What does it mean to be human? As the planet’s most intelligent species (we believe), sometimes it feels that our thoughts define who we are. Eckhart Tolle, author of the Power of Now and spiritual guide, would say that our thoughts do not define us or our humanity. Instead he argues that we can only sense our true selves once we look beyond our thoughts. After all, we are still human when we finally shut off our brains.
Tolle also recommends that we focus on our “inner body,” or the sense of the energy being that inhabits our physical self. It’s something you must feel and sense, not visualize or imagine. I had a sense of my inner body for the first time when, a number of years ago, I tried a meditation where you focus on feeling parts of your body, one limb at a time. I realized during that exercise that I spent most of my day, actually most of my life, ignoring to how it feels to inhabit my body. In fact, when I first started this body-meditation exercise, there were some parts of my body that were hard to feel at first, demonstrating how disconnected I tend to be.
It doesn’t seem being in our body should feel so weird, but perhaps you’ve had the same experience?
Consciously taking note of being in my body for the first time was an adventure. I notice random bursts of energy, sort of like a chill or tingling, that course through my body fairly frequently. I also notice that I tend to carry a lot of tension around my chest and neck area. I must specifically relax my chest area to most effectively sense my inner body, especially my heart region. When I do, as Tolle suggests, it’s a delightful but unusual sensation that’s somehow hard to maintain for very long.
There has also been more discussion about biofeedback and heart rate variability (HRV) as a method for improving your energy, health and cognition. You can intentionally improve the quality of your HRV by being aware of your heart and then imagine breathing slowly through your heart. For those of us who are in our heads most of the day, shifting attention to a body part (yeah, even our heart!) feels like a huge paradigm shift.
Focusing more on the corporeal side of the human experience actually makes me feel more human. I’m not just my thoughts, nor am I just my emotions. I’m not just my body either though I tend to take that for granted. There’s an awareness that underlies all of those parts of me that I usually am even less in touch with than my body. That awareness is quiet, wise and connected to the wider world. I have to go digging for her, and sometimes I cannot access her at all, but she’s worth every bit of effort that I invest in noticing or connecting with her. She is larger than my problems, thoughts and feelings. She is the divine within me that connects to all else.
This greater sense of connection has been the primary benefit of my spiritual journey. In the past, as a practicing atheist, I couldn’t even conceive of this phenomenon. Yet now that I’ve developed an appreciation and practice for connection, I find that it’s a sense that provides me a sense of peace and inspiration. It also makes me more aware of that interplay between body/mind/emotion/world/universe. Just like realizing I should start using the right side of my brain, why not access and appreciate my connection to everything else? Somehow realizing that I’m just a tiny piece of it makes me feel more complete.
Note: Dear friends, you may have noticed that I’ve taken the spring off from blogging. I needed some time for reflection and rest, and I believe I am now ready to share with you my recent journey. I hope to get caught up on yours!