The body has been my focus for the past six or seven years. Exploring what it really means to live in a body, how to know it, maintain it, support it, etc. Though I have exercised and been physically active all my life, my natural focus is inward, intellectual and contemplative. Often, I do too much thinking as a protection against gut desires. Mind activity also cuts me off from gut intuition and wisdom.
It became clear that I needed my body to wake up, catch up and join in my spiritual growth. So, I got more focused and more intentional about noticing, consulting and including the body in everything. This meant taking more risks with my body and noticing carefully how things feel there.
‘Exercise dynamically’ one friend said to me, ‘do things in the world, not just gym class.’ In addition to the gym, my physical regimen now includes distance bike rides, dance and movement activities, long walks, yoga and Pilates. This has taught me to know as the body knows, directly and non-verbally.
Adding to my existing contemplative practice I have been exploring non-dual and somatic traditions. This includes yoga meditations (see Rupert Spira) designed to dissolve the felt sense of being a separate distinct self (e.g. I vs. other). After doing yoga meditations for 3 years the body feels less solid and defined, more like a current in some larger liquid.
After the end of a long partnership, I began opening again to new physical and emotional intimacy. This forced many new experiences as well as new cultural expectations about sexual orientation, gender expression, relationship norms, etc. To know the present moment as a fully embodied being has required breaking through mental taboos and physical conditioning of my personal and cultural history
For the past 7+years I have continued my professional self-education through therapy trainings with somatically based teachers (Janina Fisher, Peter Levine). I also participate in a consulting group whose focus is somatic (body) integration into psychotherapy.
All of this activity continues as a growth process without end. So far the result is the inner experience of more serenity, acceptance and bounciness—more flow. Outwardly, these flowy conditions seem to lead to more creativity and spontaneity in all my life, including work life.
BODY, FLOW AND PSYCHOTHERAPY
An amusing example of this flow-in-work-life increase happened awhile ago with a male 20-yo cisgendered college student client who overthinks as a defense against his gut. He knows his mind is a great tool but also can be his worst enemy. We have practiced consulting the wisdom of his body in the moment, i.e, what does my body feel? want? know? But mind habits are deep and he will often ‘go mental’ in therapy too.
This day he is fretting about backsliding in treatment. He is overly focused on using the mind to ‘get things right’ by planning each action to ‘make friends’ rather than just being himself around people. I gently pointed out the over-thinking. He promptly asked for help to mentally plan a way out of his over-thinking trap.
Before he finished the sentence I blurted out, ’You seem all in your mind right now…you might consider doing something more body oriented not mental planning…something like rock climbing or yoga or sex…something to engage your body.’
He stared at me for a moment then burst out laughing…’are you prescribing sex for me?!!’
‘Yes….evidently I am,’ I smiled.
It opened us to a broad conversation about his Catholic upbringing, about his beliefs about celibacy before marriage and guilt about desiring and acting sexually. We moved on to the ‘#Me Too!’ issue and how to express sexual interest appropriately, about gender fluidity and being authentic, and on and on. It’s complicated, right? All this flooded out of him. We were in the flow together.
He mentioned being in class and having sexual feelings for a woman he doesn’t know.
I said, ‘And…so…?’
He said ‘Those feelings are inappropriate, I don’t know her, it’s just sexual.’
I said, ‘Oh, you mean you just were looking at her as a sex OBJECT?… Of course you were!!—evolution needs you to have those kinds of feelings. And, it doesn’t mean that objectifying sexually is the only feeling you are capable of, or that you will act on it inappropriately. She’s pretty, that creates sexual desire in you, period.’
He laughed and I laughed and he riffed on his growing maturity and separation from parents. He mentioned his younger sister who has different slang, new technology, new music interests and this makes him feel old at 20.
And then, as he was leaving, he offered a touching comment I took as appreciation for our shared flowing moment in therapy…
’As I get older I want to stay more…..like you.’
‘Keep consulting your body,’ I suggested, watching his back disappear out the door.