Entering the experience of the body

Entering the experience of the body

A natural part of our development from infancy is the development of a body image, an internalized idea of our body and of the life flowing in it. Our physical life begins as a cluster of cells embedded in the body of our biological mother. We grow in the enclosed warm fluid environment of the womb in which we receive sustenance through the umbilical cord; we are part of a unified system. Over time a gradual process of separation and unmerging takes place. 

At birth we begin to experience more variable sensations on our skin surface and inside our body – changeable temperatures, textures of clothing and surfaces, wetness and dryness, hunger and satiety, digestion and elimination, the way we are held by our caretakers. Sounds are much more distinctive and have location, and we begin to see and discriminate images in the field of our visual perception. The growing muscular strength in our body allows us to push away from our mother, get up and walk on our own.  Our hands and mouth learn to manipulate and discern physically distinguishable parts of our environment and feel the space around them.  We bump and fall and learn the physical boundary of our body. We have instinctual and emotional responses to the presence or absence of the outer sources of nourishment, comfort and pleasure which we necessarily depend on in childhood. Reinforced by how those around us see us and talk to us, we gradually develop the sense that who we are is a separate entity defined by and inseparable from our dense physical form – an object in a world of discrete objects.

This is a necessary phase in our development that is intertwined with becoming an independent and individuated soul with the potential to be a unique expression of the divine. The body image is a mental lens that shapes and filters what we attend to and perceive and how we interpret those perceptions. Some of this is useful; there are certain truths we need to know about the physical dimension of existence, for example, like walking in front of a moving vehicle will result in serious damage to our physical organism. It helps us know what size shoes to buy. But if we approach the experience of the body as though it is only this physicality, we miss a way we can discover more of the depth of our being and of reality.

Our sense of what it is to be embodied can mature and develop beyond the relatively fixed body image we absorbed as we grew up.  We can support this by entering into the direct here-and-now experience of our body with openness, interest and sensitivity, allowing that the body is more mysterious than we learned in our early life and in our culture, and that our knowledge of it can keep expanding and deepening.

A Practice: Entering the Body through the Breath.

You can explore the whole-body experience of breath.  On the in-breath, as you fill the chest, you might notice expansion in the belly, with subtle reverberations of sensation down through the pelvis into the legs and maybe even to the feet; from the chest into the shoulders and perhaps the arms and hands; into the back, neck, face, the top of the head.  On the out-breath, as the body releases, softens and settles, feel yourself simply being here. Do this for a few minutes then feel your presence and the sense of space you occupy, which may be different from your body image or previous experiences.

As further step, you can explore the experience of the breath filling and expanding into successive areas of the body, sensing into the body in each direction:

  • the lower body, then the upper body, then both together
  • the front of the body, then the back of the body, then both together
  • each side of the body, then both together
  • radiating in all of these directions at once, sensing the whole field of awareness as far as you feel it

Let the breath be full but not forced, gently carrying your attention to awaken awareness through the body, including places you might not usually touch. Be open to your experience exactly as it is. Feel how you are impacted.  During your day, let your breath bring you back into your body and to awareness.

Inside This Clay Jug

A Poem by Kabir, Translation by Robert Bly

Inside this clay jug
there are canyons and
pine mountains,
and the maker of canyons
and pine mountains!

All seven oceans are inside,
and hundreds of millions of stars.

The acid that tests gold is here,
and the one who judges jewels.

And the music
that comes from the strings
that no one touches,
and the source of all water.

If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:

Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.

New Rain Online: Awakening Awareness & Presence Through the Body – April 2022

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