Body As Compass in Times of Stress and Anxiety

The body is like a compass in this age of poor navigational signals. We don’t know what to do next, though we feel that we certainly should be doing something next. Our attention and decision-making is demanded by notifications from our phones and computers. We have so many relationships to check in on and tidy up through endless apps and platforms. Not to mention worries about our jobs and our expectations for our productivity. With so many different directions to go, how do we decide?

One option is that we can listen to the body, which is a deeper channel than the discursive thoughts on the surface of things (i.e. I like this, I don’t like that). In the body is an un-fractured self which keeps its own sense of time and priority. It’s a refreshing dip, thousands maybe millions of years ago, into a time when we were allowed to be with ourselves as we walked through the grass. Not that there weren’t worries: saber-tooth tigers and  enormous turtles!giant prehistoric turtle I do imagine, perhaps wrongly, that there was less encouragement to dwell in our heads by reliving the past or planning for the future. The body and mind were more synchronized, which in practices like meditation or the Alexander Technique, we often arrive at after many years of separation.

The kind of truth that one finds dwelling in the body has a rock-bottom, I-know-this-to-be-true ring to it. When we contact a truth in the body, maybe something that we contemplated or were just suddenly struck by, there is often a corresponding “ding!” Our muscles may rearrange in the throat, chest, or stomach. A kind of curtain is parted. These bubbles of truth offer a glimpse into a self that is confident, aware and strong – not the person we usually send ahead to manage our social interactions.

The work of Eugene Gendlin with “Focusing” has been tremendously helpful for me in learning how to relate with these felt sensations that often occur during meditation. Focusing offers a view, not unlike Buddhism, that working with these “obstacles” is the path itself. Though these felt sensations may manifest as anxious squeezing or rageful clenching, we need not reject them since their nature is enlightened. In fact, though the messengers may feel old hat or threatening, there’s often something new and convincing to be discovered in their wordless arrival. Focusing, like meditation, offers a gentle set of skills for tuning in.

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