It was a revelation of epic proportions when my first meditation instructor said to me, the body feels before you put words to it. I stared at him, momentarily speechless. The body… what? No. I don’t have sensations without words. Words come first.
He (wisely) didn’t argue with me, just held his seat and let me struggle against the idea. But eventually I came around. Came around to believing that no, actually, words don’t come first. I actually do feel sensation before thought comes in. It’s just that I’ve been so accustomed to thought rushing in so fast after sensation that I couldn’t perceive the two separately. Not until I reached some kind of threshold in meditation practice—a threshold I wasn’t aware of crossing until well after the fact. I just know I woke up one day during sitting meditation practice and noticed that I was noticing my body breathing, and that there was a gap between the noticing and the putting words to it.
Feel the body breathe. That’s one of the core instructions in meditation practice in the Shambhala tradition. Just feel the body breathe, and keep coming back to that, when your mind wanders, when you get absorbed in thought. Just notice that you’ve wandered, notice that you’ve noticed, and come back to the breath, over and over and over again. Every time you notice your mind wander, just feel the body breathe.
Feel the body breathe, and from that flows everything.
When you’re stuck in your writing, when your pen is stuck, when everything feels stuck, go back to the body. Go back to the body breathing. Feel the body breathe. Write down what you FEEL. In the body.
“I feel my ribcage gently expanding and falling, with each breath.” “I feel my diaphragm, yes, I actually feel my diaphragm.”
And not just what it feels like to breathe: “I feel my tummy rumbling.” “My nose itches.” “Backache… ow, backache.” Like that. Just write it all down.
You can also turn your attention to what you feel emotionally or mentally: “I’m bored, so bored.” “I’m anxious.” “I’m sad, so sad.” “I’m joyful and sad at the same time.” “I feel so tender and raw.” Write that down too. All of it is fair game.
Now, what does that emotion or mental state feel like in your body? Yes, write that down too. “Heavy, immobilized, chained to the floor.” “Restless, want to move, have to move, but can’t because I’m sitting here on the cushion and I’m supposed to be still and writing.” “Butterflies in my stomach.” (And here, really, what does that feel like, without the metaphor?)
All of that, write it down, and let it take you where it will. Let it carry you away, let it carry you back again, inside; let the body sensations carry you back into your mind.
And where is this “mind,” anyway?
Western culture puts it in the brain. Other cultures,such as Tibetan, I believe, locate the mind in the heart.
What if it’s neither? What if the mind is actually, say, in the stomach? If your gut feeling is literally your mind? How would that change how you look at your life, your circumstances, your decisions, how you make your decisions, all of that?
Or what if the mind is actually non-local? Everywhere and nowhere, all at once? What if your mind is as much in your toe as it is in your stomach as it is in your head? What if the brain does nothing more than process, just like it processes but doesn’t feel pain? The pain in your back is really in your back but it’s your brain that processes it, the brain that uses the nervous system to convey the sensation that you interpret as “pain.”
So what if your thoughts don’t originate in your brain either? What if your thoughts are also really signals from your body (including your energetic field, of course)? Might that change how you look at your mind? Your body? Your body-mind-spirit connection?
When your writing is stuck, go back to the body. Write what you find there.
If what you find is “numb” or “I honestly don’t know”: Get up and move. Do some yoga, some stretching. Run around the block. Get out into the garden, or the snow, or the water. Just move. Notice what your body wants to do.
Write that down.
And now ask: now what does my body feel? What does it feel like to move? What does it feel like to breathe after I’ve moved in this way or that way? Is it delicious to stretch? Painful? Am I out of breath? More relaxed? Write that down.
When you’re stuck, let your body be your guide. Let your body tell your pen what it wants to say. Let that take you wherever it goes from there.
Take your body to heart.
Photo credit: Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash