Every now and then I set an intention every day to shine a light on a certain area of my spiritual life. Lately my mantra has been, 'What does this feel like in my body?'
Every single thing we experience, no matter how subtle, every thought, no matter how fleeting, will show itself as a body sensation. I'm talking about actual sensations here - not our emotions (like 'joyful') or our evaluations (like 'yukky') or our moral judgements (like 'she shouldn't have done this') - but actual physical sensations.
For example, when I am feeling anger, I often feel a heat rising up my back and neck, sometimes up the front. When I have a thought or feeling of sadness, it feels like a beanbag has been dropped on my lungs. Even pain can be recognized as body sensation. Broken down, it can be seen as a heat here, a pulling sensation there, or a heaviness over there.
As a culture we spend a lot of time in our heads. We forget the natural animal nature of our bodies. We forget that our bodies store our unresolved histories, which my yoga teacher calls 'issues in the tissues.' To feel well, these unresolved issues need to be processed and released. Our bodies know how and when to do the job.
Lately I've been noticing a build-up of pressure under my shoulders. Pressure from within rises and builds to the point where it feels like something's gonna blow if I don't find a release valve. Lately, my release valve has been a trip to the fridge. Yeah, I know. While pasta is a comfort, the release doesn't last, and the consequences can weigh a lot. If I really want to heal this, I have to feel what I am feeling.
It can take courage, but when the karma is ripe, or the time is right, or the stars have lined up the right way to investigate deeper, I might be able to bypass the fridge and find a quiet corner instead.
So I sit with it. I watch the body sensation. It's almost like making friends with it. I don't want the discomfort, but the reality is that it is there whether I like it or not, so I may as well see it as an ally and not an enemy. As I relax and soften and pay attention to just the sensations, I may discover that a lot of the difficulty around it was not the sensation itself but my reactivity to it. Other things may rise. An old memory may surface. I may ugly cry. It could take half an hour to dissipate, or 5 minutes, but in the end it does. I don't have to do anything. I don't have to fix anything or figure anything out. I can just pay attention and let the body do what needs to be done.
This kind of meditation is helpful when life hits us hard, when we feel helpless or vulnerable or resentful. The soft animal nature of our bodies takes in everything we experience. It's supposed to. The discomfort we feel is a part of nature, a natural phenomenon that comes and goes. When we meet it with curiosity and allow it to be what it is, we are allowing nature to look after itself.
The end result is often a fresher, emptier feeling. Letting go of negative experiences this way leaves a bit more room for the joy and vitality and shimmer of our natural being to be experienced. What we feel afterwards, is better.
If paying attention to body sensation is new to you, you can start here:
Sit quietly, relax imagine something that makes you feel joyful, like holding a puppy or kitten in your arms. Pay close attention to the sensations in your body. Have there been any changes since you 'picked up' the puppy? Where does 'it' feel so good? What does it feel like? For me the puppy exercise feels like a warmth in my chest, and a sense of something loosening in my mid-back. It could be different for you. Stay with it for a while till you really have it, and can remember the sensation. Once you're familiar with the sensation, you may notice it when it comes up in the future.
Here's another. Sit. Let the body relax. Then think or imagine something that makes you angry. What changed in the body at the angry thoughts and emotions? What does this feel like? A tightening across the shoulder blades? A sense of holding up a bag of rocks above the shoulders? Heat? Stay relaxed so you can notice the sensations without getting caught up in the drama. You want the energy to move freely, not get locked up like before. Some long-time meditators do this one deliberately to get to know what triggers them.
Even fear can be felt in the body. For me it's a buzzy sensation just above the skin and a shaky sensation at the back of my neck. It can really be intense and awful. But when I remember that it will pass if it don't fight it, it gets easier.
Noticing body sensation is a powerful tool to work with energy. I have a friend in the effort, though. My wise animal body is that friend.