You Breathe, You!
Some of us have studied the human body- anatomy and physiology, the structure of internal organs and their respective functions. And to some degree, most of us are aware of our outer bodies- whether our hands are moving when we talk, feeling our sore feet after a strenuous day.
But how many of us- even if we have an intellectual understanding of the processes that occur inside our bodies- are actually aware of those activities as they are happening?
At any given moment our hearts are beating and circulating blood throughout the body, the smooth muscles of our intestines are contracting, moving food and waste along their path. Our internal organs are all fulfilling their functions, 24 hours a day, without any control, interference or conscious effort from our minds.
The one exception would be our lungs. If you're not conscious of your breathing, you will still breathe. In this way, it is like any other autonomic function of the body. However, our breath is unique in that it can also be brought under voluntary control. If you're feeling a bit stressed, you can force yourself to take a few deep breaths, and what happens? Maybe you feel calmer, more focused, relaxed. Our breath is an amazing tool to enter and to become aware of what is going on in our bodies. But why is this important? The vast majority of us use our bodies as if they were machines. Input food as fuel, run them as we need them, then feel frustrated and take them to the doctor to repair when things start to fall apart. We very rarely take the time to stop and experience how our bodies FEEL as a whole. And it's a worthwhile experience, feeling your body. You don't have to automatically believe me - try it out! Sit for a moment, and ignore your chattering brain. Ignore the to-do list that's growing, the should-haves from yesterday, the random snippets of conversation that come to mind.
What do you feel?
Can you feel your breathing? Your heart beating? The electric buzz and ecstatic vibration of being ALIVE?!?!
It's amazing. All of these things are happening inside us all the time, yet we ignore them because we're too busy replaying what happened last night on our favorite sitcom. And we wonder why so many of us are deeply unhappy. Suffering with depression, anxiety, compulsions, pain.
We've forgotten how to experience our aliveness, our connection with the rest of the world and everything in it.
Instead, we're always distracting ourselves, drowning in junk media- reading the highlights of everyone else's lives on Facebook and trying desperately to keep up in some sort of imaginary rat race. Guess what? It's not real. The past is gone and the future might never come. The only thing that actually exists is this present moment.
Right now. What you are feeling, experiencing. Exactly as it is. And there's no point in wishing it were different, because it eventually will be.
There's no point in wishing it would never change, because it will.
Everything changes. We are change.
When we pay attention to our bodies, we gain a very real, very visceral understanding of that.
Our breathing speeds up, and then it slows down again. We notice a lump in our throat, and then it dissolves. An itchy spot appears on your nose from out of nowhere, drives you insane for a few seconds, and then fades away. If we can hang out in our bodies and experience these changes without getting attached to them one way or another, we start to learn that nothing is permanent. We are always in flux. And by observing and practicing this often, we can get better at riding through the bigger changes that happen in life - break-ups, break-downs, death - without suffering. Not to say that you'll never feel sadness or pain, just that you won't be as wrapped-up in it when it does occur.
A strange thing happens when you really start to experience equanimity and non-attachment. Rather than becoming cold and impervious to surrounding experiences, you enter freely into the experience of pain, of mourning, of heartache - trusting that it will not last forever, and that it CAN'T last forever. You grow more empathy and compassion for others; having deeply experienced your own hardships and trials. You begin to see - and experience- the interconnectedness of all life. I meet many, many, many people who are suffering - with chronic pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety. And I know this is the very last thing people want to hear... But...
Maybe your body is trying to get your attention.
Because that's what pain is, really. A way of drawing one's attention to an injured area to avoid causing furthur damage. If you break your leg, your body starts sending you messages not to use it- so you don't cause more damage to the bone, the surrounding soft tissues, and vascular system. We are wired to pay immediate attention to the message of pain.
In a culture that constantly ignores our bodies - forgoing lunch or sleep for the sake of 'productivity', then drinking another coffee to keep us going- our aching, tired, worn-out bodies are trying to tell us to SLOW DOWN, before we cause more damage!
And it's really the easiest thing in the world to do. Take a few seconds to just close your eyes and breathe. Or go to a yoga class. Or sit and meditate for 10 minutes. 30 minutes. An hour. Or come for an acupuncture treatment- the needles will instantly help to shut up your noisy brain so you can sink into sensation.
Whatever it may be, figure out what works for you as a time out, a time to hang out in your body, and DO IT! Regularily!
Feel your body. Feel better. Be well.