The Body — A Different View

In my professional healing and wellness work, I use body-based modalities. But what do we mean when we say body? Do we share a common definition? Experience tells us that we do not.

To some the body is just a thing, “an object in a world of objects.” (Cornell, 2005, p. 221) It is that physical structure, the bones, flesh, and organs. Others acknowledge that the body is alive; it has processes, but it is not all of us. They acknowledge that the body breathes, taking in air containing oxygen and exhaling air containing carbon dioxide; that cells divide and create new cells through meiosis and mitosis; that cells and organs make new substances from other substances through chemical reactions; and that sensory information from the environment is captured and transmitted to the brain where it is assembled into an experience or a situation. But, they maintain the mind, the Self, memory, emotions, knowledge and wisdom is somehow separate from the body.

Venus_de_Milo_Louvre_Ma399_n4

At the same time, most of us would acknowledge that we have experienced a bodily sensation that carries with it meaning. We say things like, “I had a gut feeling this would work out.” Or, ,”I had a gut feeling to stay away from that.” Or, ” My stomach is tied in knots; I’m so worried.” No one asks, “How did the gut know?” “How did the stomach know about worry?” By which mechanism does the gut and stomach have this knowledge?

When questioned the response might be, “It’s just a saying.” But is it? We’ve felt something.  The stomach tied in knots. The queasy feeling in the abdomen. The tightness in the chest. The clenching in the throat. We have felt it. Then we let it go.

Something in the consciousness of our culture keeps us from talking about something so natural. Perhaps because the process is not analytical or rational, we shy away. And yet, we acknowledge these feelings in our everyday communication, “Something in my gut told me to call you.”  And, we make good use of what they tells us.

This is our body talking; not in a physical but in a subtle way, delicately yet precisely. This body, this interconnected process, interacting with the environment, has wisdom that it shares with us all the time. We can learn to pay attention to it in a special way so that we can fully partake of what it has to share.

When we pay attention with focused yet open awareness, moment to moment, and non-judgmentally, we are in Presence. When we are present the whole of us, the whole the body, can sense what wants our attention now. We make contact; we say hello. We listen and acknowledge from that neutral but compassionate Presence. We feel a body sensation, sense an emotional quality or mood, see imagery, and connect to a story.  By doing so, by entering into this respectful relationship with our body, we can heal, grow, and receive that life-forward energy that allows us to achieve that which we desire.

Reference: The Radical Acceptance of Everything by Ann Weiser Cornell
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Venus de Milo, The Louvre, Jastrow 2007

The Empty Boat

Floating across the river in your boat, you are carefully avoiding hidden obstacles, other boats, and too shallow water when, BAM! another boat rams you. Your anger flashes; your heart pumps faster.  You jump up and yell, “You stupid blankity-blank so-and-so!” You shake your fist and stamp your foot. You call out for the other boatman to show himself so you can tell him a thing or two. But, no one emerges. There is no other boatman; the boat is empty. It has slipped its mooring and floats without control. There is no one to be angry with; no one to curse. Realizing this, your fist unclenches and drops to your side. Still muttering under your breath, though, because you believe it would have been so much better if there had been someone there to be angry with, you go on your way.

This is my reading of the Empty Boat story from the Taoist tradition. If it peaks your interest you can read it and others in the book, The Way of Chuang Tzu (New Directions books, 1997) compiled by Thomas Merton in the 20th century. Most likely written around 250 B.C., it is a powerful and timeless teaching that we can apply to our own experience.

“Well, what’s the point of the story?” You ask. John Welwood in his book, Perfect Love, Imperfect Realtionships (Trumpeter Books, 2006), has a helpful explanation that resonates for us. He says, ” The point of the story is that the parents who didn’t see [us], the kids who teased [us] as a child, the driver who aggressively tailgated [us] yesterday–are in fact all empty, rudderless boats. They were compulsively driven to act as they did by their own unexamined wounds; therefore they did not know what they were doing and had little control over it.” [page 89, Kindle edition]

You may think, “So what. What’s that got to do with me?”

These parents, siblings, friends, bosses, and strangers, among others, these empty boats ramming into us with their unkindnesses, their neglect, and their hurtful actions are driven not out of need to hurt us but out of their own unconscious pain–all the hurt, the woundings, they, themselves, have received along the way. When we react with anger, or jealousy, vindictiveness, or defensive stonewalling we do so because of our own grievances, our own pasts, our own experience with people who have hurt and neglected us.

You may say, “Well, of course. I can’t let someone hurt me. I have to stand up for myself. I have to protect myself. I have to survive.”

In answer, Wellwood responds that until we realize that these are just empty boats we remain tied to our own grievance and pain and suffering and this binding keeps us “from opening up to the more powerful currents of life and love that are always flowing through the present moment.”

So what can we do?

We can not take it personally. After all, the hurt, the unkindness was not meant for us even though it has rammed into us. Not taking it personally is compassionate: we have recognized suffering (the suffering of the person who has rammed into us), we have felt for a moment the pain of that suffering (that we too suffer, but have not let that acknowledgement cause us to suffer more), and we have acted to relieve the suffering (in the other person and in ourselves by not retaliating or reacting angrily, or jealously or whatever.)

We have given everyone space. We can relax and breathe fully. Psychologically, this relief quiets our minds. Physiologically, we can protect ourselves from the incessant turning on of the stress-response in our bodies that over times wrecks havoc with our health leading us to suffer all sorts of maladies and disease.

The next time, someone, anyone, hurts us, neglects us, lashes out at us, or acts unkindly, we can say, “Ah,  just an empty boat” as we take a few slow deep breaths letting the exhale last longer than the inhale so our parasympathetic nervous systems have time to turn on a sense of calm within us.

A Life of Immersion – Jacqueline Novogratz

A beautiful thing about the Web is that it brings our interconnectedness to a new level of intimacy even with people whom we have never met. Stumbling on extraordinary people, things, and places on the web is one of the little pleasures of life. One day I came across a Ted Talk called Inspiring a Life of Immersion by Jacqueline Novogratz. Jacqueline talks about celebrating what’s beautiful, integrating wisdom and spirit, and going beyond our fear to be visible to one another and to live a life of immersion.

If the video does not appear on your mobile device click here to watch it on the web. Jacqueline is the founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund and has written a best-selling memoir called, The Blue Sweater: Bridging The Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World.