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I told myself not to say it. I think I actually bit my tongue. But suddenly, I heard the unkind, impatient thing fly right out of my mouth. I saw the words, sludgy and dripping, hang in the air between us and immediately, I regretted them.

I saw his face and shoulders fall. He responded with his feelings and I did my best, I really did, to feel my feet and my breath, to reflect back what he’d said, to be present.

Instead, I was swamped with pain and regret and a mind-flood of talk about what a bitchy jerk I am and how I always do this and how the people I admire would never say such a thing. In a heart beat, in a breath, the discomfort was so strong that I unplugged and split from my body.

Embodied presence – connecting mind and body, being in the present moment – sounds simple and easy enough. We’re living in these bodies all the time, after all, so how tough can it be to be in there? The truth is that it’s a huge challenge for most of us even when we’re sitting quietly on a cushion with sunlight in our hair and flower petals falling around us. When we are upset, angry, tired, hungry, in pain, afraid, or uncomfortable in any way, the practice of keeping body and mind in the same place at the same time can feel utterly impossible.

In her two dharma talks about Embodied Presence (which you can find here and here), Tara Brach invites us to explore the unpredictable wilderness of the body. The mind does what it can to control the uncontrollable and tuck in all the loose edges but that neatness is a false refuge. The body in all its messiness is the only place to connect to empathy, love, freedom and unfolding of life itself. The only place. She suggests that whenever we leave the body, when we vacate the premises, it comes down to one thing: there is something we are unwilling to feel. We find ourselves disconnected and separated from direct experience because there is something that feels scary or dangerous or uncomfortable and on some level we think we can’t handle it. So we run.

Last week, we focused on Embodied Presence and the practice of getting body and mind in the same place at the same time. This week, we continue this exploration by looking at the ways we take ourselves out of the body and how to get back in.

It’s such a common state, to be up in the control tower of our heads that we might not even realize we’re doing it. Tara Brach offers four signs of being in trance and out of the body:

  1. obsessive thoughts on a loop often as a way to prepare to avoid something bad,
  2. negative judgment about myself or others (see above example of me thinkingthinkingthinking about being an impatient jerky pants),
  3. distraction of any kind especially on screens or online (like habitually reaching to check my phone when I feel nervous, for example),
  4. speeding around and rushing, as if getting more done will keep the difficult feelings at bay

When you see this list, do any of these feel familiar? Perhaps you’re like me and they ALL feel familiar. When we are in this auto-pilot, sleepwalking state, we are intentionally (although often subconsciously) avoiding feeling something edgy or uncomfortable. Mindfulness – in movement, in meditation, or in the moment – invites us back into the lush wilderness of the body.

Brach teaches that the intensity of any of these states is in direct proportion to our unwillingness to feel what’s in our bodies. In order to come into embodied presence, we have to make the courageous and intentional choice to wake up. She teaches that first, we must notice what’s happening (ah, I have hurt someone’s feelings and that feels wretched), then name it (pain in my heart and heaviness in my stomach), and breathe (amazingly difficult when I’m suffering) and interrupt the pattern – even briefly – by allowing ourselves to feel whatever it is.

This practice leads to what is sometimes called The Lion’s Roar which is the ability to be with, to roll with anything, ANYTHING that happens. The Lion’s Roar is the fearless proclamation that everything that happens is workable and that I have the ability to handle and feel anything. Imagine the freedom of trusting in our capacity to be with whatever life delivers.

Notice that this state of presence is not called “The Roaring Lion” which feels startling, fierce, and threatening. Instead, the Lion’s Roar is the energy of confidence. It is the knowledge that this power is available no matter what arrives. When we practice, The Lion’s Roar is a strength that infuses life like an aura, a light that allows me to face anything.

Few of us will be able to claim the Lion’s Roar as our way of being all the time, but the practice of noticing, naming, breathing and interrupting the well-worn sleepwalking pattern offers glimpses into the possibility of freedom.

The next time you find yourself caught in one of the signs of being out of the body, ask yourself, “What am I unwilling to feel?” This question alone is the first step toward finding your Roar.

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Now is where it's at 071816

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.

“The best way to prepare for the next pose is to fully be in this one.”
~ Kelly Stine, Yoga and Life Instructor

Live in the present moment. Be here now.

These are not new ideas.

Spiritual teachers have been inviting us into the present for eons. From before Buddha to Ram Das to Eckhart Tolle and to the body itself, the great teachers are calling us to Now.

The mind can get caught up in the slippery nature of now but not the body. The body thrives in now’s spacious, flowing and constant change. When the mind wants to wander to past and future, here are 5 ways to reconnect to now.

Now ~

1. Feel your body. The most direct way to be present is to feel the physical sensation that is happening in this moment. And you can do this in any place, time and situation. Just feel whatever sensations you are aware of: your feet on the floor, your butt in the chair, your heart beating, your breath flowing. If the moment is challenging and sensation feels indistinct, just wiggle your toes!

2. Use your senses. All of the senses bring you into the now, too. Stop and listen to whatever sounds are arising. Smell and taste, especially, when eating and drinking but at other times, too. What does the conference room smell like? Or your car? Or, of course, the flowers! Swallow and taste your own mouth. Look with curiosity especially at familiar objects and scenes.

3. Sense for details. The mind can get tricky with sensation. As soon as it feels something, it can attach a story (Oh, man, I must have overdone it in the garden and that’s why my back hurts) or a fear (I’ve hurt my ankle, and now I won’t be able to dance at the wedding!) or a plan (I should put ice on this and call the doctor and cancel my classes). Instead of all that, simply feel what is actually happening: does it feel tight or tingly? achy or hot? pulsing or numb? See how much detail you can sense.

Past ~

4. Memory Now. Of course, memory is essential and we all think about things that have happened in the past. When you find yourself thinking about something from the past, rather than spinning the story, feel what that memory feels like now. Does your stomach get tight? Does heart beat faster? Do your eyes well up? Ground memory in now.

Future ~

5. Future Now. Similarly, we all have to spend time planning and looking forward into the future. Instead of letting the mind get carried away with all the great things that will happen after you get that job or all the terrible things that happen if you don’t, feel what that dream/plan/fear feels like right now. Again, your mind may get tricky with calculations and research (which may well be important and necessary) but let Now weigh in, too. Before making a decision, feel what it feels like now.

My version of my yoga teacher’s quote is “the best way to prepare for the future or process the past is to be fully present now.”

don't know question mark 3“The more I see, the less I know.” – Michael Franti 

I don’t know what to write.

I start three different posts on three interesting topics all with nice quotes to get me going … and I’m staring at the screen with a heavy feeling in my chest and that stupid blinking cursor poised above an empty page.

Some days, I don’t know anything about anything and I’m not even sure what’s going on.
Sometimes I just don’t know.
Actually, I never know.

If you read this blog much at all, you know that most days I feel anxious about one thing or another. At the moment, I slide into my tense, jittery anxiety jacket about not knowing. In particular, not knowing what the next few months will look like.

My husband Frank and I are putting our house on the market in early April. The house we want to move into is available in September. With even a modicum of calendar skills, you’ll notice there’s a space between those two things. Space and about a thousand moving, multicolored Rubik’s Cube parts.

So I get anxious some days because we don’t know. And Frank calmly and kindly tells me, Actually, we never know.
Right, right. I keep forgetting that: we never know.
We just pretend we do.

All this leads me to a cascade of wonderings about the nature of reality, our perception, and of course, The Matrix.

I ask myself, What do I know for sure?
Over lunch I ask Frank (poor thing), What do you know for sure?
Even together, we don’t come up with much.

Everybody wants to be happy. We disagree on this one: I say yes, he says no.

Everybody will die someday. Frank is holding out for our brains going into the nutrient bath so we can live in a virtual reality which leads to…

I’m sitting here at this table with you. In this reality, says Frank. Yes, yes, the Matrix, I say. An alternate reality of which I am unaware is challenging to argue.

Everything changes. That one we agree on.

Pretty slim pickings for a question that seems like it should have way more answers. And that’s the thing: for whatever reason, our human brains want things to be solid and for sure. I suppose it feels safer to think we know how things will go but that’s a pretty lame safety net since it simply isn’t the way things are.

We pretend we know, but we don’t. We create an illusion of solidity, when actually, everything is groundless.

Except.

Except for this moment. If we set aside the whole alternate-reality-Matrix thing, I can find some solidity, some ground in this moment. Feeling the sensations that are happening right now and making the best choice from there is as close as I can get to knowing anything.

As we get the house ready to show and I clear out cabinets and closets, I keep thinking of the meditation on the Buddha’s Five Remembrances:

1.) I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
2.) I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape ill-health.
3.) I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
4.) All that is dear to me and everyone that I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
5.) My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

While this meditation may seem like a serious bummer, the Buddha offered it as a reminder to wake up from our denial of impermanence and our constructed illusion of knowing. It’s an invitation to get comfortable with not knowing and see that freedom and peace can be found right here.

Despite my human tendency to want to know, I never know. Times like these when my not knowing is so patently obvious can help me release my grip, relax, and be here.

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what in tarnation the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

First Landing and False Cape 029

Principle 5 – Awareness

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

There is nothing mystical about awareness. In fact, it is our birthright. Awareness literally means to pay attention. …

In the Nia White Belt, we emphasize awareness of the physical body. Usually this is the last thing we are aware of unless we are in serious or consistent pain. When prompted, people can easily report thoughts or feelings, but rarely do they describe physical sensations. …

Think about it for a moment: Your body can only be aware of sensations in the present moment, providing you a direct, uninterrupted “sensory view” of your current overall state. Your thoughts, however, may have little to do with the present moment. You might be working at your desk while thinking about a trip to Hawaii. Your thoughts may also be tied to deeply rooted or long-held beliefs and stories. For example, if your shoulder hurts, you might just think, “Oh, there is my shoulder hurting again,” without checking in to discover what the sensation is actually telling you. Instead, what if you explore the sensation in your arm? You might notice where it is tight, where it is free and where it aches. Then you might allow other information to arise from this sensation – thoughts, emotions, images – and realize your arm is tight because you have been overexerting it or using it in an unhealthy way.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.”
— The Buddha, from the Satipatthana Sutta

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if I could teach only one thing and practice only one practice it would be awareness, in particular, awareness of the body. Okay, maybe it’s not much of a limb seeing how the Buddha was so into it and everything. But you get my meaning. Cultivating awareness in the body is like having a super power.

Principle 5: Awareness is a principle that is officially and explicitly designed to expand beyond the Nia class experience. It is a rich principle, too, with three layers teaching. Last fall, I did a couple of posts on Life As Art (or as I unofficially expanded Living Life As An Artist) which you can find here and here. For this unofficial guide, we’ll focus on what is Nia calls The Pain Triad. I prefer to call it the Self-Healing Practice and here’s how it rolls:

1. First, become aware of the sensations in the body, paying particular attention to pain, discomfort or limitation and noticing if it is slight, moderate or acute.

2. Next, move your joints to stimulate self-healing.

3. Then notice if what you did feels better or not.

Simple, right? Think about it, every time we choose a movement that helps the body feel even a little better, we are creating self-healing! That is miraculously super-cool. Even if you walk into class feeling basically pretty good without any particular pain or injury and you walk out of class feeling better, that’s self-healing.

I have to tell you, though: it’s a mysterious thing, healing. There is something in our human brain that wants the whole story behind what we’re feeling. We want the why. We want both pain and healing to be logical. Even the greatest doctors in the world, if they are honest and candid about it, will tell you that there are a lot of things, maybe even most things, they just don’t know or understand about the body.

Medical professionals can offer tremendous help and support, of course. Go to them. Let them offer their expertise. But when it comes right down to it, nobody knows your body better than you do. Approach the practice of self-healing with trust and curiosity. Something that felt good yesterday, might feel lousy today (the opposite, mysteriously, is also true). Make no assumptions and see how the body responds.

Awareness is paying attention and paying attention is making an investment in yourself: an investment in savoring the pleasure of the moment and appreciating and participating in the mystery of self-healing.

Having a body is a gift. Cultivating awareness of that body is a super power.

Just ask Buddha.

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