Sometimes, we treat our precious bodies as if they were merely vehicles to carry our brains around. The busy ‘monkey’ mind cares little if the body is tired and unwell or is being stressed too far. It presses the body to carry on regardless, often resulting in exhaustion and depletion. It gives little attention to results that cannot be seen and often views restorative activities such as sitting still, meditation, being in nature, reading, art, socialising, hobbies and fun activities as a waste of time.
When we do pay attention to our bodies it is often to complain that they are too fat, thin, ugly, old, or weak. We frequently fail to recognise how wonderful our bodies are and don’t appreciate them for allowing us to experience life. Our bodies, with their amazing motor movement, skeletal strength and co-ordination, allow us to chop down a tree or comfort an infant, paint a room or create the most exquisite embroidery, run a marathon or tightrope walk, juggle or drive a car. Yet we often use and abuse our bodies with little appreciation for all that they give us and constant criticism when they fail to be as perfect as we desire.
Sometimes we need to get out of our heads, stop criticising and making demands of our bodies and begin to revel in the magical experience this sensual life has to offer.
Perhaps the idea that our bodies are in some way inferior to our minds’ is a relic of religious traditions that tried to control people in the past. Our bodies are not bad, sinful, lustful, lazy or greedy. And neither are our mind’s always noble. In fact our bodies and brains aren’t separate at all, but part of a cohesive whole. We have nerve cells in our hearts, stomachs and nearly every part of our body as well as in our brains. Life cannot be lived on an intellectual level alone. We live more completely when we inhabit our bodies and tune into our senses.
Our experience of the world begins with our bodies, specifically our senses. We see the physical world in the tiny shoots of spring glistening in the pale sunshine, rainbows in oil-slicked puddles and misty, multi-layered landscapes. We feel it in the summer heat and heaviness, the warm embrace of a loved one and cool water on our skin. We hear it in children laughing, the dawn chorus and water trickling along pebbled riverbeds. And we are amongst it all in our manifested life; eating and drinking, sweating and washing, working and resting, feeling everything that comes our way.
When we get out of our heads and into our bodies we focus on our direct experience of life rather than the filtered and often distorted version our brains offer. It starts with listening to our bodies and giving them what they need: rest, exercise, good nutrition, a quiet hour when we put away the ‘to do’ list and practice being instead of doing. Generally taking good care of our bodies can help relieve stress and quieten the busy mind as well as helping to ease many physical difficulties including pain, digestive problems, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.
We often think that to access our soul, spirit, higher self or intuition we must meditate, pray, visualise, affirm, practice shamanic journeying, automatic writing or pay attention to our dreams. These are good things to do, but they are not the only way; we can connect through the body, too.
We can use our bodies to connect in any way we wish: walking, painting, making love, singing, listening to music, massage, healing treatments or just resting. Most people have experienced a sense of flow during a physical activity where they forgot their worldly problems and felt peaceful, calm and joyous. That’s what we are aiming for. A simple walk in nature, listening to the sounds of the wind and the birds, feeling the earth beneath our feet and the breeze on our skin, can do the trick. Anything physical or creative where we use our bodies and explore the world through our senses helps us to experience our unique physical being. Creating something with our hands: a meal, flower arrangement or artwork can be a meaningful and rewarding way to strengthen the connection between our mind and body. Schedule some time each day to immerse yourself in a physical activity, consider it as important as a meditation or other mind-based practice. Your body will thank you for the attention with renewed vigour, enthusiasm and passion for life.
When you spend time in a physical activity, you should feel the mind quieten as the focus of your attention moves outward and away from the inner thoughts, feelings and worries. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen immediately – we have been used to listening to our minds all the time and the adjustment to a more physical way of being may take a while. You may find that you repeatedly drift back into thinking. The mind will take any opportunity to get back in the driving seat, including telling you that you are not good enough or that the activity is pointless. Do not get angry or upset with the mind when it does this, we are aiming for a harmony of all parts of the body and mind and any resistance, self-reproach or anger is self-defeating. Simply notice what the mind has said then re-focus your attention on the way the activity feels.
Connecting through the body can be a joyous experience. We can feel a sense of wholeness as our physical senses and mind are united. Learning to love and appreciate our body for all that it gives us is a process that heals both the body and the mind. We are after all on this earth in physical form so we should do all that we can to experience all our precious body has to offer. So let’s end the battle with our bodies and be grateful for the part of us that allows us to experience this wild and wonderful journey called life.