Updated: Jun 6, 2021
It seems sometimes that our culture is so disembodied. We value thinking and cognition over embodiment and aliveness. Yet our truth and presence isn’t found mentally in our thinking mind but through our sensory and embodied experience of mind. The human ego has evolved to think we are more intelligent than animals and in doing so have forgotten our connection to the land and one another. But the truth is we are also animals reliant on ecology and each other. Individually we are not enough.
I wonder if our mental health problems are related to the deep intrinsic realisation that our modern ways of living are not sustainable. The things we have designed to make our lives easier are actually making it harder. Do we just keep putting our head in a screen (the metaphorical sand) and tune out or will we collectively do something about the trajectory of humanity?
“Let the soft animal of the body love what it loves” said the great poet Mary Oliver.
When we are lost in thoughts we are cut off from the present which allows us to feel empathy, compassion, give rise to creativity and relational flow; in this state we are in harmony with the natural world. When we are anxious and depressed we leave and resist our bodies and become disembodied, replaying thoughts or striving, craving and grasping at thoughts beyond reality; seeking certainty in an uncertain world.
"Our bodies know we belong to nature and spirit, it’s our minds that make us homeless."
Our bodies also feel pain and trauma, physical and emotional wounds, and eventually all our bodies get sick, old and die. With this in mind we must navigate gently around our internal pain, trying not to overwhelm ourselves by slowly and carefully softening the edges. We can do this through pendulation in our mindfulness practice, exploring our discomfort and finding the space and working with a mindfulness based trauma-informed counsellor to guide this practice is wise.
But even with an embodied experience we can truly appreciate and value the preciousness and impermanence of life; which helps us take more care in every step and help us understand our emotions and bodies in the context of nature and reality. We might be then less likely to seek out forms of entertainment to escape or look for distraction from the subtle reality we each exist in.
When we inhabit our body we are not in the "control tower" of the thinking mind and we can sense that the self is no longer in charge and there is an absence of attachment to the individual doer. From this state we can truly feel another person, we can love, connect and belong to something much bigger than the individual self- we can feel at home in our ecological system not separated from it.
When we don't feel in control we are triggered and grasp at the mechanisms that appear to give us a sense of control. Our cultural habit is to leave the body and dissociate and we have created technology that has made this phenomenon happen earlier and earlier and we see it in our children now who are spending far less time outdoors and disconnected from nature and reality than our generation and the generations before.
Mental health challenges are also on the rise and the leading cause of disability around the globe. The most popular interventions involve talking based mental solutions to improve cognition but little attention given to how we have become so disconnected from our sensory bodies and the larger planetary body which simply makes sense of our experiences. It's almost like the conventional approach tries to deny the very nature and mechanism of mind within the broader context of evolution and history.
When we are embodied we have so much more space, vitality, connection and restful wakefulness and we can touch on our true nature. Until of course we forget, react or judge our experience in the thinking mind. The practice of mindfulness is waking up and remembering we are home in the wilderness of our body. The body scan is a classical practice to return to the body and that is why it is the first practice in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the body is the first foundation of mindfulness. You can explore my 20 minute body scan mindfulness practice here. Focussed and aware breathing is another practice you can use to anchor your mind in your sensory body and begin to explore embodiment.