December 12 – Body Integration This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?
There really comes a time, during a long, repetitive drive through farmland and tiny towns, when nothing can hold your attention. Sure, the first few times along the same route, you notice new things - the purple fences of a horse farm proudly owned by a woman, the water tower painted to resemble a basketball, the cobblestones of a famous central square. And as you continue along the way, you get to the small, changing details. The trees as they begin to sprout leaves. Roads under construction. Product being moved. You create mystery around a large house that always seems to be empty.
The open road, no matter how worn, becomes a landscape of story.
Each house gains fictional occupants, their tales updated on each trip. You note a new car or one missing. The farms you pass begin to spout crops, and watching them grow as you pass each weekend is much better than looking at pictures in a textbook. Soy is short and leafy. Corm has a single, central leaf that points to the sun. Wheat waves. No background in farming, but you can pick out what’s growing and what stage it’s at by sight simply by listening to stories your father tells about his teen summers spent on an uncle’s farm.
Even then, with the stories and the mystery and the growth all around, your attention wains. There simply is no way to recapture your initial excitement over new discoveries, no way to go back to those first few trips.
(And later on, when you’re no longer making the trip, when you’ll never make it again, you will feel nostalgic and wish for just one more drive.)
For me, there is always Mind and Body, two separate parts operating in sync, like dancers in a pool - perfect form, timing, and execution by a disconnected pair. This comes from the pain I feel on a daily - secondly - basis, that never-ending battle between what the mind wants and what the body can deliver. A war has been waging that my brain seems to be losing, or at least has become disheartened that no amount of positive thinking will make the pain fully disintegrate.
A few years ago, I ventured into Wrigleyville in Chicago to practice zazen (meditation & chanting) at a Zen Buddhist Temple. I’ve always been a fan of Japan, especially their language and culture, and thought this would bring it all together with the budding spirituality I was beginning to reconnect with. Upon arrival, I was taken into a room under the stairs that had been converted into a solitary meditation room - small yet plush, with deep red fabrics, candles on shelves, and the stormy smell of incense. My instruction in the proper way to meditate took only twenty minutes, but they felt like five.
It is a practice I’ve adopted and used ever since.
Perhaps there are other ways to do it - I don’t know. What I do know is that, when practiced in conjunction with the deep, mindful breathing exercise I learned from a healer two years ago, I can literally feel the pain just melt away. Two minutes to me turns out to be ten, a phenomenon I never have figured out. And here I thought time would last longer, not contract, while I was trying to focus on nothing!
On one drive out, I sat in the backseat, leaned my head against the window, and closed my eyes. Slowed my breathing. There’s a single point, right at the center of your vision, when you close your eyes, that I find easy to focus on when meditating. Others count their breath, or touch together their fingertips, but I direct my eyes to that point and focus and find I daydream less. My breathing deep (four counts in, four counts held, four counts out, four counts held out), I allowed my consciousness to sink into my body.
Without a mind to focus on events, to process a sound to the point of blocking out others deemed unimportant, I felt bombarded. There was simply too much going on! I felt overwhelmed by the seemingly quiet car becoming a un-synchronized symphony, a mess of noise now uncoordinated by a conscious, comprehending mind. Each came at me at equal level, revealing that noise I’d simply closed my ears to.
And touch! The feel of the cool glass against the side of my face. The exact plushness or hardness of the seat I sat in. The way the edge of the seatbelt rubbed against me. My fingertips against jeans. Feet on the floor. Even my socks and the feel of them inside my shoes.
Traditional Zen meditation has you working with your eyes open, but after those first few moments of bombardment, I was frightened to take in anything else. There was simply so much in the world happening, all in the small swirl of that little car zooming down a highway! So much that people miss every day! Have you any idea how much is truly happening in the world around you?
I sat with these sounds and feelings and scents for a few minutes, letting them drift through my mind, letting them come as waves. They soon quieted a bit, my mind now used to the blankness I’d achieved.
(And yet, I can remember, with clear detail, my amazement at how much was happening, and how I wanted to clamp my hands over my ears!)
There was no dichotomy, here. I simply floated along on the air - part of the air, of the seat, of the car. I remembered science lectures in school, how we’re not a true solid, not really. That when our hands touch something, they’re actually hovering, exchanging atoms with the item we feel at our fingertips. In that moment of meditation, I felt myself give and take and become all around me.
I melted into my pain and let it fade. I let myself open and connect with a Divine source, and felt the arms of love around me.
All in the backseat of a car.
I remember my healer saying to me, when I told her I didn’t meditate because I didn’t have an empty space to do it in properly all the time, “You can meditate anywhere. In a chair.” She flopped into a chair. “Just like this. Eyes closed. You don’t have to have a certain kind of music playing or complete silence. Who says you do? Meditate how you can, as much as you can.”
I certainly took her advice.
And learned a new wonder of the world I, like many, unconsciously yet mostly ignore.