Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What a Body Knows 3: Giving the Gift of Yourself

Ask for what you need, and you will have more to give.

"Lifelong passion may be about learning to love, yet it is not about learning to love in general, as honorable an activity as that may be. It is about learning to love and be loved by a particular person and doing it well.

It is about learning to express love in ways that allow the other to feel that love as a force releasing him or her into freedom and creativity, pleasure and joy. It is about learning to give and receive a touch that is, in this sense, life enabling.

For this journey, there is no formula, map, or destination, only an ever-unfolding process of tuning in to what we and our partners need in order to be released into the flow of the love we share—the flow of our own becoming.

Most of us, however, are not mind readers, or body readers. We don’t know how our partners want and need to be touched. We barely know how we want to be touched. And rather than find out for ourselves, our tendency, given our cultural mind over body training, is to rely on the images of love and sex plied to us. We imagine that touching and being touched is a matter of identifying the right spots and applying pressure as needed. It is a technical matter.

For our part, we want to think of touch as merely physical, for if it is then we can be sure that we will get the satisfaction we desire, even if we are not on the best of terms with our partners. Better yet, we know that we will be able to give it to the other whether or not we feel like it. Satisfaction guaranteed.

However, in attaching to such images, we are not only training ourselves not to ask for what we need, we are training ourselves not to be able to ask for what we need. We cannot imagine that there is work to be done in bringing our sensory awareness to life. We cannot imagine that our tenacious sensations of physical yearning might be pointing towards kinds of touching that are not physical — the gentle question, the inquiring glance, the encouraging comment. Even if we have a small inkling of the need for such work, we are likely to ignore it. For it is easier not to ask than to risk opening ourselves to the disappointment that we, or our partners, will not or cannot touch us as we need to be touched.

No asking, no friction, no fear. So we lose registers of discernment, and the sensory cues that would help us recognize in ourselves what would release us into pleasure. It remains a mystery.

When we don’t know what we need and don’t ask for what we need, even when we think we are doing so for the sake of holding the relationship together, we create pockets of silence in ourselves and in the relationship. Dead spaces. The relationship shrinks; the sensory space it occupies in us shrinks. We are less satisfied with the relationship as it grows less able to provide us with cell opening blasts of life enabling touch. And so is our partner.

When I ask for what I need, I have more to give.

It is a paradox.

When I ask for the touch I need, just ask, without expectation, as a way of being present to myself and with you, I give you the greatest gift. I give you what you need to succeed in doing what you want to do: love me. I give you the pleasure of releasing me into ever-greater love for you.

Intimacy deepens. Love grows, and I find in myself more capacities for responding to you when you ask of me.
This logic cuts across conventional wisdom and bears repeating. When we do not ask for what we need in order to rekindle our experience of cell-opening passion, we prevent our partner from getting what he or she desires. When we ask for the kind of touch that will enable us, and when we open to explore what that might be, we give the gift that is most desired: the gift of ourselves."

A birthday celebration excerpt from What a Body Knows, chapter 14

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What a Body Knows 2: The pleasures of eating

We are biologically hardwired, aren’t we, to want more food, always more? The failures of our massive efforts in dieting away the pounds or designing an effective drug are proof. Aren’t they? Look again. If anything, the human digestive system is designed to maximize our ability to move, not our ability to take in food.

Think about it. Humans stand upright. As a result of our upright posture, we have a mobility that is rare among animals. We do not hibernate. Our transformation from infant to adult does not involve a cocoon or chrysalis stage. We are constantly moving. We are not the fastest or strongest. We are not the most agile or deft. What characterizes our movement is its novelty: we are constantly learning to make new movements, new patterns of sensing and responding that guide us in thinking, feeling, and acting. As a result of this ability, we have proven ourselves capable of finding food and making ourselves at home in nearly every climate on earth.

At every point, our digestive system enables us in making these movements. Our manner of processing what we consume provides us with a steady stream of energy so that we can keep moving. We do not eat one meal a week and sleep it off like other carnivores. Nor do we spend a third of every day grazing like the large herbivores. Instead we move through recurring cycles of hunger and fullness over a 24-hour period. We stomach small, dense meals, mostly cooked, preferably several a day. These rhythms of digestion allow us time between meals to hunt, gather, and grow food, while still providing us with the steady stream of nourishment we need in order to do so. Even when we are in a position to eat more energy than we are burning, we store it all over the body, in patterns that, until we are extremely obese, maximize our ability to keep moving. We eat to keep moving so that we can eat to keep moving from environment to environment, season to season, continent to continent, meal to meal. And in order to move, we must stop eating.

Further, in making the food-finding movements that our digestive system enables and requires, we have evolved to rely on our sensory awareness as a primary guide. Unlike many of our animal siblings, we can catch and cook, chew and digest almost anything. Our food needs are not determined by instinct or climate. We have to make choices about what to eat, how to acquire it, and when and how to eat it. We have no choice but to choose. While culture and tradition and habit do constrain these choices, the surest guide we ever have is our senses. We are creatures who can and must use all of our senses — taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing — to guide us in identifying, pursuing, and securing what will nourish us and rejecting what will not. The foods we are primed to sense as pleasurable, then, are those that support us in the ongoing project of moving, sensing, and responding to food. Our survival depends upon it.

Gathering the pieces together, this picture is suggestive. The pleasure we derive from food does not come from the quantities of vitamins and minerals, or the salts or sugars present in a chemical substance. The pleasure we seek comes from participating in the process of learning how, when, what, and why to eat so that we can keep moving. The pleasure we seek comes from the experience of finding our way to a sense of enough so that we can stop eating, as we must, and keep moving.

The problem is not that our desires run rampant in the field of abundance; the problem is that we have lost touch with the desires that are and remain our best guide wherever we are. Our dissatisfaction is calling us to tune into our sensory awareness, and to find our way to a sense of enough.

Excerpted from What a Body Knows, chapter 5, "A Sense of Enough"

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What a Body Knows, 1

How do you celebrate the first birthday of a book? Share it!

In this month of May, I will post excerpts from my latest book, What a Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire. I begin at the beginning, with a sketch from chapter 1 that describes the kind of movement-enabled "experience shift" that can open us to discern wisdom in desire.

“I am having a lovely morning. Our son Jordan, home sick from school, is not too sick, and I am enjoying my time with him. I allow him to watch a movie. Kai falls asleep. I sit down to write. Reading back over the previous day’s catch, I make corrections, clarify some rough passages, and print out the pages. I draft some new ideas. Kai wakes up. Jordan returns from screen land. I feel play in the moment, loving work, loving family, in a mutually enabling spiral.

A few hours later, everything starts to feel less fun. I am no longer moved as I had been just an hour before by the intricate web of vessels visible beneath my infant’s tender skin, or by the half-smile of a child finding comfort in my embrace. My senses are withering. My ideas stop flowing. I want sugar, caffeine — something sharp. I want adult company, some spark or spur. I want some vital touch. Life weighs heavily.

I have been here before. I know what I need. To move. I need to feed my body, stir up my sensory awareness, replenish love. A walk, the easiest thing. Of course, I do not want to go for a walk. I want to stuff myself into forgetful oblivion and lose consciousness of this dragging dullness. But I must. My desires, tousled, knotted, and confused, are pointing the way.

Geoff comes home and takes over. I bundle up. My mind is complaining bitterly. It is cold and snowy. Kai will need to nurse. The kitchen is a mess. There are other things I should be doing. Carrying my screaming mind out through the door, my body propels me forward.

I walk vigorously, pumping my arms and legs, sending blood rushing through my limbs, feeling the pull of air into my lungs. My head lightens and begins to clear. I feel brightness opening. I walk hard and start to feel again. Hunger stabs. I want to turn back and eat. But then the hunger slips sideways. I know that the energy I want is not of the caloric kind. I feel a deep gnawing ache for the return of my senses, for what my body knows. This hunger is the first sign that it is beginning to return.

I trudge up the mountain. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Each step plunges through a crusty surface into powdery fluff. I follow tracks I left earlier in the week, sometimes sticking my foot into an old hole and sometimes stepping sideways, taking cues from the past and honoring my new gait. My hands start to warm up.

I begin to notice things. There are prints in the tracks I made two days ago. Deer hooves. I follow the deer, who followed me. Perhaps I saved the deer some wear and tear on its shins. A thrill passes lightly through me at the thought of our meeting this way.

I keep walking, puffing, crunching up the hill, up and around the field. Ten then twenty minutes pass, half an hour. Gold and silver sparks of snow catch my eye. The rhythmic breaking of the snow echoes in my chest. A pale sun peeps through the soft splotchy clouds. Down by the pond I find the tracks of a snow mobile. An intruder. Anger and dismay rush through. I place a branch across the tracks. Keep out. Will they even notice?

Keep walking. My body propels me along, beside the pond and up to the crest of the hill where we first stood in awe of this beautiful land. I feel an impulse to run, to empty myself into space. A surge of energy wells, lifting my arms to the horizons, breathing me deeply. I want, I want, I want… to play. I run down the hill on the other side, pulling my legs straight out of each crusty hole so as not to fall. I laugh with my awkward strides. My left leg plunges thigh-deep into a gulley and I tumble to the ground. Without hesitating, I start to get up. Time to move. Then I lie back. Wait. What can I see from here? What is it that this fall is enabling me to see?

I watch the clouds, drifting wisps of white and blue and gray. Their mottled layers pass through one another, thinning into translucent floss. I feel the icy cold of the snow seeping through my jacket and snow pants, cooling my lower back where an echo of an old back pain lingers, offering a healing touch. What do I look like splayed out here on the snow. Would someone find me if I couldn’t move?

I see the stalks of dead flowers and grasses poking up around me. I want to make something. An ornament. An angel from Hebron Hollow. A beating sound interrupts the thought. A crow. Will he see me and think I am food?A pressure squeezes my heart. Sadness seeps out. My friend. Her baby girl. It was Downs. She ended the pregnancy. The pain, a month later, is palpable. Breathing empties the sensation into the colors of the clouds, the cold of the snow, the still silence of the land. I see the beauty unfolding around me.

I sit up. My body sits up, stands, moves forward. I feel softened, revived. I breathe and plunge on.

Before me is Moon Rock. Around the shoulder and up the face I hike. I want to feel alive. An impulse to run surges again — something pressing forward and in and out and through me, a desire to touch what is. I run. Blood screams through my limbs. The horizon, the edge, opens before me. I rise to meet it, wider than before. It occurs to me: I need this place, this walk, to walk in this place. I need this land to open me to my self, my life, again and again and again. I see dry plants for my ornament. I pick them. Buttons. Milkweed. Thistles.

I plow my way back to Moon Rock and lean into its arc. I feel its weight, and my weight on it. In the meeting of the two, I sink into myself where I am alive, becoming more body. Tremors of love vibrate through me. It is time to go. The sun, a soft yellow ball, sits atop the tree tufts. The snow glitters blue and gold. Sparkles of light beckon. Again I follow the deer who followed me. Thoughts skitter through. I will need to write about this walk. To reflect on it, remember it, press it through my thinking so that it rearranges my ideas and holds them accountable to this experience of moving, to what is, here and now.

My movements, walking, breathing, feeling, thinking, are making me. My movements are opening me to sense and respond, making me into someone who witnesses this beauty. Someone who is sensing, who can sense, who wants to sense this wakeful vitality. This is who I am.

I enter the house. My dead bouquet is large. I lay it on a newspaper. Needs press in. I am hungry and tired. I need to eat, to write, to make something, to connect with Geoff, to nurse Kai. The kids are home from school. It is dinnertime. I breathe into the sensory spaces opened by my walking. Happy and elastic, I find play in the moment. Grabbing a snack, I nurse my son, hear stories of the day, and then dump my thoughts onto the page. After dinner I help Jessica and Kyra make milkweed angels. They are beautiful. Bits of Hebron Hollow come to life. Like me.
A simple walk, but as I write it down, as I know I must, I find it has all the elements of the experience shift that enables us to find wisdom in our desires for food, sex, and spirit. If we can name such an experience shift, recognize it in ourselves, and cultivate it in our thinking and feeling and acting, then we can develop a powerful resource for participating consciously in becoming the people we are and want to be.”

Excerpted from chapter 1, What a Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire (O Books 2009).