Updated: May 8
In this culture, we live trapped in the invisible prison of our heads. Everywhere we look, in the very conventions of our language, we see the elevation of reason and ideas over intuition and direct experience; of the head over the body. In this agreed-upon "reality," this way of living, lost in thought, seems normal. We treat our bodies like pesky animals, or sex-objects, burdens, or work-machines to be refueled. Our faces are manipulating masks. We ruminate endlessly about problems, real and imagined, and avoid really feeling in the core of our being. Thoughts, stories, ideas and media substitute for real aliveness.
This isn't nature, this is culture, and it is suffering. We are lost in a world fashioned of our own projections, caught in endless doing, self-exiled from our natural state of effortless being. This sense of disconnection from our own sacred human bodies, from our own wholeness, is the root of our sense of disconnection from the whole world. Fractured self, fractured world.
The path back to wholeness begins with this breath, this body, this moment. In Buddhism, the first foundation of mindfulness is the body. Simply coming back again and again to the sensations of the body and breath, I am surprised and delighted at the ever-changing symphony of experience that is happening all the time right under my nose, while I am lost in some day-dream or nightmare. Dedicated practices of mindfulness and meditation help restore us to wholeness, to vibrant connection with all that is.
But what about when we get up from the cushion and go out into the world? What happens when we speak and relate? How can we stay in that state of connectedness, of integration? I have trouble bridging that mysterious experience of aliveness into social interaction and personal expression. The habitual patterns of seeking control and approval, of creating a pleasing self, reassert themselves. I find myself on automatic, acting out the familiar arrogance and anxiety of the separate self.
I read an interview with a teacher, Philip Shepherd, (this says it all better than I can: http://philipshepherd.com/the-sun/) that illuminated this predicament so poignantly for me, that I attended a workshop with him called Radical Wholeness. Through breath, movement, expression and many ingenious experiential exercises, we learned to inhabit our bodies, our bellies, the very roots of our being. We remembered our wholeness, feeling the centers of the belly, heart and head connected, harmonious.
I was astonished to discover the profound and powerful intelligence in the belly. Like the rest of the culture, I defined intelligence as abstract reasoning. Philip defines it simply as sensitivity. When I inhabited my belly, when I knew and saw and felt and moved from there, I recognized states of awareness that used to take me at least a week of silent meditation to reach. The experience in the belly is of already completeness, unity, infinity; and deep, unshakeable peace. What a relief to come home.
What really blew my mind and integrated the experience was learning to express myself from my wholeness. Philip was not satisfied with any pleasing surfaces and challenged each of us to let life flow freely through us, without managing the result. When my voice finally roared and rolled out of me from the very depth of my whole integrated being it was a huge catharsis. The weight of 30 plus years of self-consciousness and white-knuckling the steering wheel were suddenly totally absent, and the sun-sized fire of aliveness that was underneath was blinding. Here is where language fails me. When I remember that experience, the discursive mind is struck dumb.
Suffice to say that this taste of authentic, fearless, embodied life-expression is precious to me, and I want more. I want to learn to live that way- fully present, listening, allowing the waves of life and experience to flow through me without resistance, without clinging, without getting distracted in thought, or making a story about it. I want to be free. Free of fear and manipulating, free of self-consciousness and controlling, free of the anxiety and pervading sense of perpetual lack that are part of the belief in the separate self.
Though we may express it in varied terms, it is what we all want, in our heart of hearts. Sure, the ego would love to have all pleasure and no pain, and have everybody love and approve of it. But something deeper is steering. Our souls want to grow, to be free, and to live and love fully. That is what we will ask ourselves on our deathbed; “Have I given and received love fully? Have I lived authentically? Have I been truly alive and truly myself?” I want to have no regrets.
This inimitable teacher, Philip Shepherd offers workshops worldwide. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have just completed teacher training and will begin to offer the workshop as well.
Here, Shepherd speaks to how we live trapped in our heads, disconnected from our bodies: "Because we falsely believe disconnection to be a desirable state, we spend much of our lives working to achieve it. We daily disconnect from process in favor of convenience. We disconnect from the consequences of our actions in favor of personal profit. We disconnect from our neighbors in favor of privacy, unaware that the word ‘privacy’ is a cousin to ‘privation’. We disconnect from our bodies in favor of the simplistic preserve of ideas. We disconnect from our heart’s longing in favor of security and career advancement. Our lives often feel unsatisfying and confusing, but we hang in there, believing that disconnection equals freedom – while all the world cries out that disconnection is freedom’s opposite. To disconnect as we do is to invite into our lives the tyrant’s anxieties, the tyrant’s insatiable acquisitiveness, the tyrant’s frightfully confined world. These traits are all too familiar to us, as is the staleness they instill.
All of our tendencies towards disconnection are merely extensions of our relationship with our bodies. But there is a deeper reason that our disconnection from the body is so injurious to all: when you disconnect from your body, you are disconnecting from the richest and most tangible reality of your being. To do that habitually – to cut yourself off from the reality of your being habitually – is to alienate yourself from being. When you are alienated from being, you can never feel truly secure, because the foundation of true security is a security of being – an experience of your reality in all its fullness. It’s what you discover when you come home to the body, and feel the self as a whole, and come to rest within it that whole in the timelessness of the present and the world to which it belongs. There is simply no substitute – not even in all the amassed conquests and acquisitions on which the tyrant fixates. If you are not grounded in that security of being, an undercurrent of anxiety will run through all that you undertake – gnawing at you even when you just sit still. That is the condition to which we consign ourselves by living in the head."
Urgyen Rinpoche said, ”Samsara (the wheel of suffering) is mind turned outwardly, lost in its projections; Nirvana (freedom from suffering) is mind turned inwardly, recognizing its true nature." Here mind refers to pure awareness, not something that is confined to the cranium.