Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.
As I walk into the memorial service for a 23-year-old friend, I see an image of his beautiful face on the wall, and I felt my heart buckle. I put my had on my friend’s arm. I don’t think I can do this, I said. I can’t bear it. She takes my hand and says, Our ability to feel grief and sadness is directly proportional to our ability to feel love and joy. Stretch your heart. You can do it.
At the most basic level, why are we here? Why are we in these bodies, on this planet, in this life? Why do we connect with each other, why do we work, why do we create things, why are art and music and stories are so important to us?
Why? We are here to feel. The reason we are here is to feel it all.
And yet in the ultimate irony, we avoid or minimize how much we feel. We create environments that are not too hot and not too cold. We resist intensity of all kinds, go on auto-pilot and hang out mainly in a neutral, not-feeling-much-of-anything space.
Staying in sensation is an investment in life. By paying attention, I have the chance to actually be present for my days. It’s a matter of bravely stretching our hearts, minds, and nervous systems to be able to sustain awareness and presence – even when life gets intense.
It’s a practice that’s as simple and profound as one single question:
What sensation am I feeling now?
In any moment, I can pay attention and ask the question in regards to my body, my mind, my emotions, my life:
- Monday morning yoga class: I’m in Warrior II pose. When I ask, What sensation am I feeling now? I realize that I’m a little checked out. I don’t feel much in my legs and my arms are noodly.
By asking the question, I stop thinking about my to-do list and how my yoga top has ridden up over my belly. I can drop into the intensity of Warrior II. My legs get stronger when I make this choice and my nervous system gets stronger, too.
- It’s a Tuesday evening, and I’ve spent the day doing all the things I always do on Tuesday. I’ve done chores around the house, I’ve taught a class, I’ve run the errands, I’ve written a post, I’ve gotten dinner ready.
When I ask, What sensation am I feeling now? I realize that much of the day, I’ve been habitually doing what I do and I feel a fuzzy, cotton-wool-in-the-head feeling.
By asking the question, I can choose to drop into sensation and engage. Instead of zoning out in front of the TV or scrolling through Facebook, I can read an interesting article or listen to some jazz or watch a film that challenges me. Waking up with something unfamiliar and unexpected expands my mind and in general makes me more open to whatever arises.
- Out of nowhere, memory of my step-son at age 6 comes to me. He’s on the edge of the auditorium seat at kindergarten orientation radiating excitement. The teacher leads a song and he sings and smiles and my heart could break for loving him. In just over a month, this boy who still radiates excitement about learning, will graduate from college.
When I ask, What sensation am I feeling now? I realize I have set aside his graduation in my heart. I haven’t felt it.
By asking the question, I can feel how happy I am for him, how amazed I am by all he has accomplished and the man he is becoming. And I can feel how sad I will be when he’s far away. By asking the question, I feel my love for him.
In May, when I see him in cap and gown, and I am inevitably in tears, I will be able to feel them instead of holding them back or setting them aside.
Staying in sensation is the edge at which change and transformation happen. It’s where I build the strength, endurance and presence that allow me to feel my life. Life will give us intensity one way or the other. We can practice being with it by being in sensation now.