Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My movement is making me

When we hear “impulse,” what comes to mind? Generally not “wisdom.” We may think “buy” or “binge,” “purchase” or “pleasure.” We think of an impulse as an unreflected urge that passes beneath our rational radar and drives us to act in ways that are less than smart. Not what we want.

What we want, or so we have learned, is control over our impulses, over our bodies. A quick skip through the Sunday papers tells: we want the diet plan that will help us manage our food cravings; the drug that will smooth the ragged edges of our lifestyle; the cosmetic surgery that will makes us feel happy with how we look. We want to be free minds ruling fit bodies.

When we live with this mind over body sense of ourselves, it is true: we will tend to perceive our bodily impulses, our sensations and desires, as obstacles to achieving our ideals. We imagine that we need more discipline, better methods for establishing control, additional props and procedures to make our bodies fit. The market is pleased to provide.
We are not minds over bodies, and attempts to act as if we were fail. Diet success stories, as the ads themselves confess, are “not typical.” Botox fades in 3 to 6 months. Wrinkles and weight return. Our bodies defy control.

Yet in such “failures,” we find seeds for an alternative sense of ourselves. Our “bodies” are who we are. When bodies rebel, it is not because “they” want “us” to fail. It is because we are stuck in our minds, claiming a power that is not ours, ignoring our own wisdom.
Bodies are not objects or containers. Bodies *are* movement. They are not things that move, they are movement itself. They are movement that is occurring in multiple dimensions at once--cellular and chemical, systemic and motor, cognitive and sensory. We are beating and breathing, healing and restoring, growing and evolving from the moment of birth to the day we die.

So too, this movement that our bodies are is essentially creative. Our bodily movement, beating and breathing, is, in every moment, creating us, enabling us to think and feel and act as we do.

A body that is not moving is not a body; it is a corpse.
When we begin to think in this way, we can begin to experience our impulses differently. The sensations erupt in us are not arbitrary interruptions. They are who we are. They are what we are creating as we pursue our ideal selves. They are what we are communicating to ourselves in that moment about those ideals, about that pursuit, and about our way of going about it.

In this vein, for example, the urge to eat that crashes our diet hopes is a protest against the conflict between mind and body that we are creating in ourselves. Pursuing a mind over body fitness, we are denying our bodily movement, our sensations and desires, pleasure and pain any role to play in navigating our relationship to food.

We are more than mind. We want to be more than mind. We want to be whole.
There is wisdom, then, in this apparent rebellion of our bodies, and it is a wisdom, once we learn to recognize it, that is guiding us to move in ways that coordinate our pleasure, our health, and what is available to us in our environment.

In the weeks that follow, we will explore this dynamic in depth as it concerns our relationship to food, our relationships to our partners, and our sense of being in the world. Food. Sex. Spirit.
First however, we need some additional tools. We can learn to *think* this idea about our bodies as movement fairly quickly. However, if this idea is true, then, thinking it is not enough. We need more than an idea about our bodies, we need to cultivate a sensory awareness of our bodies as the movement that is making us. We need to be aware, to the best of our ability, of how our movements are making us so that we can learn to discern, trust, and move with their wisdom.

Next week: how to cultivate a sensory awareness of the bodily movements that are making us so as to find their wisdom.

Turn your attention to your breathing--the movement of your breath. Focus on the sensations of inhaling. Exhaling. Follow the oxygen- rich air as it flows into your bloodstream, to the heart. Sense that air being pumped to every cell of your body, becoming you. Flowing into you, through you, and from you.

Your breathing movement is making you. Yet it is not only making your flesh, taking in elements so essential that you cannot live without them for even four minutes; it is doing so in the rhythmic patterns, the phrases and timing, that enable you to think and feel and act as you do. Slow and fast, sharp and smooth, heavy and light. To learn any activity is to learn how to breathe in the pattern that enables it. We can’t sing or speak, ski or swim, feel happy or sad without learning the pattern of breathing--the phrasing and timing, that enables us to coordinate ourselves in that action.

The movement of our breathing, then, is not only making the stuff of our flesh. It is making the patterns that enable us to do whatever we do.

You may feel resistance in turning your attention to your breathing. Too touchy-feely? Just listening to your own breath? Think of it this way, you are engaging in a radical philosophical act, investigating for yourself the limitations of some of western culture’s most cherished values. It is not insignificant.....

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