When was the last time you stepped into your body?
You know — turned down the volume on your thinking mind? Quieted the problem-solver inside your head, and settled into what you just might actually be sensing or feeling underneath all of that story and damn noise?
If it’s been a while (or you don’t remember, or really even know what the hell I’m talking about) you’re not alone. I mean, look around. Every day, our culture bombards us with a brutal narrative of separation from and violence toward the body.
And that’s exactly why embodiment stands out as absolutely essential to my counseling practice.
Where and when can we begin? Right here, right now.
TAKING MY ASS TO THE MASTER
Years ago, toward the end of my undergraduate degree, I was studying in Taiwan. In my classes, the desks had these awful hard, plastic seats, and after a while, I couldn’t sit there without experiencing intolerable pain. Walking didn’t even help; I’d start to ache, and my legs would cramp up after only making my way a few blocks, when I’d have to hobble back home.
I just wanted to study. Be a good scholar. But my hips, my lumbar, my sit bones — all of this sitting was taking its toll, and kicking my ass. So, a friend referred me to a qi gong master in Taipei, to whom I brought my sorry, kicked ass.
I’ll never forget that first day.
After somehow coursing my way through the city, I get to the place I was told to go. An old, white-haired man waves me in, and, taking a look at what I’d brought in for him to work with, gives me the first movement to work with.
On the exhale, bend over. On the inhale, stand back up.
Over. And over. And over.
For half an hour each morning, I bent over and stood back up. Eventually, after a week or two, when my neck, shoulders, back, and hips began to loosen up enough, he led me in movement across the floor of his studio.
I started to feel more alive in my body. Meditative, even.
But what was more surprising was what all of this movement began to stir up on an emotional level. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, gripped by unaddressed grief. It was overwhelming, and I was alone in a tiny Taipei matchbox of an apartment, divorced from community and the natural world.
My body began to speak to me in the form of what we would call a depression. A darkness in the chest. A collapse in the heart space.
I think of that time as the beginning of the journey where I realized just how much I had tried to shove aside — the pain in my body, my life, my heart. And pushing all of that aside wasn’t working. Actually, it wasn’t even pushing anything aside — it was just driving it deeper, giving it a somatic form so I might begin to listen to what my body had to tell me:
Our ability to thrive depends on our relationship to our bodies.
COMING HOME TO THE BODY
Thus began my own initiation into living from my body.
Over the years, I’ve journeyed more deeply into what it means to experience life with my body and from my body — how to stay with what is, right now.
Moving into a zen practice, I learned how to meet and stay with my body, rather than dis-embody and move into my mind. I took the spiritual mind-frame I’d picked up from my sitting practice and began to follow the sensuous, dynamic lead of my body through the language of dance. I even took my body back to the body of the earth to feel it through the intense labor of farming, nourishing myself and my community in body and spirit.
What was it about these experiences that took those first, slow lessons with the qi gong master into the rest of my life?
For one, I was listening.
I was checking in. I was asking questions, even:
What do I need?
What comes up when I move this way?
What happens when I slow down?
And what happens when I don’t listen?
I mean, I had to listen — my body threw a damn revolt all those years ago in Taipei. Yet the consumer culture we belong to tempts us with endless distractions. We love our temporary “fixes.” Our darling addictions. Our million-and-one ways of checking out.
And then there’s the timeless litany of the American over-workhorse — “I don’t have time for that — I’ve got shit to do.”
That’s exactly why listening to the body matters. It’s the foundation of an empowered connection to self: the self we take out into the world to work, provide, and relate.
If we want to make meaning and love in our lives, we’ve got to know ourselves.
Our bodies offer an exquisite somatic register of what’s going on. If we can tap back into that — if we can come home to our bodies — we connect with a deeper wisdom of what we actually want, what might deeply nourish us and our relationships.
THE TRUST FALL
After learning how to listen, we step into something that often doesn’t come easily:
Learning how to trust our bodies again.
When I work with clients, I so often witness a desire to move ahead of or around the body. We want to know how to fix the relationship. How to fix the anxiety. How to get rid of it. How to get the other person to love me, to listen to me. How to stop feeling this.
What are all of these questions wielding behind the words?
A grasping for control.
When we don’t experience trust, we seek control. We seek to bind, tether, and manipulate our bodies, relationships, and the world around us into something we think we want — or at least something predictable. And when that pattern sets in, we don’t just get rid of it overnight.
How the hell are we supposed to do that?
First, take a deep breath.
Then, we need to slow. It. Down.
As we play with the pace of the pattern, slowing it through and with the breath, we have a chance to understand what’s happening instead of letting it override, overwhelm, and become our experience.
That slowing down can often be uncomfortable. Painful, even. It can be non-linear and accompanied by the ache of not-knowing — which can be disorienting in a culture obsessed with cutting a straight path through the enigmatic here-now into the knowing.
How can we let things arise in all their present mystery without forcing them into a place of knowing or fixing?
And is all of this discomfort really worth it?
Perhaps a better question is: why wouldn’t we be in a deep relationship with our body?
Why not be curious and seek to learn its language? Why wouldn’t we listen? Why wouldn’t we practice trust from this amazing, fleshly home of the self?
This is big work. And we often need a sacred ground and a compassionate, holding guide as we unpack the stories we’ve inherited and stored away in the backrooms of the mind.
It takes time and practice to un-learn what causes us suffering. And then it takes time to consciously learn what might bring us awake, alive, and present into the rest of our lives.
But we can learn to reside, again, from the body. To become more open. Curious. Warm-hearted. Empowered. Joyous.
How about you, my friend? Are you ready to come home to your body?