For many years I sought ways to access “out of body” experiences. I had the idea that the way to gain enlightenment was by somehow shedding as much of my physical as possible. I grew up in a generation where “out of body” experiences were highly touted as being the gateway to higher planes. Hence various styles of meditation, long term fasting, sleep deprivation, use of hallucinogenic drugs, frenzied dance and chanting were all techniques promoted to accomplish a “higher state of consciousness”. I had determined, through reading Eastern philosophy, that attachments to the material world served as a hindrance to spiritual progress. It seemed a natural correlation then, for me to determine the physical body as an extension of the material world, and thereby something that needed to be overcome, let go of, or at the very least ignored. I did not want to be too attached, or vain.
There was the other popular supposition, gained, I guess, through religious connotation, about the necessity of giving up one's ego, or ego-death. How easy it is to misinterpret the true meaning of such cliches so often bandied about! For years, I unconsciously associated “ego ” with my physical self. This was, again then, something I needed to overcome by finding some way to bypass physical needs. Learning to live as an ascetic, even in a state of deprivation, became an ideal. Unfortunately, it seemed, I found it impossible to “get over” my bodily cravings and concerns. The more I fasted, the more obsessed with food I became. The more I used “consciousness-expanding” techniques, the more my life revolved around finding better methods for “getting out there”. But no matter how “high” I got, there was always the moment when I had to come back into an aching, hung-over, reality that I didn't want to face. My body became an uncomfortable place, full of human frailties that I didn't want to claim, reminders that I was far from the spiritual “nirvana” I so desired. If I could just get out of my body and stay there, then I could let go of this ego ridden plane of materialism, and attain the enlightened state I sought, or so I thought!
“We are spiritual beings having a human experience”. This quote from Ram Dass suggests that we came here to take on human form. Is it possible that the body is supposed to serve as our vehicle for evolution? That it's not just some kind of God-ordained punishment of being trapped in a form we then have to spend a lifetime trying to escape? What if we took on this physical form in order to more fully experience our Source? What if embodiment is even necessary in order to know God? That our bodies are the tool we have been given in order to experience, express and celebrate our Creator's presence in our lives? How much more we might honor and respect this piece of equipment if we upheld it as having a rightful place in our spiritual process! For truly, this has been my own personal revelation. After years of attempting to escape the body – without success; I have come to see it as that which houses the memory of my essence. The body stores within its biology every event, every situation, every experience of my life! These things are not stored in my brain, for our physicists have now established that the mind does not reside there, but throughout the body, in its organs, and cellular tissue. So when we say we are having a gut reaction to something, it's literally true! When we say our heart aches, it's because it does. The ascribed organ is the physiological location of that particular emotional experience. And it becomes our challenge to recognize these tangible messages and learn to give them expression, in essence, to dialogue with our bodies. This is the conclusion I've reached through years of my own and the exploration by others, in personal growth and clearing work. It actually becomes necessary to center oneself more in the body, rather than get out of the body.
Getting in touch with our body requires the ability to “Be here now”, another Ram Dass aphorism. What does it mean to be here now? It connotes being fully present… in this moment, awake to everything going on, around, and within you. Impossible? Well, we have certainly surrounded ourselves with enough distractions and anesthetizations which serve to keep us unconscious, out of body and asleep. Everything from the junk food we eat, to the hectic schedules we keep, work at keeping us out of touch with ourselves and our world.
Each of us have moments we like to recall as magical, like stillpoints in time. That afternoon you spent with the love of your life, when there was only you and him (or her), the blue sky, or the fire crackling, the birds singing. Extraordinary moments when time seemed to stand still, when your senses were heightened, when not a scent or sight was overlooked or taken for granted, when everything worked. That's what it is like to be fully present in a positive sense. And being connected to our body is essential in order to have such moments. Only then, are we able to fully feel our experience. Of course, there are traumatic moments we may remember as well, when time stops and we recall blow by blow, as if it were happening in slow motion, a sequence of painful events. Wartime veterans often describe a loss of the state of feeling fully alive and vital which they were able to experience only under the threat of impending danger. During such times of threatened safety, they were able to experience an exhilarated animation missing from their day to day lives. Upon their return home, vets may find themselves struggling with depression as much from the loss of that state of being, as from the memory of the unbearable adversity they endured. Being fully present isn't about feeling perpetual joy, it is about being in a state of vital alertness!
Feelings have been given a bad rap, therefore we have learned to avoid them. Many of us shut down to our body's experience, to our feelings, both physically and emotionally, because we are afraid of pain. There are those who shut down feelings by living strictly through their intellect. Others keep constant melodrama going in their lives. Both are styles of avoidance. Pain has long been something to be overcome in our culture. Millions of dollars are spent yearly in researching more effective pain killers. This attitude encourages a disregard for the therapeutic benefits of pain.
We're told that what we feel doesn't matter. We learn to control our uncomfortable feelings by limiting our breath. In doing so, we disconnect from our body sensations and experience. Without body awareness we are unable to know what is going on within ourselves. These unacknowledged and unexpressed feelings accumulate in the very cellular fiber of our anatomy to become compressed energetic pockets of pain, often physical in nature. Blockages are then created which affect our spontaneity, creativity and mobility. Pain is the body's signal that a block has been encountered which needs to be addressed and possibly released through expression.
Many health care providers are now realizing the mind/body connection. We can no longer separate our health care delivery system into specialized compartments. Healing emotional wounds (my area of specialty) requires inclusion of a process for physically releasing those traumas which are stored in the cells. Body workers often encounter an emotional release when working with a client. In the same way, I have found over and again, that no real shift occurs in a client – emotionally or mentally, until their issues are addressed in the body as well.
Interestingly enough, my personal process of healing emotional issues around rejection and self doubt brings me more and more home into my body. The clearer I become, the more grounded and centered I am. I notice a decrease in stumbling, knocks and bruises. It is simple. There is somebody home now! I've developed respect for what goes on in my body. I cannot tell you how many times chronic back pain was alleviated once I got that unresolved burden “off my back”. Or, having finally spoken my truth, my throat clears up. Our emotions are carried in the body. Not only that, but every incident we have lived through, if not released, is stored in the form of blockage within our physical structure.
We have three responses to any kind of trauma in life. We either fight, take flight, or freeze. To fight or take flight are both ways of dissipating the adrenalin surge that accompanies any kind of threat to well-being we may encounter in life. But when we freeze, even though to do so may save our life, the adrenalin surge does not get discharged. It becomes crystalized in the body as an energetic blockage which interferes from that moment forward with our ability to live free and unrestainedly in the present. We become like a deer – frozen in the headlights, going through our lives immobilized, often re-creating again and again, the unresolved trauma of that past event until we can somehow go back in and complete that energetic release.
As we become increasingly aware of the important role our body plays in healing the mind, we begin to seek modalities that incorporate a wholistic approach. Such practices as yoga, massage, dance and the martial arts begin to be recognized as essential body therapies. And psychotherapy that includes breathwork, and or unwinding techniques such as those taught by physical therapist John Barnes in Myofascial Release becomes an important part of healing. It is time for us as individuals to understand that having an in body experience is the way to find not only ourselves, but also our Source.