Inhabiting the Body

^z 15th August 2023 at 8:16pm

From Chapter 4 ("Coming Home to Our Body") of Tara Brach's Radical Acceptance:

We experience our lives through our bodies, whether we are aware of it or not. Yet we are usually so mesmerized by our ideas about the world that we miss out on much of our direct sensory experience. Even when we are aware of feeling a strong breeze, the sound of rain on the roof, a fragrance in the air, we rarely remain with the experience long enough to inhabit it fully. In most moments we have an an overlay of inner dialogue that comments on what is happening and plans what we might do next. We might greet a friend with a hug, but our moments of physical contact become blurred by our computations about how long to embrace or what we're going to say when we're done. We rush through the hug, not fully present.

An elderly man at one of my weekend workshops described himself as "living from the neck up." Many people are so accustomed to being out of touch with the body that they live entirely in a mental world. The fact that the body and mind are interconnected might even be hard for them to believe. In a class I led at a women's correction center, an inmate told me that she was aware of her body only when she was in pain or in a rage. Unless feelings are painfully intrusive or, as with sex, extremely pleasant or intense, physical sensations can seem elusive and be difficult to recognize. This is the basic characteristic of being in trance—we are only partially present to our experience of the moment.


I first discovered that my body was alive with a universe of sensations during an introductory yoga class I took during my sophomore year in college. Near the end of the yoga class the teacher asked us to sit quietly with crossed legs on the floor, making sure that our hands were resting easily, comfortably on our laps or legs. She told us to take a few deep breaths, explaining that the breath offers a natural pathway out of our minds and into our bodies.

She then directed us to explore the aliveness of our body. "Let your entire awareness be in your hands," she said. "Relax and soften them, feeling your hands from the inside." She guided us in slowly feeling each finger carefully from within, each palm, the tops of our hands, our wrists. I became aware first of tingling, then of pulsing areas of pressure and heat. As I relaxed into feeling the sensations in my hands, I realized that there was no distinct boundary, no sense of a defined shape to my hand. All I could perceive was a changing field of energy that felt like moving points of light in a night sky. It suddenly occurred to me that this vibrant aliveness was always going on without my conscious awareness. I had been missing out on a lot of life.

(cf. With Dignity (2010-12-04), Fully Present (2011-02-14), Thanks for the Hands (2013-05-17), Running with the Mind of Meditation 2014-12-07), Heartfulness and Mindfulness (2014-12-15), Mindfulness of the Body (2015-06-14), ...) - ^z - 2015-09-10