This morning’s reading in A Journey to the Heart (Melody Beattie) was about getting back in your body. She talks about how we abandon our bodies mentally when times are hard. Her description really spoke to me this morning. After Monday’s anxiety stuff, I’ve sunk into my yoga practice and my meditation and breathing practices. I’ve learned – like Melody says – that when I’m feeling anything other than joy, I need to stay at home in my body. Sometimes it’s a long journey to get there. I resist.
My addictions are an attempt to physically leave my body. It’s no wonder that terms like getting high, getting small, and tripping are some of the descriptions we use for drug use. They all describe somehow abandoning our bodies and taking a trip to another dimension. Anywhere but here my mind cries when I’m stressed, worn out, scared or depressed. Calgon, take me away. I don’t want to feel. The problem with this damn body is that when I’m feeling something I don’t want to feel, there is no way to really leave it. I have to numb it. I have to ignore it and focus on something else. There are so many ways to leave my body without moving an inch.
The Eastern practices – although I would argue that the West is starting to really own them in its own right – of yoga, meditation and pranayama (controlled breathing) are effective BECAUSE they force me to pay attention to my body. Isn’t that a crazy trick? The very thing we want to do is leave our bodies to get away from the feelings that trouble us, but the only real way to change the feeling and solve the core problem is to become acutely aware of our bodies. Breath awareness brings us back to our spiritual earthly home. It grounds us. It reminds us that as long as we breath, we are okay. We can attempt to control the breath, and that is one of the practices that I do regularly, but we don’t own it. The breath comes to us as a gift, and it will leave us one day on its own volition. I honor this welcome visitor to my heart whenever I pay attention to it.
By observing my breath on a regular basis in yoga or meditation, I begin to understand how it lives in me during different feelings. When I am anxious, it is often short and constricted, filling my chest. On days when I’m feeling relaxed and serene, it is barely a whisper in my belly. It is a barometer of where I am at any given time. That’s why having a habit of a spiritual practice helps. It’s easier to bring myself back to that space in habit even if I ignore it in need. Just by paying attention to my breath, it begins to change. And with that change, everything else begins to change with it. It’s the best street drug on the market. It’s free, it’s effective. It takes me there. There are no negative consequences, and there is no regret. And, yet, I resist.
When I was grieving the loss of my marriage, I would spend long days in pain. I wanted to cry and to curl up in God’s lap and forget the world – and my body. But I had to go to work. I had to do the things we all do as adults to take care of ourselves. When I got home, I had a routine of playing this meditation tape that guided me to feel. It first helped me get in touch with my breath – the ultimate centering tool. Then it asked me to imagine someone to hold me while I felt my feelings. Sometimes I imagined my Mom. Sometimes I imagined Jesus. Sometimes I imagined my friend Elizabeth. Sometimes I imagined a field of poppies just like the one in the Wizard of Oz. I forced my mind to stay in my body while I was being comforted and just be. I would bring attention to my feet and remind myself that my feet were doing just fine in this moment. I did the same with my ankles. I took a trip up my entire body noticing and reminding myself that I was okay in this moment. My fears and my pain were all fragments of the future or the past. The present was just as it was supposed to be. After 15 min, 30 min, or sometimes even an hour, I’d be done. My mood would have shifted significantly. I carried that grief and angst all day, but when I took a short time to be with it and feel it, it vanished like a vapor. That practice taught me what they’d been telling me all along. The answer was in my body … my breath … my spirit … and my practice.
We come here to this planet to live and I often get distracted by everything else. There really is nothing else but the breath. It connects us to the God that created us. It connects us to ourselves. It connects us to the other spirits that are within our soul’s reach. It is the common denominator that says we are human on this earth. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. What brings our souls into the experience of being human is quite simply the breath. What ushers us out of this experience is quite simply the breath. And, yet, we focus on so many other things to take care of ourselves. It is so simple. Anybody can do it no matter what shape you are in. And yet …. we resist.