Embodying what it Means to See Feelingly
A precious friend of mine who is a member of the Anishinaabe tribe shared with a group of us that the term ‘body’ can never be used without being attached to a being in her culture; a person, an animal, a plant — something alive, something with a spirit, is always attached to the word to claim that living body. So hearing the phrase, ‘the body’ would always seem incomplete and unnatural when it was used as it furthers the separation of our bodies from our spirits, and our bodies from our minds — demoting the union of the whole being. I’ve carried this with me ever since hearing it and it’s changed a lot for me.
I haven’t been living in union with my body for years and I hadn’t even been aware of it. So, rediscovering what it feels like to have this body as my home, for this whole ass life is pretty damn cool and exciting, yet also challenging. I say it’s challenging because I don’t have anything else to compare it to; I don’t know how you feel inside your body. I don’t know if you can feel the pulsation of your heart and blood circulating when you’re sitting down at home or at work. I don’t know whether a soft, gentle touch is ticklish to you or comforting to you (I personally hate the feeling of being tickled). All I am able to compare these sensations to is the memories I have and what I’ve experienced at different times in my life inside this home of mine. It’s wild because the more I re-learn these things, the more memories come back to me. Whenever I discover a seemingly ‘new’ feeling inside my body, my vessel, I am reminded of another childhood memory or I’m met with a feeling of nostalgia — for example the sensation of feeling my back body in union with my front body is something that still feels pretty new to me, and reminds me of the feeling I had when I was learning how to swim as a kid. I realized I would only ever feel and consider the anterior side of my body — i.e. my face, chest, stomach, knees, etc., but I wouldn’t acknowledge or notice the sensations from the posterior side of my body, like the back of my neck, my shoulder blades, back of scalp, my spine, my sacrum, my heels, and so on — I wouldn’t ever consider these parts unless they were causing me pain or some sort of discomfort. What I know now is that by the time it gets to the point of discomfort, there’s definitely a bigger thing going on. There’s information within those sensations, a message that’s trying to be relayed back to me in a way that’ll be recognized, as it has likely gone ignored from me in the past, and has now manifested into something bigger, like physical pain, in order to ensure my full attention.
Our bodies carry our entire life experiences inside us, in our DNA. We are a result of our thoughts and our thoughts and emotions are manifesting all the time. Those manifestations will stay with us unless we consciously decide to think differently, creating a new pathway in our brains that will manifest a totally different outcome. This is true about our lineages as well. We literally inherit the manifestations of our parents, their parents, and all who came before us ~ our ancestors. Which also means that any blockages that may currently exist inside our bodies, may not even belong to us, but could have been passed down through generations and are now just living within us. Since energy can never be destroyed, it must be transformed into something else, something more useful that serves us. I’ll use myself as an example; I recently began receiving acupuncture treatments within the past couple months and something my practitioner has made me aware of is that there are certain blocks that exist in my heart centre, or heart chakra, which has lead to heat (energy) becoming trapped inside my body at various times. My body’s natural attempt to dissipate and release it would be through excess sweat, and usually while I’m asleep. My heart has to work extra hard to keep the flow of blood pumping throughout it’s ecosystem and since heat increases the speed of particles, my heart is usually beating at a faster speed than it should be. I’ve known since I was young that I have a particularly fast heartbeat, and the first time I learned this was from checking my pulse and the pulse of my classmates during a biology lesson. Since then, friends and partners at various times would notice how quickly my heart is beating, and to them it would seem abnormal, but it had always been my normal. It wasn’t until recently that I actually understood it a sign of being out of balance. When I ponder on it, I wonder whether these blockages came from something I may have personally experienced in the past, like grief; but I also consider that it could have very possibly been something passed down to me from a parent’s experiences that may have not been fully dealt with before having me. Or maybe even the traumatic experience of a grandparent’s, like the loss of a child, which was so common in rural Ethiopia during their time. Something that might have stayed inside their heart for all those years and eventually that stored, trapped energy was replicated and transitioned into a new home, a new body. The point I’m attempting to get to here is that our bodies remember, even when our minds may have forgotten. Our experiences, our emotions, our energy all stay with us, living inside us and will continue to unless/until it is consciously transformed into something new.
I’m slowly learning to listen to the more subtle messages my body is giving to me — like sensations I feel deep within my bones, inside my veins, my organs, before it reaches the surface level of causing me pain or discomfort in my skin or my muscles. I’m slowly learning to notice the quiet and discreet sensations that are always happening, and trying to understand by feeling where it’s coming from and if it’s responding to anything I may be doing or thinking. I’m also learning how quickly our bodies respond to stimuli compared to our thinking minds. The way I see it, if our minds can think at the speed of sound, our bodies relay information at the speed of light — that’s how it makes sense in my head. When I hear something beautiful, like a song or a poem, I always immediately feel chills and goosebumps all over my body, way before my brain listens, registers and formulates the thoughts/words that can express how good it made me feel. My body already registered and communicated it to my brain that then responded with the appropriate bodily reactions. It’s like when you see a beautiful bird or flower and automatically feel a smile begin to form on your face or when you see someone that you love crying in front of you and your eyes slowly begin to water-up before you even know what’s going on. Our bodies are so intelligent and we rarely give them the credit they deserve. If we follow the sensations in our bodies more often, even when they’re conflicting with our thoughts, we will all get to know ourselves better and I feel there will be less conflict between one another and within ourselves. Whenever you notice a bodily sensation, try checking how it feels inside your body at that moment. Does it feel like love? Sadness? Heaviness? Light? Aching? If that doesn’t work, maybe try comparing it to a visual image. Does it feel colourful or dull? Bright or dark? And don’t worry about making logical sense when doing this, it really doesn’t matter because our bodies don’t function that way. The main thing is understanding the feeling in a way that makes sense for you, like by categorizing each sensation into either pleasure, pain, contentment, anger, heat, sadness, water, clarity, fogginess, etc. — and these sensations aren’t necessarily the easiest things to articulate but they are easy to understand, because we have all experienced something similar to each one at some point or another and we have been receiving sensational information our whole lives. Noticing the small things like whether something feels tingly, or pulsing, or flowing, maybe a tightness or an opening will help get started so much. The most important thing when practicing this is to always approach these different sensations, whatever they may be, with a sense of compassion and without judgement; keeping a curious and wondrous attitude is essential.
The quickest way I can evaluate sensations to determine whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant is by checking if I am breathing or not. I’d ask myself, “Can I breathe here and what is the quality of my breath here?” I’d check if is it deep or shallow, rushed or relaxed. This skill came from how we similarly check-in with our bodies regularly in yoga asana. The way to know whether your body is in agreement with a certain pose, to determine whether you’re doing too much or not enough, to know when you need to back off or keep going is to check-in with your breath. I’ve found this most helpful and I noticed that whenever an unpleasant sensation arises inside my body, my breath has always been compromised in some way. Where I am either holding it at the top or at the bottom or it’s just quickly going in and out of my nostrils without reaching my diaphragm, my guts, my lower back; which means my joints are probably in need of more oxygen, making them more likely to spasm or twinge or elicit some kind of pain to express to me that something is not right. It’s helped me to also keep note of what circumstances bring me into this state of being; like checking if you tend to hold your breath more when you’re going to the bathroom, or when you’re talking to your boss or with your family? Whatever it may be, the moment of noticing it is an optimal chance to change it. It’s the perfect opportunity to create a new pathway in your brain by catching it (it being the habitual thing you are used to doing) and choosing to do something else. Something as simple as counting ten deep breaths before going into a big meeting or rubbing your thumbs across your fingertips when you feel heat building up inside your body — doing something by using your body that will tell your brain that you are safe here and that you are in control of yourself and that you are loved in this moment. This information will be transferred to your brain so much faster than it would be if you were to simply think the words, ‘I’m okay,’ ‘I’m fine,’ ‘I’m good.’ Try doing something sensational next time you’re feeling a bit off and let your body to feel it out, I’m sure it will thank you later in some way.