Mindfulness of the body

Mindfulness is everywhere these days….but, like most things that become fads, the basic concept may have been somewhat distorted in the rush to publicize.

Mindfulness is defined in a number of different ways, but what I want to talk about it a specific aspect of mindfulness.   When we are being “mindful” we are being fully present in the moment that is right here and right now.  We are doing that on purpose, and with no other agenda other than being present.  For example, we are not being mindful in order to relax, although often, relaxation may accompany mindfulness.   We are present to whatever is, without judgment or expectation.   That means that we are present to our thoughts that might complain about how we are doing something (“Mindful!  This is mindless!  Can’t you even pay attention for a minute?”….and let that judgment go) as well as to anything that might come in from the world via our senses.  For example, when I take a moment in my office to just breathe and be there, the ticking of the clock on the table is highlighted….the sound is there all of the time, but when I become aware of the present moment, that awareness include that tick-tick-tick.   If I wait, sitting with that awareness, the ticking recedes and something else arises in my field of awareness.   I have no agenda, I have no expectations, I have no need to “let go of my thoughts” or “stop thinking” or “breathe deeply.”  All I am doing is being present and aware of whatever is in my field of awareness.

In bioenergetics, we actually work to develop self-awareness, which might reasonably be called “mindfulness of the body.”  We do this work through movements that may present some level of strain to muscles, through exaggerating characteristic motions or body attitudes, and through expressive exercises with an opportunity to reflect on what happens inside us when we do these things.   What I have learned is that there is a big difference between a conceptual knowledge of the body (“Yes, I have a body.  Arms, legs, chest, organs, all of that…”) and an experiential awareness of being in a body.   Maybe better to say an experiential awareness of BEING a body, because, of course, that is what we are, human organisms experiencing life.

I taught preschoolers for years.  One activity was did was to get out large pieces of drawing paper and have the kids lie on the floor, and we teachers would trace the outline of the child’s body.  The kids would then use markers or crayons or paint to fill in the parts of their bodies.  This helped them to develop the conceptual outline….this is my body and these are its parts.  However, it may not have done much to help them understand that the body they conceptualized is also the body they inhabit, live in and through, and the vehicle from which all feeling flows.  So when I started my training and therapy in bioenergetic analysis discovered that while I knew ABOUT my body, I really didn’t know my body.  That is to say, I really didn’t know….myself.   I thought of myself as a person who resided….I don’t know where…in some thought bubble over my head, maybe.  In an astral, unseen body that accompanied my organic body.  Somewhere OTHER than in this flesh and blood and bone and muscle bag that does all the thinking, feeling, and behaving of my life.  Somehow I thought I was something other than this.   Because of that, I tried to “rise above” my feelings.  Or I tried to “control” my body reactions.  I controlled my appetite by limiting food intake;  controlled my body shape and size by over-exercising;  controlled my response to people I related to by overworking and being so busy I didn’t have time to notice how I was feeling.   I denied that I had a body at all, and I certainly denied that my body was ME.

But if my body isn’t me, then who am I?   There is no evidence that people exist in thought balloons over their heads.  There is no evidence that I am anything more than what I appear to be;  a human organism, with human thoughts, feelings, spiritual life, and bodily needs.   The best part is that by minding the body, I can  really experience life as a human, a juicy, vibrant, energetic, warm and alive human person.

Take a moment to be mindful of yourself in your body.   Take a breath, and just notice what it is to be a body, breathing air, sitting or lying or standing on the planet.   Notice the outer surface of your body;  where the skin touches fabric, feels air temperature, takes in the breeze.  Notice what parts of your body, what parts of you, are most vibrant and awake.  Notice what parts are less available to your awareness.  Just notice, and sit with whatever arises.    If nothing arises, sit with that.  If there is emptiness, sit with that.    If you feel full to overflowing, sit with that, also.  Notice that whatever arises will also slip away, as something else arises.   This is holding your self, your bodily self, in mindful attention.

What is this like for you?   If you wish, post a note below to let us share this experience of mindfulness of the body.

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