This body is the vehicle of my spirit, the physical manifestation of the movement of the cosmos within me. It is the only connection “I” have to this world, and it allows me to interact with others and with my environment. I know this, and yet, after all the years I’ve spent on the psychologist’s couch, I still lose track of sensing what I’m used to calling myself, by which I mean, my body.
Over the last four weeks, I’ve dedicated a considerable time more than I had been on reading my body. From David L. Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading, we know that reading is an interactive process, unlike most media forms. Bette Lemont, Developmental Movement Therapist, said that when we read to children, they often request to hear the stories over and over again because they need repetition to create a mental image of the story. They soon start to act out the plot- making it their own. Television, on the other hand, is a closed-loop system, meaning there is no room for a child to jump in, enter the story and experience it creatively. So, in reading my body, I am allowing myself the opportunity to jump back in, to experience my life creatively and with deliberate intention, in contrast to the numbness of letting my life play out before me like a movie.
Sitting in the reclining chair, needles in my skin, I feel a sensation that washes over my body like a wave, a heaviness that invites a deep awareness of the internal dance constantly moving beneath the edges of my body. I can feel energy unleashing and coursing through me, tiny spasms of muscle, oxygen crossing through the membranes of the alveolar sacs beneath my ribs, and tension releasing in my forehead. The shunyataesque feeling of focus/relaxation dissolves my sense of time and two hours pass in the chair without notice. It is as if I am walking in on a dialogue that has been going on without my knowing it, and all of a sudden I’ve become privy to the conversation.
Tapping into this conversation is an act of resistance on two levels. It is an act of resistance within my self, and a resistance against the systematized numbness that has grown out of our over stimulation as a society. My personal resistance is due to the confrontation of the moment- the now, with the internal wall I’ve built up of expectations, judgments and notions of who or what I am. This resistance slowly yet steadily dismantles both of fear and guilt of knowing “myself”; perhaps internalized social mores, the wall is broken down in this reading.
The very format in which I am engaging this conversation is in itself a resistance to the larger social institutional pressures. Community acupuncture is done in a group setting, dismantling notions of a “self” separate from others right from the start. It is a healing method based on a no-questions-asked, sliding scale payment method, which is a novel opposition to the unsustainable, inequitable, inaccessible and ultimately detrimental health care system in the States. Furthermore, the format of community based healing blurs the line between healer and healed, reinstating the innate healing capacities within ourselves that we had outsourced to white coats.
This type of healing conversation with the body requires a conscious decision to step off of the merry-go-round, the ever-spinning and highly distracting ride of life. It requires instead, the decision to focus. Ulin discusses at length some of the studies of multi-tasking, an unfortunate (or fortunate?) result of our media-saturated lives. The effects of splitting our attention have been hot topics in research, with results showing opposing viewpoints. Both improved speed and number of neural connections, as well as diminished capacity for concentration and deeper level thought and feeling have been shown to stem from our stimulus-saturated lifestyles. The ability to think and respond quickly to stimuli is an important adaptation for primal survival, however our ability to think deeply, experience emotion and empathize is the basis for our social capacities and one of the main differences between humans and nonhuman animals. While it is impossible to tell which capability evolution will ultimately favor, my sense is that we must be able to at least balance them.
Drawing attention back into the body, learning to read the body, is a door that opens into a more mindful life with space for deliberation about where exactly I want to expend energy; mental or physical. Reading, indeed conversing with the body affords us greater health, a deeper connection to the now, and a vehicle more fit for implementing intention in the world.