To overcome trauma you need to wake up your body again. So that you can really take pleasure in the small things of life, and learn again to pay attention to yourself.
All over the world, except in [North-]America and Europe, are people singing and moving and dancing together in response to trauma, to re-establish a sense of harmony.– Bessel van der Kolk, Cumulative Effect of Trauma from the Collective Trauma Summit
Body contractions are an important component of trauma, anxiety, depression, addiction, low self-esteem and more.
The mind needs sensations to give imagination a sense of solidity and reality and to give it a charge. So it tenses muscles to create these sensations.
They are sometimes temporarily amplified as needed in the situation. And if the mind wishes to create a more lasting experience of trauma etc., then the body contractions can be more lasting and chronic.
These contractions are somewhat individual and can be just about anywhere on the body, although they are often in the torso along the mid-line and also in the throat and head area. They can be on the skin or deeper in the body. (They can even sometimes be experienced as outside of the physical body, when imagination makes physical sensations appear in the space outside of the body.)
There are many ways to work with these contractions and what they are a component of. We can do inquiry on them and see how we relate to them and also what imaginations are connected with them.
Through inquiry, we get to see how we relate to the contractions and also what imaginations (memories, images, words) are connected to them.
We can tap on them, hold, massage.
Therapeutic tremoring (TRE) can help release the physical contraction. This will, in turn, take some of the charge out of what the contraction is a part of whether it’s trauma, anxiety, depression, addiction or something else.
We can use different forms of energy and/or bodywork to (a) shift how we relate to the contraction (befriend it), or (b) release the contraction.
Exploring the contraction both from the mind (inquiry) and the body side is often helpful and sometimes essential.
Here are some ways to talk about mind & body, each with some truth to them.
In immediate experience, the body happens within mind. The body is an experience happening within and as awareness. It’s a set of sensory input and associated imaginations (mental images and words) combining to create the experience of this body, and all of that happens within and as awareness. As somebody said, the body is the part of the mind visible to the senses.
Health wise, body and mind are one seamless system. If we decide to imagine them as two, we can say that each influences the other. (And the brain and body is one seamless system as well, obviously, with extensive two-way communication.)
In terms of ecology and cosmology, the body is a seamless part of larger social, ecological, and cosmological systems. It’s a holon (part) within a holarchy (system of parts). Again, any separation and even any distinctions are imagined. (And that imagination is essential for helping us orient, navigate and function in the world.) Our wider social, ecological, and cosmological systems are – in a literal and concrete sense – our larger body. This is not just poetry or the visions of a mystic, it’s literally how it seems to be. The universe is one seamless system, and we are seamlessly embedded in it.
In our culture, we are so used to thinking of separate units that it’s difficult to take this in and really embody and feel it. We are used to thinking of mind and body as distinct and largely separate, and ourselves as a person as distinct and largely separate from the wider whole. There is some truth to it, and yet it’s not the whole picture, and it’s also not the most useful way of looking at it these days. A more integral view, or systems view, or holarchical view, makes more practical sense.
We often have an unintentional dialog with our body, so why not make it more intentional?
I can ask it questions. I can ask it how I have related to it. I can ask how it would like me to relate to it. I can ask what it would like me to know. I can apologize for how I have treated it. I can share what I wish from it. I share that what’s happening is not a life-and-death matter and it’s allowed to relax.
And much more, all in the context of kindness.
This can be very healing, and it can change my relationship with my body.
In addition, it can be helpful to explore how my mind creates my experience of my body. I can do this through inquiry, for instance the Living Inquiries.
Body, how does P. relate to you? He likes me most of the time. He appreciated me. He also struggles with me when I don’t do what he wants from me. He struggles when (he thinks) I create fatigue and brain fog.
How would you like him to relate to you? Continue to feed me good food. Go for walks. Get fresh air. Do what you enjoy. Find love for me, as I am. I am doing my best.
What advice do you have for him? Find some patience with me. Continue to explore how his mind creates his experience of me. Continue to find genuine love for me. Enjoy.
Body, can you do something for me? Yes, what? Can you shift into full health? Into an intention of full health? I will do my part, as much as I can. Yes. Remember, it’s a partnership. I am following your cues.
On the last topic, I have found that when I have asked for healing and health, there is a shift in orientation and into a more clear intention. I may also be more aware of what in me fears healing and full health, and can explore that. And I may find something or someone who can support my health.
It may not seem like much, having dialogues like this. And yet, something shifts. I feel more aligned with my body, and on the same side. I see it’s always there for me. I see how it’s taking cues from me, from my intentional and unintentional orientation.
And with so much I write about here, these dialogues are very natural and almost effortless. They happen anyway, so why not make them more intentional?
The body is the ego’s greatest ally.
– Byron Katie
Yes, in so many ways.
I am this body. I will die. I don’t want to die.
My body is sick. It will get sick. It’s not good looking enough. It’s too old. It will get old. I won’t be attractive anymore. They won’t like me. I am wearing the wrong clothes. What will people think about how I look? Am I good and impressive enough looking to find a partner?
I am this body. The rest of the world is not me. It’s something that can help me or hurt me. It’s a precarious situation.
And more basic:
These sensations are connected to these images and words, and means these images and words are real, solid and true.
The mind is great at coming up with thoughts related to or relying on the body. And there is no end to how much stress can be created by these thoughts when they are unexamined and held as true. (Even if just a part of us hold them as true.)
It’s easy to think of body contractions as an effect of stressful beliefs (Velcro, identifications), and that’s accurate enough. It does seem that stressful beliefs create bodily contractions, and persistent and persistently retriggered beliefs may create persistent and chronic body contractions.
And the reverse may be true too.
Body contractions fuel stressful beliefs, and with it unquestioned fears, deficient and inflated selves, reactivity, and compulsions. Without body contractions, it may not even be possible to believe a stressful thought.
As I have written about before (long before I got into the Living Inquiries), it seems that in order to believe a thought, it has to be associated with sensations. These sensations lends a charge, and sense of solidity and reality, to the thought, so it’s possible to hold it as real and true.
So in order to believe a thought, the body-mind tenses certain muscles to create sensations which in turn can be used to give charge and lend a sense of solidity and reality to the thought. That’s, at least, one way to look at it.
It’s really not easy to believe a thought, so tensing muscles is one way to make it easier and more possible. And when the stressful belief is persistent and recurrent, it tends to require a persistent and/or recurrent body contraction.
This is one reason it can be very helpful to work at this – stressful beliefs, anxiety, depression, compulsions, addictions – from both the mind and body sides. We can do inquiry, loving kindness, ho’oponopono, natural rest and more. And we can massage the contraction, release tension through therapeutic tremors (TRE), do yoga, receive bodywork, and more. These approaches go hand in hand, along with working with the larger social system if possible, spending time in nature, engage in physical activities, improving the diet, and whatever else is helpful.
Therapeutic tremors – the ones all mammals have after stress or shock, and is initiated through the Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) – heal the organism, and doesn’t seem to differentiate between body and mind. The healing happens wherever it’s needed.
One healing that happened early on for me was my lower back. I have scoliosis (still there), and used to have days where my back seized up and I stayed in bed for half a day or a full day to recover.
During the first few weeks of doing TRE, I had periods of soreness in the lower back, and trusted that it was part of the healing process. (While I also monitored it, and adjusted the frequency and length of my TRE sessions, so it wouldn’t get too uncomfortable.) After some weeks, or perhaps months, I noticed that the muscles in my lower back felt much softer and healthier, and it has continued to be that way.
There are still areas of chronic tension in my body, most notably in my shoulders. The shaking goes up there, as it has for a while, but I have – for whatever reason – taken that process a bit slower.
For me, in my immediate experience, the body is part of the mind.
My body is part of my mind since it’s happening within and as awareness. All bodies, and any experience, is like that.
Also, anything I think I know about “the body” is created by the mind, by stories, by sensations and an overlay of images and words.
In both of these ways, the body is part of the mind.
So if I say my body tells me….., or my body feels….., I really mean my mind.
My body tells me….. –> My mind tells me…..
When I believe a story, it seems to come with a bodily contraction.
There are good reasons for this.
To believe a story, it seems that it has to be attached to sensations. Sensations associated with images and words gives them a charge, and lends them a sense of reality, solidity and truth. It seems that it may not be possible (?) to believe a story unless it’s attached to a sensation in this way.
And to create sensations, we need to tense up muscles. In other words, create a contraction.
As usual, there are different ways to explore this.
Rest with the sensations and any images and words that come up. Notice and allow.
Inquire into the associated images and words. See what’s there. See if they are a threat. See if they are X. (A deficient self or whatever the contraction seems connected with.)
Perhaps also meet it with kindness. See it’s there to protect, it comes from caring, from love.
Neurogenic tremors (TRE) can also be helpful, releasing the tension out of the body. (Of course, this tends to come back unless the stories creating the tension have been examined and perhaps loved.)
These contractions – and really the beliefs creating them – seem to fuel reactivity, anxiety, depression, compulsions, addictions and more. That’s why it can be very helpful to not only explore this from the belief (velcro, identification) side, but also the physical side.
What’s the mechanism that leads from beliefs to bodily contractions? One way to look at it is that beliefs often come from and create (unloved) fear, and that’s why the muscles tense up – in order to prepare us to flee or fight.
After years and years of working in this and grappling with this, the conclusion that many of us are coming to is that in order to help these animal, frozen, inappropriate, fight/fight/freeze responses to come to an end, you need to work with people’s bodily responses. You need to help their body feel like it’s over.
– Bessel van der Kolk
The different approaches I write about here can help with that. Resting with and feeling sensations, and images and words. Meeting experiences, including sensations, with love. Asking simple questions to see what’s already here. Releasing tension through neurogenic tremors.
I sometimes will say my body tells me….. to eat this, not that etc .
There is a wisdom in the body, and one of the ways it’s expressed is in guidance for what to eat. (And it seems very accurate.)
Of course, it’s not really my body telling me. It’s my mind.
Using conventional language, I may say it’s the part of my mind more connected with my body.
Or, closer to my experience, it’s the part of my mind that appears as the body. It’s the part of my mind that we often call the body.
Really, those are all stories. It’s what the mind calls guidance that another thought says comes from the body. And recognizing that doesn’t mean I won’t listen to and aim to follow this guidance.
Over the last year-and-a-half, I have noticed a body contraction that seems to move up.
It started with a strong contraction in the solar plexus. Then the heart. And now the throat. Each one has lasted for a few months, and it has corresponded with old wounds and traumas surfacing relating to each. For instance, with the heart contraction, there was a lot of wounds around being unlovable and unloved that came up…. to be seen, felt, loved, rested with.
Now, with the throat contraction, I find my voice sounding held back and contracted as well, and I cough quite a bit. There are also wounds (identifications, beliefs) surfacing relating to being visible in the world, being seen as an authority, taking more of a leadership role, communicating my truth, and more.
These movable contractions is in addition to a more persistent contraction in my shoulders, and some in my calves, which I also hold in presence when I remember.
Body contractions seem to come from identifications and beliefs at odds with the world (which beliefs necessarily are). And they also seem to fuel reactivity and compulsions, including the compulsion to go to ideas and identifications for (a sense of) safety.
When I explore images and words associated with these contractions, what comes up range from abstract images, to personal memories, to family and cultural patterns.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to do inquiry, or various forms of meditation, or even shift into natural rest. The mind is too busy, too agitated, perhaps in too much reactivity.
At these times, it can be especially helpful to do something physical. Go for a walk. Run. Lift weights. Seek out nurturing touch. Do yoga. Tai chi. Chi gong. Breema. Even tapping. Or just take a break.
After this, it can be easier to do inquiry, meditation, or shift into natural rest.
Most, or all (?), spiritual traditions have known this, and often recommend doing a body-centered activity before (or during) inquiry, meditation, natural rest, or prayer.
It helps channel the restlessness or agitation in a way that’s more supportive of these practices.
It can also be helpful to inquire into ideas about this such as: “I have to be in the right state of mind to inquiry/meditate/pray”, “I need to inquire/meditate/pray now”, “it’s better if I inquire now”, “this agitation/distress is preventing me from …..” and so on. (The Work.) Also, can I find agitation, distress, reactivity, or even inquiry, meditation, or prayer? Or someone unable to do inquiry now, or someone who should? (Living Inquiries.)
In psychology, body image is typically studied as if seen from the “outside”, through questionnaires, interviews and similar.
And it’s also quite interesting to explore it in immediate experience. What words, images and sensations are here, connected with how I see my body (as I think it is, would like it to be, and perhaps fear or hope it may be in the future)? What do I find when I look at each of these, feel the sensations, and see if I can find what I initially experience is there? (Threat, a threatened one, a body as I think it is, a body as I fear or hope it may be.)
It will have most meaning for me, as it helps me see what’s here, and perhaps allow sensations to “unstick” from the words and images. And it can also be studied on a larger scale, looking at commonalities and differences between people. What dynamics do we find? What’s shared? What’s the cultural component? What’s the differences and similarities between cultures?
I assume this approach will be included in mainstream academic and therapeutic psychology, perhaps within the next few decades. It seems inevitable that it will, since it’s so useful, and since other types of Buddhist-type practices have already entered mainstream. Mindfulness was first, and inquiry may be next.
It seems that the Living Inquiries can be a good tool in this process, this more phenomenological and first person exploration of body image.
A few very basic things about mind and body:
Life is one whole. And sometimes, for practical reasons, we divide it into (a) individual and the wider world, and (b) the individual into mind and body. These boundaries are created through overlays of thought, – of words and images – and are not inherent in reality.
That means that when it comes to any aspect of our health, what we call mind and body both are at play, as is the wider (social and ecological) whole.
For instance, with physical pain, there is the physical pain (body) and there is our response to it (mind), both influence each other, and our cultural expectations and norms, social support (wider world) and more also play into it. If there are fearful beliefs about the pain, the pain may intensify. If we see the words and images, and feel the sensations, making up the pain and our responses to it, there may be more ease and ability to experience the sensations as sensations. There may still be “pain” but less suffering.
More in general, the processes of the mind influences the body – weakening or strengthening it which in turn influences health, illness and recovery. (We are so far just scratching the surface of this in terms of research.)
Also, from the view of physical science, mind appears connected with the body and is a mystery. (“What is it? What is it’s relationship to the body?”.) From our own immediate experience, all is mind. The body – and the wider world, and any other content of the mind – happens within and as mind. And both views are valid in their own way. Each have their value and function. They are two facets of how we can perceive the world.
P.S. These are things that seem very basic and obvious, but I still notice some confusion about this in the media and other places.
When the body does its dance, sometimes its perfectly appropriate to let it do it, to find its way. Really invite it to find its way, to find its equilibrium. And if you have an intention to allow the body to find its equilibrium, its balance…. If it knows that, if you have told the body its perfectly fine for it to find its equilibrium, then it will be much more likely to find it.
If you don’t have that in mind, sometimes the body can keep going through patterns. It releases and goes through the pattern, releases and goes through the pattern.
If you know inside that you are asking the body to find its natural state of equilibrium, wholeness, release, it really helps it a lot. Your communication with it is really quite useful to it. It really helps if we are in synch with our bodies.
– Adyashanti, Silent Retreat, 2009, disc 12, track 6
Satsang with the body: You are welcome here. Your health, vitality and wholeness is welcome here.
And with the mind/psyche: You are welcome here. Your health and wholeness is welcome here.
I had a conversation with someone who mentioned bodywork within a nondual context. It seems quite natural for me, although there is obviously more to explore! When I investigate my body through the different sense fields, I find sight, sensations, sound, taste, smell and images. Each of these are awareness, they happen within and as awareness. There is no substance there. And there is also no substance there when they come together, and there is the label “my body” or “a body”.
That’s the context any bodywork happens within as well. When I do Breema, my body and the recipient’s body are both awareness. They happen as awareness, and as the play of awareness. The image of an I – as a doer, observer – happens within the mental field, and is also awareness. Taken as true, the mind is temporarily identified as an I, and it appears real. And even then, nonidentified mind is here. It’s identified mind –> it’s nonidentified mind. Can I find where that’s true for me, here and now?
Here are some thoughts it’ can be interesting to look into:
There is a body. I have a body. It’s a body. The body is real.
This body is …. years old. This body is made of matter. This body has been born. This body will die.
Metaphors are images in my mind, and they can be taken as true or not.
To the extent they are taken as true, they influence my view, feelings and life. I perceive, feel and live as if it’s true.
And that’s true for body-related metaphors as well.
I have a weight on my shoulders. Cotton in my head. Butterflies in the stomach. It was as getting a knife in the stomach. I want to get a load off my chest. I feel lighter. A weight lifted from me.
This morning, I noticed my mind felt a bit slow, and was reminded of the cotton in my head metaphor. As an experiment, I labeled it cotton in my head and intentionally solidified the experience. How would it be if I take the story of cotton in my head as true and real?
I noticed the sensations that made up the experience, and then the image that went with it. The feeling of cotton in my head seems entirely made up of (a) certain sensations in my head area, especially a slight pressure/tension at the temples and forehead, and (b) an image of wooliness or cotton in and a bit around the head. Outside of that, I cannot find it. It’s quite funny, in a way, how it’s only sensations and an image that create the experience.
I have explored this before, with this and other body-related labels, so cotton in my head doesn’t feel real or solid anymore, even when I don’t intentionally investigate it this way.
Before investigating, the experience of cotton in my head and other labels – including the more basic ones of pain, hunger, dizziness and so on – seem quite real and solid. I have stories of what it means, and tend to take these as true as well. When these metaphors and labels are investigated – perhaps several times and over time – they don’t seem so real, true or solid anymore. It’s clear that it’s made up of a set of sensations, and – if it even comes up – a label. The label may come up only when it seems helpful, for instance in conversation. And even then, it’s not taken as true.
With this, the stories of what it means tends to fall away as well. And it can also be helpful and interesting to investigate these. I have cotton in my head, and that means…. (I won’t function as well, I will have to avoid mental tasks). I have cotton in my head, because…. (I have cf, I didn’t sleep well).
What happens in my body – what physical sensations are here – when I believe a particular thought? (A question from The Work.)
Or, said another way, what do I do in my body to believe a thought? (A question from TRE.)
Although each belief comes with a particular pattern, here are some general and common ones I notice for myself:
In general, I tighten the calf muscles. This reduces blood flow and sensations in my legs, which in turn reduces a sense of “grounding” so it’s easier to go into – and get caught up in – stories.
At a CSS talk, one of the questioners used the term spiritualization of matter. I don’t know much about how it is ordinarily used, but it seems that it can be talked about in a couple of different ways.
All is already awakeness, and that includes all appearances, overlay of stories, identifications, sense of I and Other, doer, observer and so on. What we label matter is already Spirit so no need – or even possibility – to spiritualize anything.
To explore this, I can chose something that seems very much material and physical, for instance a cup. How does it appear in each sense field? Through sensations, sight, sounds, images? What is its appearance in each sense field made of? Is it awakeness itself? Can I find what stories label “matter” outside of these sense fields? Can I find “matter” outside of images and stories? Can I find it as anything else than awakeness? (The very ordinary awakeness we are all familiar with, which is here independent of context of experience and identifications.) This may sound very naive, and I suppose that is one of the reasons we usually don’t explore things this way.
Awakeness can awaken to itself, notice itself, and identification shift out of stories. Our human self will then reorganize within this new context, and this can be called spiritualization of matter. Our body, energies, emotions and views shift and reorganize within this context of what we are awake to itself. Our human self heals, matures and develops in this new context, and does so in ways that appears sane and mature in a conventional sense as well.
This reorganization can also happen before such an awakening, through practice and at least to some extent.
I spent an interesting night at the ER with kidney stones on the move. (Not out yet.)
And what comes up the most is gratitude… for modern medicine, hospitals, friendly and skilled staff, and being able to get there in just a few minutes from where I live. Very appropriate, since yesterday was Thanksgiving and I had explored what I have to be thankful for.
I also noticed, and find an easy gratitude for, the pressure valves of pain… When it gets too intensive, the experience of it shifts. It becomes something else. And there are also the temporary and very welcome distractions through movement and sounds.
And then finding myself with one foot in the world of what I am, and one foot in who I am. It all happened within clarity and a quiet joy. A clarity inherent in what is, independent of its content. A quiet joy inherent in any experience, independent of its content. And then the human self doing its thing, in excellent fashion, including twisting, grunting and moaning in pain. (And discovering that the child’s pose helps alleviate the pain, as does a hot water bottle on the painful area.)
I also got to notice what thought does with this. Coming home, I looked up kidney stones online (Wikipedia, Mayo Clinic, etc.) and realized that I do not fit the profile at all for having kidney stones. I drink lots of water daily. I use my body. There is no history of it in my near family. I have a low protein diet. I do not drink coke or other soft drinks. I am younger than what is typical.
Up until reading this, I was fine with having kidney stones. It was just another adventure. But after reading it, the thought came up that I shouldn’t have them! Why me? I am doing everything “right” so why did I still get them?
And then seeing the silliness of it, and a release. Kidney stones are guests, as anything else. Temporary. Inviting me to just experience, and also notice what is happening.
Finally, the slight hesitation or apprehension coming up. The stone or stones are not out yet, so it is quite possible that I will experience that pain again as they move through or want to move through. And then appreciation for that too, because it is just the human self taking care of itself. It experienced something unpleasant, it may return, so it naturally is apprehensive. And that has a function. In this case, it helps me take the pain medication even if I currently don’t experience much pain.
I have written about this before, but wanted to look into it again for myself.
When a story is taken as true, it has several effects. Mainly…
My stories tells me it is true. I find supporting stories. I find allies who believe the same. I deny the truth in the reversals of these stories. And I deny the limited truth in these stories. In short, attention goes to stories aimed at proving a position.
My emotions become reactive. (Reactive anger, sadness, depression, frustration.)
My body tenses up. (Tensions, jitteriness, dullness, shallow breath.)
And since these effects are always associated with beliefs, I come to take them as support for the initial belief.
Life shows up a certain way. It triggers reactive emotions, tension in the body and stories aimed at proving a point, and all of this is taken as support for my initial belief.
My stories tells me it is true. My emotions tells me it is true. My body tells me it is true. So it must be true.
Over the last few days, and especially last night, I have noticed what seems like a gentle tug of war going on in the body. Maybe a tension between dynamics from a mistaken identity and existence inviting in a release of it. A gentle murmuring tug of war between confusion and clarity.
This is probably something that goes on all the time, for most of us. A tug of war between beliefs in stories and what is more true for us. A tension between what we try to take as true, and what we know is true. A tug of war that goes through all of who we are, including the body and its energies.
And sometimes, like now, it feels like something is working itself out. But those are all interpretations, and it feels better to let it have its life without me needing to know.
Some teachers emphasize to feel awareness. It may sound funny, but there is a deep wisdom behind it.
When I shift into Big Mind, finding myself as what I am, feeling awareness is an invitation to bring attention to what is happening to my body. I bring attention to the felt-sense, to what is happening with my felt-sense when what I am notices itself.
(I can invite this shift in through the Big Mind process, headless experiments, exploring the sense fields, allowing experience/choiceless awareness, or by following a number of other pointers. And the noticing of what I am can be more or less clear. But the felt-sense will still shift along with it.)
What I notice is a deep relaxation of the body. When it is no longer taken as an I with an Other, it is free to release the tension that comes from being taken for an I with an Other.
Bringing attention to the body, in the context of what we are noticing itself, is also an invitation to the body to reorganize within this new context. It is an invitation to deepen into the felt sense of what we are noticing itself, and to allow the body – and our human self as a whole – to reorganize within it.
And if the heart is brought in, there is a whole new flavor to it, and the relaxation and reorganization goes even deeper.
I shift into Big Mind, invite in Big Heart, a kindness and well-wishing towards anything within form, bring attention to the body and embrace the body, and allow the body – and my human self as a whole – to deeply relax and reorganize within that awareness and love.
Free from the tension and stress of being taken for an I with an Other, and within being seen, felt and loved as it is, here and now.
“The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, is exercise.”
“The data show that regular moderate exercise increases your ability to battle the effects of disease,” Dr. Moffat said in an interview. “It has a positive effect on both physical and mental well-being. The goal is to do as much physical activity as your body lets you do, and rest when you need to rest.”
The New York Times has a great little article on the universal benefits of exercise: You Name It, and Exercise Helps It.
When I look at the effects of exercise, I see that the benefits seem to come through flow and capacity. Exercise get things moving and builds capacity.
And that is true for exercise at any level.
At the thought/mental field level, inquiry into beliefs gets things unstuck. It also builds capacity for inquiry, and for seeing a story as only a story.
At the emotional level, being with and allowing experience allows the content of experience to flow and move on. And it builds capacity for being with and allowing experience.
At the energetic level, exercise – such as different forms of yoga – again invites flow and capacity. The energies get moving, and it builds capacity for working with and holding energies.
At the body level, aerobic and non-aerobic exercise obviously gets things moving and unstuck, at all levels, and also builds capacity.
And the same is also true for relationships. Working consciously with relationships invites them to flow and unstick, and it builds capacity for working with relationships and allowing them to flow.
I have mentioned this before, but I noticed again today.
I used to have a moderate scoliosis in the lower back, with the most noticeable misalignment right at the level of the navel. And that is exactly where I have noticed an energetic hole since the initial awakening. Along with this, there was a sense of a generally weak hara, and also a neurotic pattern of irritability over certain sounds. (People eating loudly, rustling loudly with the newspaper, talking loudly in public, etc.)
Since I started doing Breema, my hara has been filling up more, and has a much higher baseline level. After a while, there was a sense of the energetic hole filling up, and the scoliosis is much weaker. (I have also received massage for the scoliosis). And following that, I have noticed that the neurotic pattern has lessened quite significantly and is often absent in situations where it used to arise.
My sense is that the Breema helped the hara fill up, with a nurturing fullness and trust, which in turn invited the neurotic pattern to shift, helped along with The Work inquiries on people making sounds. And the massage invited the spine to realign, probably helped along with the energetic shifts in that same area.
I had an opportunity to explore ways to work with body symptoms last week, this time mainly just by fully allowing the experience, exploring the sense fields, and also resting attention on certain sensations.
Here are some ways of working with body symptoms…
- Allowing the experience, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way, as they are, as if they would never change. Can I be with what I am experiencing right now? Bringing in the heart at times.
- Resting attention on sensations, gently, stably, over some time. This is using body symptoms as an object for stability practice.
- Exploring the sense fields, what is happening in each, and the gestalts that appear when they are combined. What is happening in sound, sensation, smell, taste and thought? How do thought combine with the other sense fields, such as sensations, to create certain appearances and gestalts? What happens when these appear solid, substantial and real? What happens when I notice how a thought combine with other sense fields to create those appearances?
- Noticing the beliefs I have around body symptoms, health, disease, life, death, and inquire into them, finding what is already more true for me. (The Work.)
- Finding myself as headless through the headless experiments. Am I the content of my experiences, or that which these experiences happens within and as?
- Being curious about the process behind the symptoms, allowing it to unfold. What is left out of my conscious awareness that wants to be seen and included? (Process Work.)
- Explore the voices that come up, such as the body, pain, illness, health, and so on. What do they have to say? How does the personality relate to them? How do they relate to each other? How does each one contribute to and help the human self? How can they do this in a simpler and more straight forward way? (Big Mind process.)
- Deepening into empathy for myself and others. What I am experiencing now is universally human. Shared by all living creatures. We are all in this together. It is not (only) about me, but about us.
- And then all the conventional ways of dealing with the symptoms or illness… going to the doctor, taking pills, changing diet, get more sleep, exercise, getting surgery, going to an acupuncturist, and so on depending on the situation.
As with anything else in life….
- We can work with the content of it in a conventional way. In this case, going to the doctor, getting acupuncture, changing our health habits, and so on.
- We can explore how we relate to it. Do I resist the experience? What happens if I more fully allow and stay with the experience? What happens if I bring attention to the symptoms in a stable and gentle way?
- We can explore what is already more true for us about it. What are my beliefs around it? Are they true? What happens when I believe that? Who would I be without that belief? What is true in the reversals of my initial story?
- We can allow it to work on us. When I fully allow experience, sincerely investigate beliefs, find myself as headless and so on, I can invite it to work on me, placing myself under it.
- And we can use it as an invitation to notice what we already are. Am I the content of my experiences? These sensations, sounds, smells, tastes, thoughts that all live their own life, coming and going on their own time? Or am I that which these come and go within and as?
I had an opportunity to explore being with body symptoms yesterday, as headaches and nausea peaked from something that has been brewing for a couple of days.
As long as the symptoms were mild and moderate, I was able to do other things, including distracting myself by watching movies as it got a little worse. At some point, when it went over the “moderate” threshold, I had no choice but to turn off the light and just be with the symptoms.
If attention wandered, the discomfort increased to feel almost unbearable. But when attention stayed on the body symptoms, it was OK. It was a great laboratory to be with and fully allow whatever happened, and a great feedback mechanism for attention to stay with it in a stable way without wandering.
After a while, there was a shift into a sense of clarity and soft expansion. I feel asleep for a few minutes, and woke up to a sense of clarity, a sweet nurturing fullness, a quiet bliss, and a sense of purification. The body symptoms had shifted into all of these, although I had to lie still for the physical aspects of the nausea to not kick in again. (Meaning: puking.)
So in fully allowing body symptoms, they too are revealed as something else, as any experience. They appear one way when – even subtly – resisted, and another way when wholeheartedly allowed, as they are, as if they would never change.
It is also interesting to notice that this happened on its own during my initial awakening. Whenever I got physically sick, there was a tremendous sense of clarity, bliss, nurturing fullness, and purification. During the dark night phase, I got sick the more usual way without any of this. And now, with some intention, it seems that the shift happens again.
During the initial awakening, the physical illnesses were usually quick and intense, during the dark night longer and lower intensity, and yesterday, quick and intense again.
In the form of bodywork I am doing, they say watch with the body, and allow the body to remember.
When I look at this for myself, I find that the experience may be that the body watches and remembers, but something else is going on. It is those visual, kinesthetic and tactile thoughts that registers and remembers the form, the ones similar to our body image and images of extent and continuity. They often operate outside of attention, although can certainly be noticed as they happen, with a little bit of practice. (For instance simple labeling practice.)
While watching and giving a sequence, these non-verbal thoughts can be supported to a certain extent by discursive/verbal thoughts, for instance by consciously remembering. But they are often more readily available to surface when these other thoughts are more quiet, or focused on counting the breath, or bringing attention to the weight of the body or the breath.
As I often find when I explore how they talk about these things, the way they express it is somewhat vague and poetic and focuses more at gestalts and medium level holons. The beauty of this is that it meets people where they are, if they have not explored these things before, and allows people to explore and discover the details of it themselves. The drawback is that these gestalts may be taken as more real than they really are.
Additional note: I notice how “watching with the body” for me, right now, means allow attention to include your own body as you watch the sequence being demonstrated. And this in turn activate the kinesthetic (visual+movement+sensation) thoughts, the thoughts mimicking a felt-sense moving and quality of movement, which makes it easier for a remembrance of the sequence to surface when I do it on my own.
I am getting back into the Feldenkrais lessons/explorations again through a friend studying to become a Feldenkrais practitioner and also classes just down the street.
These sessions are great opportunities to explore body image and how this mind creates an image of the body and uses it in different ways.
Some of the things I notice…
- Thoughts create a visual image of the body. This one is most easily noticeable when the eyes are closed, but can also be noticed as an overlay over the visual perceptions when the eyes are open.
- This image provides mapping for sensations
- It is used for anticipating or remembering movements, visualizing what can be or was
- It serves as a guide for attention, for instance when we are instructed to bring attention to our left foot
- And it also serves as a map for a sense of subject and object. Each of these are located in different areas of space and the body, creating a sense of distance between the two, which also makes it possible to differentiate the two. Without a sense of distance between them, no subject or object.
- When I explore the sense of subject and object, I notice the visualization of a fuzzy boundary around the head area serving as a location for a subject, seer, and doer. And the rest, such as other locations of the body and also the wider world, then becomes object and seen. If attention is brought to this sense of subject, the boundary shifts (usually to slightly in front of and above the head) and what previously appeared as subject now becomes an object. The specifics of how this works is probably different for different people, and changes over time as well.
- All of this happens on top of basic visual thoughts of extent or space, which allows us to experience perception as spread out in space and located in different areas of space. These are basically visualizations of space, which allows us to map perceptions on top of it.
Adyashanti often talks about how we go to the mind and body for the truth, and when I explore that for myself, I find the same.
Going to the mind for the truth is pretty obvious. We rely on thoughts to tell us how the world is, what is true, and how to behave.
Going to the body for truth is maybe a little less obvious. (I wrote about this one in the previous post.)
I find that I go to the body for truth, relying on two different signs. One is emotions, which are really just sensations and a story about these sensations. And the other is sensations such as tension, discomfort, shallow breath, and so on.
And I find that the bodily sensations I rely on for truth are the ones coming from beliefs. Any beliefs trigger reactive emotions, muscle tension and changes the breathing pattern, especially when it clashes with life as it unfolds or may unfold. These beliefs are, by definition, taken as true. So I associate these bodily changes with not only a story, but a true story, a truth. The outcome of all this is that reactive emotions, muscle tension and changes in breathing patterns are all taken as indication of truth.
Or more precisely, I see that beliefs all have to do with shoulds, with how life should be. So these bodily signs tell me that life is showing up differently than it should.
Somebody acts in a certain way, which triggers these bodily signs of reactive emotions, muscle tension and shallow or forced breathing. I notice these bodily reactions, and take them as a sign that life shows up differently from how it should, and that this person acted differently from how he or she should. And from there, I look for a story behind it, a story also telling me that life is wrong, life is unfolding differently from how my story and body tells me it should.
Beliefs have many effects, including certain emotions and sensations in the body.
I believe that there should be peace, so when there is not, I experience fear, distress, anger, sadness, my breath becomes shallow, my muscles tense. I believe people should be honest, so when they are not, some of the same reactions come up. And so on, with a whole range of beliefs.
Since they are beliefs, we take them as true. And since they are always accompanied by these different emotions and bodily reactions and sensations, we come to take these as signals that something is true.
It is a circular logic, which we most of the time don’t notice.
- There is a belief
- When it clashes with what is it creates certain effects such as reactive emotions and different bodily reactions and sensations
- We notice the association between our belief, which appears true to us, and these effects
- So when we notice these effects, we take them as an indication that our belief is true
More generally, we take these effects as an indication that something is not right. That life shows up in a way it shouldn’t. And then we look for a belief to go along with it, which may or may not be the one that triggered the effects in the first place.
So it goes both ways. The belief triggers effects which are taken as proof for the belief. And effects are sometime triggered without us knowing what belief is behind it, so we go looking for a belief to explain it.
Something happened, and I had reactive emotions and tension in my body, so what happened must not be right. It shouldn’t happen. Why shouldn’t it happen? I am sure I can come up with a story around it. Â
I have done two transformational breathwork sessions with a friend so far, with another one scheduled in a couple of days.
It is pretty obvious how breathing patterns reflect emotions and beliefs. As soon as there is a clash between how life is and how it should be, according to my stories about it, muscles tense up, there is a change in breathing patterns (for me, often more shallow) and emotions come up as well. There is a whole system of beliefs, emotions, muscle tension, breathing and behavior which all contribute to maintain a particular pattern. They are all mutually supporting of each other. It is their job, and they do it beautifully.
That also means that we can unravel that ball from any of those sides. We can investigate beliefs, be with emotions, allow muscles to relax, change behaviors, and we can also work with the breath. If a shallow and held breath contributes to those knots, then a more free, open and full breath allows the knot to begin unravel.
While those promoting transformation breathwork often have quite elaborate models of what is happening, what seems clear – even from my own limited experience so far – is that knots unravel. In a way, that is all I need to know. Breathe, and knots unravel.
I did my first individual transformational breathwork session today, and it was certainly impactful. As before, when I did it on my own, there was a great deal of tension and tingling throughout the body, and I was out of it for a while afterwards – as if coming out of food poisoning – with shakiness and nausea. Can’t say I notice any “positive” effects from it yet, beyond the torture of it, but it may still happen.
I also see how a deep and rapid breathing in general for me tends to bring a collapse: running, kundalini yoga, and also breathwork all have a very similar effect.
It may be just the mechanics of breathing, or something else. But it could also be some frozen areas that are encountered in each of those areas. Frozenenss, emotionally (deadening), physically (tension) and view (rigidity, stuckness).
It certainly feels like more body oriented practices are right for me now, such as strength training (bfl), breathwork, and also different types of dance (five rhythms, ecstatic, etc.)
There is also a connection with the dream I had some days ago: I realized that I can see all as God and God’s will, but don’t have a felt-sense of it in the same way. There is a split there for me. The head center is relatively open, but there is still quite a bit further to go with the belly center. In going from a felt-sense of fear and lack of trust (in life, the universe, God), to a felt-sense trust, as so also more fluidity and wider range in behavior.
Note: It’s now 2011 and I am doing TRE – Trauma/Tension Release Exercises. This is a way of allowing a thawing of frozen areas in a way that feels much better to me. It’s gentler, more natural, and is guided by the body itself. Breathwork obviously works very well for many, if not most, people. But for me, and perhaps others whose system is a little on the edge, neurogenic tremoring is a gentler and more helpful approach.
I am about to start a twelve week strength building program which makes sense to me all around. Right now, I follow the program to get familiar with it, and will then start the twelve weeks in July when I am back from a CSS retreat and trips to Seattle, Steens Mountains and the Bay area (!)
The program works with…
- Brief exercise periods of either upper (46 min) or lower body (42 min)
- Brief warm-up of a particular muscle group, then increase in intensity until what seems to be maximum effort, and then pushing beyond what we thought was maximum, with brief periods of relaxation in between, and then on to the next muscle group
- Rest period of two days between working the same muscle group, allowing the body to reorganize and build muscle tissue with less interference
- Exercise periods planned in advance, down to the particular exercise, minute and pound (leaves out the choice when it is performed)
- Focus on diet and specific, measurable goals
Lots of things come up for me around this…
First, how so many activities we do in daily life, and how so many systems we follow, are aimed at holding us at a particular level. It becomes a training to stay at a particular level. We just tread water. Habituate in staying at a familiar level.
As mentioned in another post, I see this very clearly in the form of bodywork I am doing, where both the terminology and practices are great at the centaur and soul level (and allows for a continuing deepening here), but also create a ceiling for anything beyond – for unraveling beliefs and patterns which reveals what we are as Ground. It is fully possible to have a system that focuses on the centaur and soul levels, yet is transparent to and aligned with what is beyond.
Then there is our habitual pattern, for most of us, in engagement+identification and disengagement+disidentification. This is one of the places we get stuck in our human development and in terms of noticing ourselves as Ground.
When I happen to mention the centaur way of experiencing oneself to people, I notice that not everyone can match it with what is alive in their own experience. Which in turn makes me interested in exploring it further for myself.
Some things that comes up…
- It is an alive experience of the wholeness of the human self, beyond and embracing body & psyche. It is its own gestalt, which happens to filter into body and mind if there is that story added onto it.
- The experience of my human self as a whole, beyond and embracing body-mind, has different flavors and can be in the foreground or background. Most of the time, it is more of a background experience, and sometimes, for instance in nature or when I do both body-oriented practices and meditation for a few days, it comes more into the foreground.
- It comes from, and deepens, an alignment within the whole of the human self. Over time, and when present, it seems to resolve into a deepening alignment within this whole, which brings a sense of less internal struggle, and also less struggle with the wider world.
- There is a parallel noticing of an already existing whole and a reorganization of this whole. I notice that this human self already and always is a whole, along with the wider world. And before this noticing there may be a reorganization and alignment within the whole of my human self which allows me to notice this, and this reorganization and alignment continues and deepens within that noticing.
- This all goes along with a change in identifications and beliefs. Before and after, there is a shift in identification with narrow identities that separate me from others, to more wider and inclusive identities where I see myself as in the same boat as others. I find myself as more deeply and universally human.
- There is a change in projections in general, and the shadow in particular, where I more easily see in others what I know from myself, and recognize in myself what I see in others.
- The immediate experience of the human self as a whole allows for a noticing of the wider whole in the same way. This human self is already and always a whole, and the wider world is the same. And this in turn allows for a sense of less or no separation, and of belonging to the larger whole.
- This gives me glimpses of the larger whole beyond and including this human self and the wider world. And this sets the stage for shifts into the witness, into pure seeing, where all form is revealed as one seamless whole. And of shifts into nature and deity-mysticism experiences, of all there is as made of one fabric, as divine, consciousness, God itself. Which in turn can lead to a shift into realized selflessness. Into the Ground – the void – awakening to itself, and then to itself as awake void and form, including as inherently absent of any I with an Other. (Although it certainly does not have to be a nicely organized progression as described here.)
There is no lack of ironies in our relationship with food in our civilization… for instance, a good number of people across the world starve because they have limited access to food, while others are malnourished from eating large quantities of not especially nutritious foods.
Yet, it can be so simple, and so obvious. Here are some of the guidelines that work for me…
- Drink lots of water (pale to blank urine… this is by far what is most important for my own system, the whole body-mind feels congested if I don’t)
- Eat foods with multiple benefits… good for the body, enjoyable to the mind, gentle on the pocket book, and (as much as possible) good for the local and global ecological and social systems
- Eat fresh (local and in season when possible), colorful, varied and less processed foods
- Eat mostly low on the food chain, with some meat (also good for our ecosystems)
- Eat at least some raw foods at each meal (fresh and more nutritions)
- Eat with the seasons, not only in terms of what is available but also in how it is prepared (I eat more raw foods in the summer, and more cooked in the winter)
- Eat the main meal mid-day when possible, and avoid eating in the evening and especially late at night (a big meal mid-day gives me energy for the rest of the day, and I feel congested and have weird dreams if I eat too late…!)
- Cook on low heat
- Eat fermented foods (pre-digested, extra nutrients)
- Eat with others when possible, and slow down when eating (chew each bite well, and take time to really taste it)
- Use it as an opportunity for appreciation and gratitude, and as a reminder of the radical interconnectedness of all that is.
- Leave some space in the stomach, don’t fill it all the way up (again, I feel congested if I eat too much)
- Don’t take any food guidelines as anything more than a general guideline (food is too important to be absolutist about)
- Listen to the body, and adjust when and what you eat depending on what the body tells you – which will change over time depending on time of day, seasons, health, age, and so on (I eat dairy, wheat and sugar in only limited – or often no – amounts, because my body-mind does not do well on those)
- Don’t stray too far away from what your ancestors ate (it is a good general guideline, but our ancestors ate quite different foods at different times – raw further back and cooked later on – so it is not fool proof)
The belly center has to do with a felt-sense of all as God… a sense of deep full nurturing, of all as safe, a trust in life and existence, and the emotional level reorganizing in this context.
At the relative level, all is of course not OK for the body… it can be temporarily OK, but disease, accidents, and old age are just around the corner. The body is doomed. So to say that it is all OK in this context does not make sense, other than as a temporary state.
But at the absolute level, all is OK… we find ourselves as awake void and whatever arises, free from an exclusive identification with anything arising in content, including the body. And within this context, freed from being identified with and taken as a separate self, an I with an Other, the body can deeply relax, find a deeply nurturing fullness, find a felt-sense of trust in life and all as OK, God’s will, and Spirit itself.
There are several ways into this…
One is through inquiry, allowing identifications with identities fall away including with the body. As long as the body is taken as I, there will be a sense of unease and tension in the body, it is guarded. The emotions and behaviors are, at least in some areas, reactive. As this identification falls away, there is a deepening sense of comfort, relaxation and alertness, and of a stable nurturing fullness from the emotional level.
Another is through body inclusive practices, such as Breema, where we drop into this sense of deep nurturing fullness and support from the hara (belly area) and the emotional level. We have a taste of it, and as we continuing practice, it deepens and becomes more and more stably available. Through this process, the identifications with body etc. gradually seems to wear off.
So we can allow beliefs to fall away, revealing the inherent nurturing fullness of the body to surface. Or we can drop right into it, allowing identifications to wear off over time.
As we explore this, we see an apparent paradox: no matter what happens with the body at a physical level, there can be a deep felt-sense of all as OK, a nurturing fullness, an absence of emotional/behavioral reactiveness, a stable support from the emotional level, a felt trust in life and existence, and a felt-sense of all as God’s will and Spirit itself.
Of course, we still do what we can to take care of the body, with less drama and probably more effectively than when it is identified with. But even if it is going through disease, pain, old age, dying, there is still the felt-sense of all as OK, of a trust in life as it is, of all as God.
And this is far beyond what we can make any conscious decision about, or what our conscious thinking-mind and beliefs can even touch. It has to come from genuinely seeing through the identifications, or certain body-inclusive practices, or both.
I did a process work session earlier today, and started a process, which I continued on my way home, and then now. (In Process Work, the unfolding can be similar to what is described here, but they also include a more active exploration of the meaning of the process and how to bring it into daily life. When I do it on my own, it tends to unfold easily, but the meaning of it may not surface until much later if at all. Somehow, it still allows for a shift that is sometimes profound.)