Dependent upon this body, most of us function without concern for its delicate balance. Then one day, something about our body becomes ‘not right’. We overuse a muscle group. We sprain a shoulder. We realize we have gained 30 pounds. Our body becomes “the other”, the creature from the swampy dark sea, out to make us miserable. “It” is not doing It’s job. It is no longer something we can take for granted. We react with anger, betrayal, despair, and defense. Suddenly, something has to be done about It! We want someone else to get rid of the ‘other’ that is making our lives miserable. We take medications and have surgeries. We want “It” to return to as It was before! It is not cooperating!
At this point, we actually have a great opportunity. We could learn to attend to It. Ha ha ha – such a radical idea! The body will never return to how it was before, just as you cannot return to when you were sixteen, or before the divorce, or when you had a lot of enthusiasm for your work. Time passes. Everything changes. This is the way of things.
Okay, so perhaps that is the way of things, changes happen, perhaps…. So, what can you do? You could struggle with the goal to return to your previous ways, when you ignored your body. You could do what needs to be done for the body, decide to practice attending to the body as it is right now and see where that way of life leads.
Choice #1: Continue to Ignore
We love this choice. Give me pain killers, a drink and reality television, then I will be fine. Is that actually true? What is the quality of your experience before, during and after the television, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, or shopping binges? At best we are momentarily satisfied, or perhaps it lasts for a few hours. But then suddenly, “It” betrays us! Our knee hurts again, our hip on the opposite side gives out and the pain returns. “My body, that I am working hard to ignore has come back to make me miserable.” So we begin again, looking for a different practitioner who will treat us, or a different pain killer or other way of ignoring. What are the effects and results of this choice? What do you learn?
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with ignoring. I suppose it could be a choice, such as “I am going to ignore the pain in my knee, so that I can get through my daughter’s wedding without attracting attention to myself.” In my experience, the problem is: Ignoring is contagious. Easily it spreads to all parts of our life and becomes the mode of operation we use for all situations that are difficult for us. In this way, ignoring can become a numbing habit that feeds on the energy of your life.
By engaging ignoring, we become a shadow of our own potential. Think about it this way. Do you like to be ignored or taken for granted by others? Nope. Neither does your body. I have seen the effects of habitual ignoring in myself and in my clients:
1. We become disconnected from experience. Even experiences that we enjoy lose their sparkling vitality.
2. Our senses become numb. Seeing starts to lack distinction of light and color. Hearing becomes selective and generalized within a limited range. Our ability to experience subtlety diminishes. Our sense of taste solidifys around one to three main flavors. Thinking becomes limited, nothing can get in, nothing can expand and nothing can move.
3. We find ourselves pushing others away, closing down our minds and getting attached to our unpleasant experience.
Choice #2: Learning to listen with awareness to your body
Awareness is the ability to know what is going on. What is going on is your body is trying to get your attention. The experience of the injury is unpleasant, you do not like unpleasant things, you link unpleasantness with a belief you solidify around these stories and you shut down.
Alleviating pain is most effective when learning is involved. We have this neat thing, our body, which is how we experience the world. By bringing attention to your body you become aware of your actions, your thoughts, and your emotions and their effects on you, those around you and the world you live in. Bringing attention to your body is one step to vitalty.
Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Be practical. If you are in pain, injured, emotionally upset, overweight, etc. definitely seek help from a health care professional. Listen to what they have to say. Educate yourself. Try what they suggest. Notice the effects and proceed from there. Do what needs to be done.
2. Start a practice of attention to the body. Find teachers skilled in the study and practice of awareness through the body, through movement and through experiential meditation. Be open enough to give different methods an opportunity to work. Check out: www.unfetteredmovement.org Search the Internet on movement and awareness, body awareness, movement pattern analysis, embodied meditation… Become curious about what you do not know.
Here are a few starting points for bringing attention to your body:
1. Experience your body resting.
Before you jump out of your bed alarmed by your clock, practice experiencing your whole body. What areas are the most released into your bed? What areas are not touching the surface below you? Without looking, how long is your sense of your right leg? How far apart from your left leg is your right leg? What is the your sense of weight of your right leg? Is it the same as your left leg? Can you feel your pelvis? Do you know what the bones of your pelvis look like? What part of your pelvis is touching the bed? What is your sense of space between the front of your torso and the back of your torso? How much room do your organs have inside you? Which arm feels hotter? Which hand is most relaxed? Where does your tongue rest in your mouth? Can you tell that you are breathing? What is the quality of your breath (strained, slow, full)? Does one lung fill more deeply than the other? Where can you feel your body being moved by your breath (your abdomen, your sides, your mouth, your throat)? Now, feel your entire body again, the whole experience.
2. Experience your body in motion.
Spend a few minutes walking with the intention to experience your body moving. What is motivating and initiating the action of walking? Are your legs pulling your along? Is your head leading you onward? Is your sternum/chest moving forward or is it resisting or frozen? Is your pelvis gliding forward or is it dragging behind you? What is each side of your body doing? What are your shoulder blades doing? What do they have to do with your chest? Are your arms stiff with anticipation or relaxed in cooperation? Are you holding any part of your body with unnecessary tension? (jaw, tongue, eyes, fingers, lower back, heart area, gut) What is the feeling of your feet? Can you feel all of your toes or just your smallest toe? Do your feet emphasize pushing, pulling, springing, or flopping as you walk? What is the experience of the overall quality of pressure? Is it easy to walk along or does it feel like the space is resisting your forward action? What happens to the pressure if you walk backwards or sideward? What is your sense of pace? Do you feel rushed or do you have all the time in the world? What is your sense of flow, do you feel bound up when you practice placing your attention on your body’s movement or do you have a sense of free flowing ease? Notice the quality of space as you walk. Are you pinpointed with your focus, seeing only the sidewalk before you or are you global with your focus, seeing everything all around you? What is your experience of the air as you move through space? Does the air feel hot, light, clear, fresh, thick, wet, or stuffy? Now, return to walking, moving through space, experiencing your body, your senses and the space all at once.
The body has its knowing. It is not verbal. It is not mental. The knowing of the body is truthful and clear. You do not need to spend your life being estranged from your body. It is here with you all the time, waiting. You can become intimate friends. It requires a willingness to notice your body and discipline to develop the skill. It is like adopting a new dog. At first you learn to observe the dog’s movement behaviors, then you learn to communicate through movement with the dog, then the dog learns to trust you, open up and together you grow with respect, honor and devotion. Your body is not your enemy. It eagerly waits to show you the experience called life.
Copyright© Gail Gustafson September 2010, Colorado Springs, CO
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