I invite you to bring mercy to your body, to this interesting vehicle of embodiment, this amazing instrument of openness that’s been so harshed on. First by the outside and then we take over and mimic it. When we rest our hand on a place in our body that is in pain or tense, we put our hand on the whole of humanity. The whole body of humanity needs to hear the message from Presence, “It’s all right, it’s all right.” The message that is delivered in the moment, through the air, through the feel, through weight of your body in the chair, this benevolence here, right now. Not a fancy benevolence, a very basic, simple, is-ness.
There isn’t anything in creation that is not the body of the holy. There isn’t any difference between putting your hands on your flesh and putting your hands into God’s heart. There is nothing here but this, and there is nothing to hate or love but this. It’s not there’s the body and there’s the spirit and there’s this and there’s that. It is just one collage of holiness. Anything you hate or turn away from becomes your jail cell of separation. And so that hate and the feel of it has to be directly met, the feel of the killer in yourself, the feel of the curser in yourself. We’re so conditioned not even to notice it in our tones as we curse ourselves, as we curse objects, people. The feel of separation is one of tremendous harshness, tremendous casting out, and we’ve gotten used to that as a culture–that’s how we converse with each other, that’s how we treat each other on the road, that’s how we treat our bodies. We are all looking for a justifiable place to land this hate rather than actually turning around and feeling the harsh edge of it as it lives in us.
It’s like when Jesus said, “Forgive them father they know not what they do.” Our conditioning has it so that we are absolutely unaware of what we carry and what we perpetrate because we don’t know what we carry and we’re not conscious when we’re perpetrating. Those guys nailing Jesus to the cross had no idea they were doing wrong. So numb, and so appropriate an enemy—they probably felt like they were doing good, every hammer strike, sending the bad person away. And there’s probably no where that we are so harsh as on our own flesh, driving ourselves, denying ourselves, denying ourselves breath, pause, rest, time outside the incessant wheel of the mind. And it’s not like we can be blamed for it, we’ve been trained well. So first we just get to notice that we have a pet, a very dear loyal pet, that cries out in various ways we call suffering. Let our attention go to its cries, let it move the way it wants to, be kind to it. Just to notice that and drop out of the mind in this culture is revolutionary.
It’s sweet to be tender with yourself at the start of something new – a new activity, a new place. When our sweet creaturey beings leave their circles of habit and enter into a new place, sometimes some of the most fundamental of our coping strategies get thrown off a bit. This is a great opportunity to see and meet what’s under our comfort-seeking habits. Up comes a feeling, an instability in the form of a question: “Do I belong?” or “Am I in danger?” or “Will I be liked?”. Don’t rush to skip over it, don’t rush to distract from it, don’t rush to do something to “get comfortable” or establish a reference point. Stay at sea, find that raw one or that aching one and let your attention go right into the heart of that place. Excruciate. Because that pain is unconsciously what you are living out of instead of freedom and love in that place. We work really hard below our awareness to keep ourselves from letting these ones surface, so if one does surface, what good fortune! Let it be here, it gets to be here too, not banished. This is how we grow solid legs under us, embodying freedom in the unknown, by staying right with the places that are wobbly. Because we are really meant to live here wide open! Softy, soft-hearted. Not sophisticated well-oiled steel machinery, but dorky, squishy and wide open. So open and softened that every nuance of living is felt all the way through the system, not paved over with asphalt.
As the Holy creates the world in each moment, the ground level of its expression is the field of vibration. Everything that you can see, everything that is, is made of vibration. Step back from thought, step back from seeing things as objects, and let yourself notice the hum, the vibration, the sensation of existing, of being. Without definition, without evaluation. It is impossible to be wrong. You just are.
It’s a given. It’s the gift of life. It’s the gift of existence. When we stay very close to this ground of being, this simple ground of presence and sensation, the Holy can create through us of its own accord rather than through our preconceived concepts.
We’ve often been confused, searching for a sense of “I” through thought’s eyes. But the sense of being is not in the head; it is directly experienced through your sense of felt existence. When you drop into the vibrating ground of being, into the most fundamental level of existence, the world of the Holy sings to you through the vibration in your cells. And beneath and all around, everything is rising out of and shot through with empty space.
Let yourself sink below the object level of things, toward this felt field. You’ll notice it feels three-dimensional. You’ll notice that attention can move to different parts of the body and you can sense the texture there. You may barely be able to tell that some parts of the body exist at all. They will feel spacious and open. Others will be asserting themselves through tension, often in the belly or the heart, but that tension can be anywhere. And throughout the body you may notice a kind of a felt hum, a hum of life energy, a hum of shakti.
Most of us have been conditioned to have our attention fused to the content of thought, to the reality that the mind creates. We look to thought to define us, to define others, and to define the world. But thought is delusional because it’s a representation of what is, and often many steps away from actual reality.
To allow attention to sink into felt experience is to say goodbye to the world of thought. At first we might take short trips to the realm of felt experience because we’re tired of the land of concept, and we’re willing to take a chance on something new. At some point we may be willing to say goodbye to the past, to the future, to our identity, to where we are, to what we are, to where we’re going or where we’ve been. We may be willing to experiment, to see what exists outside of thought.
Because of the strength of conditioning, we may think we are attending to felt sense when we are actually attending to some combination of felt sense and thought. Notice if any evaluation is happening: “Wow, I’m doing it. That’s my breath.” If there’s anything like that, a kind of reporting from your mind, it will sound like a sports announcer, up in the bleachers, reporting on rather than being immersed in actual experience.
Anytime you notice your attention floating up into thought, I invite you to return it to your felt experience. Let the body have breath. On the felt level of things, breath is a constant, incredibly multi-faceted experience, from the time it enters the body, fills the lungs, fills the belly, to its movement out. And let the body have ground through noticing your weight, softening and sinking. Notice where the body touches the chair, the earth, and soften there. Ground nourishes the creature and allows it to settle.
In your imagination or in your direct experience, let the boundary between body and atmosphere dissolve. Let attention and your felt experience start to feel a like an ocean, or a field, or like a spacious, vibrating cloud. See if you can simply allow yourself to sit there as a cloud of noticing space. Let all that rises come to this awareness that you are, from the feel of breath, to the sounds, to the sensation where your body touches your chair or your hands touch each other. Notice that sounds in the distance arise in your awareness just the same as the sensations in the body arise. When you sit as noticing space, all sensations are equal, though varied in texture. Let yourself not call any of it “you.” Or let yourself call ALL of it you. Sink all your attention into the feel of now, into the immediacy of breath and existence.
One of the biggest perceived obstacles we find when we explore this felt moment is pain, tension, and pent-up emotion. It is basically stopped-up, pressurized and repressed life energy. The potency and power of our life energy can feel uncomfortable, because we have been taught to distract from that intensity. When we take attention off of the mind-created world and sink it into this elemental hum, this creative matrix, we open ourselves to transformation. We say, “Here I am Holy power and potency, have me, have my life, have my creations. Remake me. Dissolve me. Live through me.”
This is not something that upper management would approve of. Wired into your survival system is the belief that your life depends on the continuation of your pseudo-reality and the energy management system that supports it. But your life does not depend on that. This system is obsolete and your life is right here, right now. Not down the road, not yesterday, and it’s not a continuum or a thread. It is a vibrating hall of present mystery–a masterpiece of immediacy, of the unknown, of utter possibility.
Exploring felt experience without the mind’s two cents starts to loosen the sense of ownership which is at the base of perceiving oneself as separate, and is the root of suffering. As identification with a particular “me” defined by particular thoughts loosens, the possibility of stepping into raw being can emerge, a way of being which is apart from having to be defined. To step completely away from identification is called freedom. It’s freedom from the dictates of mind, from the dictates of conditioning. You simply are.
In our culture, we think of knowing as a mental process. We think of knowing our name, our address, how old we are, and what our plan for the future is. Conditioning and that kind of knowing are in cahoots. Conditioning relies on you being divorced from your deeper embodied knowing of this moment, this life, this immediacy here and now.
There is a certain kind of knowledge that we have in our bones for having gone through an experience. Most of this knowledge is unspeakable, but it fuels deep grounded wisdom. What does a woman know in her body after she’s given birth? What does a veteran know from living through war? What do we know in our bodies after we’ve been through a dark time and come through to the light? The holy informs us through this field. This is why they call sages wise. Sages are beings who have plunged their attention away from the external world, away from the mind, and deeply into nowhere, into the felt hum where presence and sensation meet, and hover around the heart of the paradox of existence. There is an intelligence to this field, and we are, in reality, simply this field expressing itself.
Our life energy through conditioning has been distorted. It does not run in natural ways. Western white culture largely does not respect the intelligence and sovereignty of an infant’s cry, or of a child’s exuberance in the middle of church. We respect an externally created, fear-based order over the organic movements of nature, over things as they are, and over things in their wholeness and in their naturalness. Sages through time have talked about being simple and natural. They themselves have been described as being as simple as children, uncomplicated, and not moving from fear. Their responses in the moment are tailored to the moment, uninterrupted, and undistorted by conditioned ideas. There are layers and layers of falseness and delusion that keep us in prison and keep us using our life energy for something other than the simple expression of the Holy through our bodies.
Returning our attention to felt experience shines a light of love on the body and funds the creature with the treasure of our conscious awareness. The creature of the body takes on the brunt of conditioning–the brunt of stress, of harsh words and insensitive treatment. On top of this disregard for the creature, we attempt to get somewhere other than here that will be “better.” Thus our bodies tense and get sick over time because the queen has left the queendom; the king has left the kingdom. Attention and the rich backdrop of the vibrating Beloved has been abandoned for the god of our conditioning: mentation. The creature has been abandoned for a system of ideas. The body within conditioning is ailing. It is not seen for the amazing instrument that it is.
The body is a treasure to anyone who wants to live from what’s true. As the grosser energies of pain start to be digested, the body can begin to discern the subtle orders of the Beloved through a sense of aliveness. Attention returned to felt experience allows the body’s undigested, gummed-up emotional and energetic systems to be cleared out. When we put our attention on the body, it will tell us what it needs to do in order to untie a knot. The body will tell us how to move, when to curl up, when to dance, paint, stretch, run or weep.
Turning toward the body with tender attention is not for the faint of heart, and is often the last place we will turn. Usually we like the idea of fleeing the body to transcend this human mess. We hope that we can jump out of this humanness and simply be light. I invite the kindness and regard of turning toward and embracing, rather than turning away and fleeing.
This embrace is a way of transcendence through wholeness with nothing left out. In the end, we must be willing to mirror the unseen’s love for the seen by being willing to meet whatever is given at the body level. As we befriend the creature of the body, we discover a sane, felt capacity to open and soften. We can download light into flesh, and feel in the body the worlds of unseen and seen dancing together. This is a sweet way to be here on the planet. It is called the body of God. It is called wholeness. It is called heaven on earth.
Endlessly I gaze at you in wonder, blessed ones, at your composure,
at how in eternal delight you bear your vanishing beauty.
Ah, if only we knew how to blossom: our heart would pass beyond every small danger, and would find peace in the greatest danger of all.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
At a public gathering in my town’s plaza, two women pass me. The elder, who seems about 85 to 90, walks slowly, unsteadily, on sensible shoes. One of her slender, thin-skinned legs, bruised and dotted with age spots, is partially covered in knee-high panty hose, while the other is bare, the stocking fallen and gathered around her ankle. Her sparse white hair, somewhat disheveled, is loosely gathered at the back of her neck. Her frail arm stretches out, with her bony hand firmly grasping the arm of the other woman, who I assume is her daughter. The younger woman takes in the scene around her, while making herself wholly available to the older woman, putting aside any agenda she might have for herself. The mother relies utterly on her daughter’s strength, kindness and slowed pace. A tender closeness between them is palpable in the willingness of the daughter and the dependency of the mother as she clings to her daughter’s arm in much the same way the daughter must have clung to hers when she was too young to walk on her own.
Only a week before, my 7-year-old daughter, Sophia, brought up the topic of aging while we were walking. “Mama,” she observed, “old people are kind of like babies.” I asked her why. “Because they need help like babies. They cannot do things on their own. Sometimes they need help walking, some need helping eating, and some have to lie in bed and be changed like babies. It’s so sweet.” I asked her what she thought that would be like, and she replied, “I think it would be nice — like having servants.”
Most people experience being dependent as a humiliation rather than a treat, like my daughter does. Sophia’s innocent and positive view stands in marked contrast to the response of many people I know to the prospect of getting older and becoming dependent: “Shoot me first!” they exclaim. It’s as if the idea of becoming dependent on other human beings is so abhorrent that one would rather die a violent death than consider it.
How we value our independence, our strength and capability! How we prize our ability to do things for ourselves on our own, thank you very much. How we fear the fact that aging requires us to let down our walls, our protections, our pride, our privacy, and ask for and accept assistance. It lays wide open and bare the simple fact that we are not perfect islands unto ourselves, but fallible, sweet, interdependent beings in need. Aging asks us to open, to trust, to let go. It asks us to let others into our most private worlds and see us in our naked humanity.
Aging is life’s way of saying, “Last chance to realize what this is all about!” If one hasn’t been lucky enough to be humbled, softened and opened to one’s place in the interconnectedness of all things by parenthood, midlife crisis, illness, a failed relationship or two, or some other of life ’s challenges, aging certainly offers the opportunity in spades. Aging asks us to radically redefine who we take ourselves to be, after a lifetime perhaps of defining ourselves by what we can do. It invites us either to start defining ourselves by what we cannot do or to drop the defining altogether and allow ourselves to explore what it means to exist outside of definition, within the whole rather than separate from it.
Why should I write about aging? While I have not yet hit the deeper parts of aging that others around me have, despite my 44 years of experience in getting older, I have tasted enough to be intrigued by the rub of loss of youth that is just beginning for me. I felt like I was just about to find my groove until I gave birth to my daughter at the age of 36. Over the next few years it slowly dawned on me — as the soft saggy skin from my pregnant belly hung during yoga class, as I dropped into bed at the end of a working-mother day, as I glimpsed the chicken skin and wrinkles in the sunlit rearview mirror, as my child grew up and I grew tired — that gravity was calling me. Age spots like my grandmother’s started to appear on my face. The skin on my shoulders is turning from soft to dry and rough from the years of sun exposure. Now, I hold small print away from my eyes and have just purchased my first pair of “old lady” glasses, marking my entry into the realm of the aged. I started to hear inside my head something I ’d never anticipated: “You are too old to do that . . . to wear that . . . to say that . . .” When I ride my bike to work, I feel more like the Toto-hating Miss Gulch than I do a soaring bird or fit athlete.
I can feel the field of limitless possibility that is youth slipping away. The baseball players and movie stars on TV are starting to look like babies; the newscasters were born after my baby brother. The world is being taken over by the next generation, and I am not part of it. I am slipping out of it. I will not be world famous, I will probably not be much more of anything than what I am now. I am as beautiful as I will ever be, as strong as I will ever be, as capable as I will ever be. And I am fading into the past, while my daughter rises to greet the world. The world is going on without me — it does not need me to function, and I will likely disappear without having made much of a mark on it at all.
Oh, the small person in me does not like this. She was unconsciously betting on some future glory that would prove her excellence and importance. She doesn’t want to be one of the many unknown faces, one of the multitudes that live and die with little trace. She wants to be bigger than life, someone to take note of, making history. She wants superlatives: biggest, best, strongest, most beautiful. Life is a continual assault and insult to this one because unless we are lucky or delusional, we do not get to be the best at much of anything, or at least not for long. And aging is the final and most definitive insult. If we held out until now — either by large amounts of external success, achievement and prowess, or by ignoring the obvious fact that we as persons are insignificant grains of sand among the many — age and death will certainly rectify that. At some point there is no ignoring this, and the final settling with reality begins.
Do I need cheering up? An exercise program? A list of the pros of aging? Examples of women playing basketball, running marathons, looking smashing in their 70s? A lecture on rejoicing in my cronehood? Not at all. I want to face the gritty details of being in an aging body and touch that reality with tenderness. I have not found it useful to wave the flag of the bright side when darkness looms; darkness doesn’t go away by patting it on the head and telling it to go to its room, and the brightness of cheer is not the deep light for which I live. Aging is loss. Anything that I hold dearly that passes will invite my loosened grip. Aging is about getting weaker, saggier and wrinklier, losing faculties, and eventually dying and one ’s body rotting. I want to embrace this darkness; I want to hear the voice of loss, weakness and dying. I want to hear what it has to say and be reborn as a light that is not birthed of reassurance, but of synchronizing myself with what is real and surrendering to it. I want to be it all and know it all and kiss it all.
Aging is not a stranger, it is simply a more dramatic version of the same old friend whose face returns to us all throughout life in little and big ways — loss, death and resurrection. Rainer Maria Rilke advised: “Be ahead of all parting.” The more one has kept pace with the invitations that life offers along the way to grieve, open, be humbled and let go, the less settling of accounts must occur in order to meet the greatest invitation of all: to lose one ’s strength, prowess, capability and, finally, life. And to open and soften one’s heart in the face of it. Old age lays bare our vulnerability, our longing, our fear of each other, of ourselves. We cannot run, we cannot delude ourselves; we have to sit still and wrestle with and come to terms with the great mystery that this life is.
One invitation of being infirm is to be tender with ourselves. Not impatient, rejecting and judgmental, but tender. Aging invites us to learn self-acceptance and, with that, acceptance of all the parts of life as holy and worthy of our love. We are not worthy of love only for what we do and contribute, but worthy of love and tenderness because we are. Another invitation is to be humbled: we return to beginners, to not knowing. There is nothing we can use as a crutch to prop ourselves up and say, “See? I am worthy because I…” And we find ourselves worthy, as Sophia says, “Just because.”
We lose it all. If life let us keep it, we would not soften. We soften into the arms of life, into the arms of our caretakers. We let them love us. We let them have us. We let ourselves return to what we belong to, though we walled ourselves off from ever knowing that all along it owned us, this life, this clock ticking, this symphony of birth, death, living, dying, crying and loving.
We let it go, we open our hands, we let the bird fly away, we find the heart that lives through us, we find that we do belong, that we always did, that we are part of it, that it is OK. We are not special. We are not gods. We did not win a gold medal, write a famous novel; we will not go down in history. And it’s enough to have lived, to have done the best we could do, to have loved the best we could love, to be part of it all. Aging invites us to open to the truth that we are one, we belong to each other, we are here to be loved and to love.
Sophia and I play a game, where we take turns closing our eyes and leading each other around the neighborhood, up hills, through vacant lots, up onto the curb, down off the curb. She observed once during the game, “Mama, I trust you more than you trust me.” May I surrender and grow in this trust as I grow in years.
(c) Copyright 2006, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved. Originally published in The Eldorado Sun, August, 2006.
Tears are like the blessing of God on the Earth.
— Sophia, age 5
The heat of midnight tears will bring you to God.
–Mirabai, 15th-century Hindu poetess
If we didn’t have love, we wouldn’t have crying. It’s like a big wave in the big sea inside you pushes drops out of your eyes. They are like magical drops. It’s magical love. It’s not just love in your heart. It’s like an ocean of love.
— Sophia, age 8
If nature valued only the seasons of spring and summer and tried to suppress fall and winter, the planet would be in deeper trouble than it is now. Yet that is how our culture is emotionally oriented and how we are taught to orient to our lives.
We value the smile, the line on the graph that goes up, that which we can see as growing and building. We live in a loss-phobic culture, one that fights and denies the unknown. We devalue that half of reality — the line that goes down, the decay of fall, the dark of winter, and the seed under the ground whose progress we cannot see. The more we avoid the “dark” — loss, mystery, aging, fear, sadness — the more it becomes something to fear, something to avoid entering, something that’s an embarrassment if we linger too long in it.
Thus, despite the fact that we are born with a built-in healing process that allows us to grieve our losses and rest and deepen into our hearts, we are culturally conditioned against this experience through being taught to see crying as a sign of weakness. Weeping is considered something we should not do or, at minimum, as something we should do under certain extreme circumstances for a very short time period before we rise back up to reassure our void-phobic friends and family (never mind our void-phobic selves) that all is well. We have lost the ability to tolerate, let alone worship and reap the wisdom of, the dark half of life. From fruit on a tree to pregnancy, premature reaping leads to less than a full and ripe result. Humans who don’t regularly tap these depths end up unable to fully embody the deep relaxed wisdom that is our birthright.
Out of a collective fear of sadness and its call to depth, most of us were trained, and thus train our children, to look on the bright side, to keep on trucking, to distract or minimize loss, or to mentally “fix” it. As if one could force one’s self to stay on the bright side despite the pull of the body to go inward and down. As if putting our attention off of the losses of our lives makes them go away. It doesn’t. It makes them fester inside and cuts us off from our full, open hearts. It makes us sick, depressed, rigid and unfulfilled.
From some miracle or a penchant for exploring the uncharted territory of human experience, I figured out how to go down into the depths of my being and grieve anything I hadn’t fully grieved before I became a mother. Thus, my 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, sees crying as a beautiful thing and wishes she could teach everyone that it’s not only OK, it’s the key to her happiness, her love of herself and her lack of materialism.
Sophia is in charge of the blessing at dinner at our house, and most nights, it goes on without a hitch. She picks the song, and we sing, sometimes off-key, sometimes with hands folded and sometimes not, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, sometimes getting the words wrong, and generally having a grand old time. But there are nights when Sophia cannot be pleased, when no matter how the blessing goes, it is not right. This is her way of asking for a little time for the sadness she is carrying.
“Mama, you aren’t singing it right. Mike, your hands aren’t folded.” On and on this goes, her attempt to control our folly, until her frustration at our imperfection reaches a peak, and she leaves the room with a storm, generally upset and often crying. We do not help her by trying to be perfect and instead simply let her have her upset. We have learned that how the blessing goes is a barometer of how Sophia’s day at school has gone. Trouble with the blessing is her way of saying “I lost my way today and felt left alone. Help me to remember I’m part of the whole!”
As she moves further and further away, arms crossed, defending her right to her separation, I sweetly call her back: “Come and eat dinner!” After several tearful refusals, she eventually inches closer to the kitchen door, still bargaining to eat on the floor, to eat on my lap, fighting the surrender to humility and grief. Finally, after I have held my ground long enough, she bursts into tears, cries and cries and cries, and sits on me and cries some more. When she’s done, she wordlessly takes her seat and begins to eat.
It’s the same for adults: without this grieving, we might continue to see the world as not quite right, through the filter of our ungrieved losses. We might solidify our stance into a general attitude toward life that if we can get others to behave in certain ways, we will be happy. For Sophia, this is a temporary state, born of the hurt of the day — she knows in her body that her tears are the way back to her own sense that all is well no matter how others are behaving. If she wasn’t allowed it, she might harden her sensitivity, learn to walk by homeless people without feeling anything, learn to take and give abuse as if it was nature’s way.
Crying is a by-product of returning to the whole, of humbly giving up our insistence upon seeing ourselves as separate and therefore safe and protected inside our shells, in order to open to love and to our shared humanness and togetherness. Unexpressed hurt, and curling around that hurt, is what keeps us feeling apart from each other and from God. It is a stored-up argument with things as they are: “I am mad at the world because it hurt and left me. The world should not be like that! I’m taking myself away from it!” To admit we long to return to connectedness is to open and let our pride fall to humility. To risk and once again know ourselves as the whole we need to face the hurt, which often shows up as crying.
Although certain mystical experiences can evoke tears of joy, weeping is usually a result of some kind of loss, whether it is a deep grief about losing a loved one or a momentary grief about temporarily losing connection with one’s at-one-ness with the universe through some painful event. Touching the hurt and letting the tears come softens and opens us. It returns us to an openhearted, present state, dissolving the veils that seem to separate us from the rest of the world. Loss after loss after loss happens to us on this planet, and most of us have not been allowed to feel the deep pain of them. Each loss not grieved then can harden a piece of the heart, send another wall up between us and the rest of creation. As we harden to the hurt we fear, we also harden to the joy that is possible. Crying shakes us open and keeps us current with things as they are by allowing us to move through the temporary pains of the past into the actuality of the present, back to a place of love .
Many of us as adults have lost our way back to our tears, even when the situation and our bodies call for them. As well, most have lost our knowledge of how to be with another in pain. We have learned mostly to stuff our tears or, if we still have the ability to cry, to cry alone. Inside we find a message from long ago that says there is something wrong with us if we are weeping. And if we do start to cry while sharing in another’s company, often we feel we should choke back the tears and keep on with the goal of talking. What would happen if we took a moment to cry and then resumed the conversation?
What if we let our hearts break, like a child does when she loses her first balloon, crying as if her poor tiny heart will break in two; breaking apart — feeling the wanting and feeling the loss — open-eyed, watching the parting? When we allow ourselves to stay in the experience of pain until we reach the bottom of our tears, we find our natural stopping point, and the return is complete. There is nothing stuffed into a dark closet to be frightened of later. The dark is our friend; it rejuvenates us. Experiencing pain and allowing it to shake us open restores our deep sense of connection to the heart of emptiness and thus the fullness of love.
(c) Copyright 2008, Jeannie Zandi, All rights reserved. Originally published in The Sun Monthly, January, 2008.
The body is a device to calculate
The astronomy of the spirit.
Look through that astrolabe
And become oceanic.
— Jelaluddin Rumi
There was a moment in the twilight of my girlhood when, working with my father to rake and transport leaves and brush to a pile for burning, I stood in the back of a small trailer full of leaves, sweaty and happy. As I felt the sun on my naked upper body a car passed, and I hoped that the occupants would see how strong I was. This first conscious conception I had of my body was of something strong and able, a vehicle for working, doing, running and performing in sports. How lovely to jump from stone to stone, enjoying my body’s agility! What a sense of mastery to be able to lift heavier and heavier bags of groceries and bring them in from the car for my mother.
At some point, my body became a flag to wave for attracting men to be close to, which led me into many explorations of sensuality and physical closeness. Later, when the labor pains shook my belly and my breasts were filled with milk, this body became a portal through which another being entered and was sustained in this world. With the energetic opening that began with conception and continued through pregnancy, childbirth and into my early mothering, I became aware of my body as a window into the Divine, as a receiver of energetic transmissions from the Holy and a vehicle for its expression.
For the nine months of pregnancy and several years after the birth of my daughter, there was an incessant knocking on the door of my body in the form of a strong tension in my solar plexus and a deep sense of anxiety that pervaded my daily life. There was no explanation, no information given, just an energetic stalking. Today I can see that the tension was an invitation to leave behind a small sense of self and open into knowing myself as love, but at the time, it felt like a hostile force.
Most everyone I work with or know has a sense of a place in the body that is periodically, regularly or chronically filled with some kind of tension, and occasionally it can reach such an incessant feverish pitch that it becomes a daily haunting. These places, whether mild or urgent, are signaling where the incoming energy of life is hitting some old fight in the body. Some place that says “No!” and generally has a very anti-life stance about it. Life is getting our attention through this energetic persistence by saying, “Here! Here! Notice this!” Energy is wanting to flow through us; life is calling us to open.
Throughout the next few years, there were times that there was so much energy moving through my body that I felt as if I was radiating from within and also receiving this illumination from without (words are difficult here). I remember one night camping in a tent when I was sure there was a nuclear power plant buried under the ground beneath me. The birth, plumbing the depths of the tension and anxiety, and the endless streaming energy all served to open my body, to sensitize it and to bring it sensationally into the present. It was as if my whole instrument had become made of the tender flesh of my softest heart.
The unfolding of love in a human being takes place through the body. When our attention is not on mind chatter and conceptual reality (reality as the conditioned mind sees it), it can slip into sensation and presence and actually feel the currents of energy being offered to the being. Life (God, existence) is continually inviting us — all parts of us — into now at deeper and deeper levels. The body, as it opens, is available to being nourished by the energy of life, the streaming light available in the atmosphere as we are connected to all that is. When we are closed through tension and bodily holding patterns, we essentially are saying “No!” to life, to love and to our own evolution. This energy that is offered, which I experience as love, seems to want to penetrate our cells, our organs and our entire beings — our job is simply to receive it. As we open our bodies, we physically say “Yes!” to being here, to allowing our bodies to dissolve energetically into the whole of creation.
My body has become a dependable barometer. I can tell in and through it and its responses a lot of things about people and their states — I can tell when someone is lying, faking, needs to cry, is exhausted. I can sense another being’s trauma in my own body. At a retreat recently a man was talking in a slightly tight and heady voice. My body knew a lot just from the way his voice impacted me, and I chose to share a small phenomenal piece of that: “My stomach hurts,” I offered. He noted that his did, too, and he sank deeper into anger and sadness. My stomach relaxed. When I work with people in person or on the phone, I can feel where the unfolding of love wants to happen in their bodies by where my body picks up tension from them.
To follow the prompting of love, all that is required is to let one’s attention go to the strongest sensation in the body and pay attention there, without needing to understand it or change it. Normally we are at war with those places, banishing them, ignoring them, or being downright nasty at them, seeing them as the problem. The longer and more fervently (albeit unconsciously) we fight against knowing ourselves in union with all that is, the more it hurts. Instead, we can simply “attend” — feel into the simple sensational quality of that place without judgment, requirement or an agenda. Something wants to unfold. Paying attention to any images or words that arise, how the energy moves, or how the sensations change allows the energy to slowly open the body to its penetration.
The way back to union and to knowing ourselves as all that is, is to connect with this body, with the felt sense of the body and what it’s like in this moment to be present physically. We were taught that discomfort, especially emotional discomfort, is something to solve, a sign we are bad, or at least evidence that we are missing the mark. We fight discomfort, avoid it, distract ourselves from it. We hold our bodies stiffly, in a controlled manner, unlike how our bodies moved freely and openly as children, moving about the space as if we owned it, as freely mobile beings. We think that somehow this rigid holding we call protection actually makes us safer, when in fact it’s a healthy response to an old experience that is frozen in the body, but it is no longer needed in the present.
Discomfort is the very edge of the known where it merges with the unknown. And in the unknown lies our liberation. This tension is an engraved invitation to transformation, a sign that something is calling and wanting to be given. Opening the body opens the being. As we relax into that, we discover that our felt sense of ourselves does not support this separate view of “me.” We can simply open to the sensations and let that lead us somewhere the mind could never predict.
All of this unfolding in the body seemed to lead me into connecting my experience with spiritual understanding after the fact. For example, once at a conference I attended the workshops of two very well-known presenters. At the time I didn’t know what I was discerning — I only knew that the one fellow, an author whom I had read, had the spiritual lingo down but left me with a feeling of “Where’s the juice?’ The second was the poet David Whyte — the aliveness of his soul permeated the room at his first wordless glance around at those who had gathered to listen. It wasn’t until later that I had the information to understand what I had only sensed at that conference: that there are those who have taken the teachings further into their bodies than others. Around beings who have embodied the deep teachings of reality, our bodies respond below our awareness. “Yum!” they say. “Delicious!” Jesus wasn’t kidding around when he invited everyone to eat of his body, and loaves and fishes may not have been referring to the food we eat through our mouths. Thousands can feed energetically from one being who is resting in reality completely and bodily.
As I came in contact with varied teachings and teachers, I saw that hidden within some traditions, or some people’s interpretations and passing on of teachings, was a subtle (and at times not so subtle) hatred and fear of the body. “You are not the body” is an expression of truth — however, we must make sure in noticing and peeling away identification with the body that we do not curse it, that we do not shove it away as something that is not holy, that we do not skip steps and end up faking or settling for a mere mental understanding of what sages are pointing to.
We are not the body, and we are completely the body. To hide one’s distaste for the body in that truth (that we are not the body) smacks of a lack of embodiment that any spirit-in-a-body that is tuned well can pick up easily. Bodies like to be around other bodies that are grounded in spirit. A teaching that is delivered without the intimacy of an embodied spirit is empty and lacking juice. Transcending the body does not happen through sneering at it or ignoring it, but through completely welcoming it and living through it. Spiritual insight must be brought down from the mind into the cells to open the body to now, to live it with each breath and movement.
So right now, let your body soften and open to the sweetness of being. Let yourself imagine that with the breath, the nourishment in the atmosphere can be carried into every cell. It’s as though the cells have mouths that can open and drink in the energy in fresh air, sunshine, the quiet. Let yourself sit as a salt doll that has been placed in the ocean, letting the ocean of the air around you dissolve you into itself. If we don’t open our eyes or refer to concepts about things, we can actually experience ourselves as space, as one with the atmosphere around us, and feel the energetic currents as they move right through us. With this opening, we take in the new and cleanse the old, preparing ourselves to be fed by the wisdom and love of now. Let every hair and cell and freckle and tight spot and pain be welcome.
We often treat our dogs better than these sweet bodies. You might even bring a hand and rest it on your body as in a gesture of “Ah, you sweet, dear creature.” Sweet body that’s been here in every now. Sweet body that’s absorbed the shocks of every now. Sweet, slow body that does not move at the speed of mental leaping and disembodied will. Sweet body that gets to come along as the portal to this divine love. Let the dear, soft animalness of the body be allowed into the moment, into the room, into your life. Let it take up space, uncurl and open to the shining that’s here, like a cat stretching in the sun.
(c) Copyright 2008, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved. Originally published in The Sun Monthly June, 2008.