At the dentist's office the other day with my son, I learned that he needs a complicated and expensive procedure to rebuild and crown one of his precious teeth (he was born with only a few adult tooth buds). His insurance refused to cover the job. (My desert-like bank account can't cover it, either.)
While the dentist was finishing the exam, I sat in the waiting room and did a bunch of futile math in my head. I ran through several grim scenarios, lots of inner tantrums, and ended in intense weariness. The last couple of years have been very stormy, and it's easy to generalize, to see a mentally turbulent ride everywhere I look. I sighed, and decided to walk across the street for a cup of coffee.
The office is on the edge of a quiet residential neighborhood, so traffic at midmorning is very light. Somewhere in the middle of my diagonal negotiation of the road, my stressed thinking simply ceased, and I dropped into a spread-out awareness. All at once, there were dusky-edged clouds in the blue sky, a magenta Japanese maple to my right, and a whistling gas station attendant to my left. I felt my feet in their trusty gray running shoes, flexing through each step. I caught my own heartbeat, and simple contentment and renewed curiosity flooded across the world.
Literally seconds before, I was locked in the eddies of my head--searching, searching for a solution to a problem, swamped in the kind of melancholy that happens with the admission that, yes, this is a big wall to be backed up against, because my autistic son still depends on me, and always will, in some fashion. A form of grace, I suppose, pulled awareness out of the symbolic existential realm, and into the pure "nowness" of the body. Actually, I have no idea how. But the shift and the immediate comparison of one state to the other was startlingly clear.
By the time I reached the parking lot of the minute-market a few moments later, sweetness was rising up my throat and through my eyes. I felt every detail of my body in motion--my breath deepening, my shoulders relaxing, the child-animal unfurling. Yes, I am lapsing into poetry, because it's the only way to articulate what happens when attention diffuses like a cascade through the entirety of the physical being, and every nerve ending takes on the intimate "soft gaze" of clarity. This, my friends, is why a body!
The sweetness lasted through a good part of the rest of the day. It never fails to astonish, and I have learned the futility of trying to "keep" the sensation (as if it was something apart from me). The more relaxed I am, the longer it stays, and the longer it stays, the more relaxed I am. Migrating into problem-solving tends to push it into the background, so that it plays very softly. Should I get caught up in the noise of worry, I catch myself acting as if "now" isn't here.
Thought, and attention therein, is a deeply ingrained habit for me; it serves me well, some of the time. Over the years, I've learned that intellectual insight can be blindingly wonderful--blinding, in the sense that it brings a feeling of power, of mastery, and a temporary sense of security. I've noticed that all deep thinkers have the potential to take this "intellectual path", in the same way that one can take a meditative path, a path of service, or a devotional path. One can think to the end of the chain, until everything is investigated right back into itself, like a maze. But intellectual insight is akin to running into a dead end and believing that this, finally, is the way out. The dead ends prove nothing, except to point out that, hey, you are a-mazing! Of course, this may be a close-to-the-end point--the maze is something "you" construct and get lost in...why?
The question "why" is only productive if it leads into the emotional realm, the deeply denied and feared place. Intellectually provided answers, such as "my parents were abusive", or "I didn't know any better" are pseudo-answers with limited value in maze-solving. The real answers lie like mysterious organisms in a thick layer of mud, breathing in an alien-seeming way, buried as they are. They are alive and waiting for their time in the sun, when they will be another creature entirely, with burial an intimate and necessary part of the life-cycle. The real answers are wordless, made of emotional tissue. One only knows them by feel. The only place to feel them, is--not through a thinking process--but in the tender, sensitive, rough-and-tumble body.
Alas, many of us are numb to (if not downright divorced from) our physicality. Herein lies vulnerability, after all, the place where, under our clothing, we are always naked. How can we trust a being through which desire burns like heat lightning, shame weighs like solidifying lava, and grief opens like a bottomless pit? We fear all this, some of us to the point of incessant anxiety. These states, these inner territories, exist--not to be ignored, pacified, avoided, or even acted upon--but explored and experienced in the fullness of what they are, as they occur. That's all. There's nothing to be done about them while they rattle, charge and echo off your walls. They are brief, beautiful and perfectly valid. What they show you is exactly what you need to know.
Being "in" oneself is as simple as paying attention to breathing, physical sensation, sensual messages to and from the entire body. It isn't easy for those who have been traumatized into habitual numbness, or who were given the message that feelings are shameful and not to be trusted--but, it is literally vital to learn the energy of your own territory, the place wherefrom life springs, the gate of consciousness. Staying "safe" and comfy in the library of the mind nets a lot of dusty facts, and keeps one far away from blissful immersion in your own dancing river. Even asceticism, the path of denying the body, leads one inevitably back into it.
Please, fall in, fall down, fall in love with the source of love itself. Risk it. Trust it.