WHAT YOUR BODY KNOWS
By Johanna Putnoi
Look around you:
What do you see?
What do you hear?
Be aware of your skin:
How does it feel?
Inside your mouth:
What is the taste?
What do you smell?
There are as many tones of sensation as there are tones of sound or hues of color. A magnificent symphony of sensation is playing in your body right now. You can enjoy this body music when you learn to allow your attention to drop from your mind into your body, expanding your awareness into every cell.
You were born to take in in-formation from the world in order to make sense of your place in it. You eat food in order to keep your body alive. In the same way, each of your senses can work like a mouth, taking different kinds of information into your body to nurture it. You have the innate ability to swallow down into your very insides the most precious experiences that each of the senses provides. You have the capacity to receive.
We have come to believe that what we see with our eyes is most real because we think it is objective. This belief illustrates the division between psyche and soma, that age-old dilemma that pits ecstatic experience against moral law and ultimately fosters a deep sense of separation.
Unfortunately, in the West we generally learn at an early age to separate the language of the body from the thoughts of the mind, and then to believe the mind:
“I’m from Missouri — show me,” we say. “I only believe what I see with my own two eyes.” This statement really means “I only believe the interpretation my mind gives me after it digests the information I received through my eyes.”
But seeing with the eyes is not the only way to know the world. We have five physical senses — sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch — and a latent intuitive sense. The senses are a primary part of human communication. They provide an experiential feedback system that informs us about ourselves and the intentions of those around us. Unselfconscious responsiveness lives in the realm of the senses. When we add the intention of being present to our sensate experience, moment by moment, we can learn to shift our awareness from thinking to sensation and feel how deeply healing natural embodiment is.
When we bring awareness to our senses and our instincts, we discover what it means to be human. But our humanity is forced underground when we denigrate the body as the prisoner of the soul — when we label it “dangerous,” “dirty,” “sinful,” “too fat,” “too thin,” “ugly,” “great looking,” or “plain.” These labels reflect the point of view that encourages us to manipulate our body like an object that needs to be exercised and disciplined. Sadly, few have learned to respectfully include the authentic natural intelligence of the body as a fundamental source of our experience.
If we are not attentive to our senses and instincts, language takes the place of experiencing. “Tree,” we say and pass by without taking in the smell of the leaves, the texture of the bark, the hugeness of this living thing that stands for years without needing to remember itself. “Da Vinci,” we say, and pass by without noticing the enigmatic images on the canvas or whether there is meaning for us here. “Police officer,” we say, as we suck in our breath and hurry by without noticing if he or she is on duty, smiling, tired, or looking for offenders.
Language tends to separate us from bodily life. Instead, try seeing without naming. Hearing without naming. Sensing without naming. When we extend what the Buddhists call unconditional regard to another, body to body, reality is no longer informed so much by ego. We enter a place where time slows down, where colors and scents affect us in a different way. This is the world below rational thought. In this place our gut tells us that we are all made of the same stuff.
Try now to experience this feeling for yourself:
Close your eyes and relax the muscles surrounding them.
Open your eyes and let them settle on a flower.
Imagine your eyes are a mouth.
Swallow down into your body only what you love to see.
Take these images into your tissues.
Let them swim in your blood.
This technique is the key to your empathic sense — your connection to all things.
I call this intrinsic intelligence natural embodiment. We are naturally embodied when we can experience sensate pleasure on a regular nonsexual basis, when we can deeply relax into ourselves, when we can give freely to other people and receive from them easily, when we know the difference between hedonism and authentic pleasure.
Johanna Putnoi is a dancer, writer, and somatic educator who has been leading workshops in applied somatics, the movement arts, Lomi work, and the enneagram for more than 20 years. This article is excerpted from her book, “Senses Wide Open: The Art and Practice of Living in Your Body” (Ulysses Press), available from booksellers nationwide. For information, visit www.sensesopen.com .
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