by Jessica Graham
“In these bodies we will live. In these bodies we will die” – Mumford & Sons
Today is the first day of my Holiday vacation and I plan to spend it at Huntington Botanical Gardens with my boyfriend. My body loves being surrounded nature and open space. My mind also deeply enjoys the setting. There are not as many stimuli to spark up thoughts, so a still quiet takes up residence in my brain. Time even seems to slow down. With this stillness, it becomes very easy to listen to my body. The messages my body sensations are giving me integrate with my mind effortlessly. It’s not necessary to think things over; instead I just follow my body sensations. It’s a natural flow that can guide me through any and all situations.
Before I had a meditation practice, listening to my body was not an option. I was cut off from it and lived primarily in my head, controlled by my spinning thoughts. Through my practice I have been introduced to my body and to that natural flow that has always been there. I have spent the last few years creating a life that can support the relationship I have built with my body and it’s language. It’s wonderful to have places that can remind and encourage this understanding, but learning to maintain it anywhere you are is life-changing. It has become very important to me that I can hear my body even when I am not in a serene environment.
The past several years have brought me some health challenges. At first I just wanted them to go away. I hated feeling weak, looking unwell, and being forced to make adjustments to my lifestyle. It seemed that my body was turning on me. I did realize, however, that illness is a very powerful thing to meditate on. I learned that through caring for my dad while he was dying and then through my work with hospice. Begrudgingly I began to work with health in my daily practice. Because I strive to practice meditation in action throughout the day, I really had no choice.
As time passed I started to see my body less as an enemy and more as an ally. Being sick encouraged me to slow down and relax more. It got me in touch with my body on a much deeper level. I began to hear the subtle information my body was communicating with me all the time. Even with my meditation practice, I tended to translate what my body said into thoughts. It is a very different experience to simply allow the body to communicate in its own way. As I opened up to this new way of being in my body, my life quickly began to take a new shape.
There were many changes. I moved out of the city into a very comfortable apartment in the hills. I took up a regular yoga practice. I changed my diet, I cut my work hours in half. I began seeing a very gifted body worker. I started doing more pleasure reading. I spent a lot of time in the hot tub, and I stopped ever saying yes if the answer was really no. The amazing thing about these changes is that I didn’t really do anything. I didn’t push my way into these changes. I just did what my body told me to do.
As these changes occurred I felt my body relax in places I hadn’t even known were tense. That feeling of time slowing down became a constant. While my mind isn’t always free of chatter, it has moved more in that direction. More importantly, my relationship with my mind has continued to change significantly. If a driven, stressful thought arises in my mind, I don’t believe it. It holds very little weight. I instead refer to my body and then use my thoughts to construct useful solutions. This simplifies everything. With a simpler life, I have space to actually experience life in all its beauty.
The Buddhists believe that we should meditate on illness. My experience leads me to agree with this. Illness is a part of life, to ignore it, or try to unconsciously fix it, cuts you off from the gifts that an illness can offer. Of course I want to be healthy, but health means more to me than feeling and looking good. Also by experiencing illness as a gift, I can better prepare for death. I most likely have a fair amount of time before I die, but it’s a personal goal of mine to have a conscious death experience.
I invite you to take the time to listen to what your body has to say each day. You may find that it leads you in ways you could never imagine. These bodies are what carry us through our lives. Get to know yours.