One of my ongoing favorite quotes comes from a James Joyce short story, “A Painful Case.” The first line reads, “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” I place the quote at the top of my Writing From the Body syllabus, its premise being the initial topic of class. (Btw, I’m offering the class again as a weekend retreat that will take place in Richmond mid-summer.)
Many of us dwell in our bodies in a state of disconnection. We lug ourselves around. Our legs amble us to our car. We plunk ourselves down at the dinner table and shovel food into our mouths. We eat, yawn, work, have sex, read email, do laundry, essentially strolling through the day as best we can. Many of us are, however, largely out of touch with ourselves, oblivious to the many subtle sensory events of the body and not working with our best interests at heart.
Don’t we have enough to do throughout the day without attending to such events? My simple answer: No. Adding this to the day becomes a welcome reprieve, not an added burden. Attuning to the subtle sensory events leads to the discovery of a rich inner world which, when we get to know it, works on our behalf, not against us. It’s a natural and accessible feedback system that leads to liberation.
Once we develop the relationship, we learn how to guide ourselves. We know when to assert, when to sit back, when to go with the flow and when to swim to the shore.
Three components I find essential: Breathe, think, move.
Breathe Pay attention to the breath. Invite air into the base of the torso and lower spine. Invite a gentle wave. Slowing breath is valuable. It encourages our physiology to let go of stress and makes room for ease and more optimal functioning.
Think Focus the mind on something pleasant. You might let your eyes focus on the daisies on your desk. Notice their shape, the density of color, the slenderness of the stems, the suppleness of the petals. If you feel ungrounded, a focus on something concrete is particularly beneficial. Or you might focus instead on an abstraction, holding a pleasant thought in mind, such as the image of a loved one or a future success.
Move Keep this simple, perhaps nothing more challenging than rotating your head from side to side or a walking across the room and back. While moving, keep your attention on your breath and your thought.
As you do these actions, watch what else occurs, what interferes, what feelings and thoughts arise. Repeat the three-part process often enough and you’ll recognize your habits and be able to discern which are helpful and which may harm, which place you at home in your body and which put you at odds with yourself.