Hello Body, we meet again.
Hello Body, we meet again.
This piece is part of a series meant to give readers an inside view of the Clearing the Lens Retreat held in June. The workshop was led by Aaron Stern, president and founder of the Academy For the Love of Learning ®, and Marianne Murray, a member of the core faculty at the Academy. They were joined by Namchak Foundation’s founder, Lama Tsomo, who shared Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices during the workshop. Similar retreats will be offered in the future.
Over time, a lot of us become somewhat estranged from our bodies. I don’t have kids, but throughout my life I have had many childcare jobs. The children I took care of were not afraid to identify and describe new and different feelings. Over time, we often come to believe that we should push feelings aside, then complete the tasks of life.
This becomes problematic as a lot of those feelings are keys to useful information. We may end up moving through life ignoring the messages our bodies are sending, and interacting without fully understanding what’s going on inside. Consequently, we often view others and interpret our situations incorrectly. The Clearing the Lens Retreat in June provided participants useful exercises to gain awareness of those feelings and practice relational skills.
At the start of the retreat, Aaron informed us that we would be moving slowly through the weekend. He wanted us to have time to feel our bodies’ responses to certain exercises, discuss those responses and move/speak accordingly. I often feel rushed, so it was calming to have permission to be thoughtful and to think and feel before being asked to speak. That theme of pausing and scanning our bodies before and while we interacted continued throughout the weekend and led to valuable takeaways.
One participant’s major takeaway was that “the body holds the score,” similar to the fascinating and helpful book, “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. When we are triggered, we get an identifiable feeling in some part of our body. The goal is to identify and use the somatic feeling as information to better move through difficult interactions or situations.. For example, when I need to speak up or say something that may make someone else uncomfortable, I feel a tightness in my throat and have a heavy feeling in my gut. My habit is to ignore that and focus on other people. As you can imagine, that habit ultimately leads to more difficult situations and a lot of uncomfortable emotions hanging out in my body. If we can identify the feeling, then what do we do with it?
Another valuable point Aaron and Marianne made was that we have the power to intervene in our habits and change our patterns. Aaron used the analogy of a pianist playing the wrong note and learning to play the correct note. The pianist MUST slow down their hands to play the correct note. Similarly, we have to slow down our interactions and not be on autopilot. So how does that look in real life? For me, when I feel that tenseness in my throat and gut, I first identify, “Uh-oh, this means I have a choice coming. I can do what I always do, or I can make a different choice and speak up.” I practiced this in a few exercises at the retreat, which was great because they weren’t high-stakes conversations where I felt relationships at risk. Currently, my goal is to stop for a moment or two when I get that feeling during daily interactions, then choose how to respond and eventually use that skill in high-stakes discussions.
To summarize, first we must identify the feeling. We can draw inspiration from most children as they are usually curious and observant of their bodies. Once we identify a feeling and where it’s occurring, we can decipher the message it’s sending. Finally, we choose how we respond. Just as the pianist’s fingers have to slow down to play the correct key, we have to slow down to feel, contemplate, and choose how we respond. At times it may seem painstakingly slow, as is learning any new skill. But the alternative is to stay exactly the same and miss out on seeing ourselves and others as they truly are. We clear the lens again and again.
To begin getting back in touch with the body, participate in this guided body scan meditation with Lama Tsomo.