your way into the experience of being in a body, you will find the resolve you are seeking. Try it. The next time you are in a difficult mind state, ask yourself, Where Am I? Begin with the body.

 

Embodiment

I recently saw a flyer for a cuddle therapist. It seems that now, in yet another way, we have moved far enough away from what it takes to be human, and what it is that we truly need, that we now pay for hugs. Not that this is new for us; prostitution is as old as the ages. And yet, it is examples like this that really point out how far we have strayed. How much we truly do not understand about ourselves in terms of what we need, and exactly what it takes to satisfy those needs.

To be human is to be in a body. To embody is to incarnate. It is to inhabit. It is to sense and it is to need. It is reflected by, and embedded in the natural world; the very body of the Earth herself. And always, and in all ways, it is to risk. For it is a deeply, deeply vulnerable experience to be in a body.

There is so much at stake. There are old hurts. There are rejections and needs gone unmet. There is exposure and ridicule. There is shame and doubt. There is harm and violation. There is fear and anxiety. There is confusion and inability. There is disappointment and frustration. There are false standards and the wrong information. And there is so much more.

But what if we could go back to the beginning? What if we could begin the journey of simplifying something we have made dangerously and overly complicated? What if we could untangle from all the thoughts and beliefs that have separated us from the truth of our bodies? They say that seeing is believing. Can you imagine seeing your way into a simpler, truer, more harmonious existence with this body of yours?

Lately, when I find myself disconnected from the body and habitually hooked into the busy, planning, judging, past-obsessed, future-anticipating mind, I am simply coming back to some sensation in my body. Any sensation will do. When I can catch myself, I breathe, and I let all of my weight pour down the length of my body; weighting myself into this moment and what is real. This gives me a sense of here-ness, solidity, and rooted-ness. Sometimes in these moments, I even get myself outside to touch the earth, and maybe even pick up a handful of dirt as a reminder of what it is that I am and can sink myself into.

I got this idea when I heard the story about what the Buddha did on the eve of his enlightenment. It seems that a terrible demon visited him and presented Buddha with all of the scariest images and button-pushing fears he could muster. Content that would push anyone over the edge.The Buddha did not fight, he did not recoil in fear, he did not run away. He simply reached down and touched the earth; in effect opting out of engaging with illusion in favor of what was real.

In our increasingly disembodied existence, where from our own minds and coming from all around us, we conjure up one distortion and distraction after another, there is a sure fire way to get back to the truth, and it is through our bodies. Otherwise we find ourselves victim to the cultural norms that encourage us, at ever-accelerating rates, to detach from and deny the needs of the body in more and more extreme ways.

Do not be fooled by how obvious or sophomoric this sounds. Don’t be put off because you have no language or good models for how to be with your body. Don’t turn away because you have been at war with your body for a lifetime. Some part of you knows the way. Some part of you has never forgotten. It is built into us as humans to inhabit this body of ours, and to instinctively and intuitively know how to respond to our truest needs.

Start simple. Start now. Each and every morning, before your feet hit the floor, pause for as long as you can to feel what is there. Before the busy, rational mind kicks into overdrive with all of the things you must get to, ask your body one simple question; What do you need?

And then, do two things: Don’t move until you hear or sense or feel an answer. Respond as soon as you can.

Where You Come From

 

I am taking a class with a woman who knows about the body and its original wisdom in a way I have never experienced before. And while the focus of the class is on movement that is organic, integrated, and effortless, I often find myself carried away with the metaphors around how she languages the body.

Recently, as we were working with a particular range of movement, she said; “In any movement, you can only come from where you come from.” Obvious on one level in terms of what the body is capable of doing. And at the same time, it reads like a set of instructions for how to live in both mind and body. For instance, to her words, “you can only come from where you come from, I added and where you come from in any given movement is created and guided by your habits, your skill set, your intentions, your quality of mind, your past…” And on and on it goes. Where we move from today is based on everything that has come before.

We are an accumulation of all the movements of the past. Equally, there is so much more to come, which in turn will be based on what has come before. It’s a loop that keeps circling and circling. And so, if we want our current movement to come from a place of greater integrity and ease, it requires awareness, adjustments, and the permission to move in new and different ways. This could mean a change in how or what you eat. It could mean interacting with yourself or others differently. It could mean shifting how you think about yourself or what you believe is possible. Movement in this way can come from anyplace, and be in the service of anything.

Where you move from in any given moment is always a choice, and the choice is always yours, and yours alone to make. And so, even though where you are coming from is based on where you are which is based on where you came from, there is always a point in the circle to make the choice to begin anew. It’s like the old saying; “If you keep doing what you have always done, you are going to get what you always got.” But when we learn to do other than what we have always done, we are guaranteed to get something new.

Right now, where in the endless loop of your movement through life is there a place to disrupt the conditioning of what came before in the service of creating a brand new way of moving, and therefore where it is that you ultimately come from?

Twisting

 

I am in a yoga class where the teacher is emphasizing twists. She is encouraging us to initiate the twist by sensing into our backs, and then using that connection to press into action, as opposed to pulling or yanking ourselves around. Over and over again these instructions drop me into Something far greater than a yoga posture.

How many times a day do we twist and turn away from what is? From what is Real. So much of our daily living can be about pulling, yanking and forcing. Too often, without our even knowing what we are doing, we behave as if we can overpower Life itself and make it conform to our desires. We force and we fix. We push and we pull. We attempt to bend things to our individual will. And through it all, we regularly lose touch with the truth; It is not all up to us.

There is another way; a way that involves opening to a supportive hand at our back. Opening to Something we can lean into. Something that holds us. These days I am taking every opportunity I can to sense into the physical support available to me whenever my back touches something, or is being held by something. We can use the body as a doorway into Truth. But it requires our awareness. It requires our ability to be with the body beyond a reflection in the mirror, beyond our fears, and beyond the beliefs we carry about what the body should be doing or looking like. This way of being with the body has the potential of holding a central and sacred place in our lives that no outside “truth” can even begin to touch.