Quick pushing your body around. It’s trying to tell you something!
When the Body is Your Guru
For a big chunk of the past twenty-seven years, I have practiced yoga. Last year, I took a year-long sabbatical to write a novel and to see my grandson into this world (born October 28, 2018). Neither of those things preclude a regular yoga practice but, for whatever reason, I’d reached a stopping point and I wanted to respect it with a conscious boundary.
As my yoga teaching resumed, I discovered how much my body had deteriorated. There are several reasons for this. Not only had I gone eleven months without any kind of movement practice, but arthritis had begun to cripple my hands, and a fairly serious ankle injury restricted the use of my feet. I’ve been distressed about this, trying to modify, to fix, to heal.
Anything but listen.
And then I came across this Tricycle Magazine article by Reggie Ray. He unpacks how as Western Buddhists, we tend to misunderstand the aim of meditation. He speaks of our tendency to use the body in the service of our ego. To objectify it as a tool for our success. We treat it as the ‘donkey’ for our ambitions. It is something we control, something we will shape into a strong, healthy, fit vehicle for our spirituality.
Nothing in that mindset allows for the body to be a guide, a guru of sorts. “There is no sense that the body might actually be more intelligent than “me,” my precious self, my conscious ego.”
Reading that passage stopped me in my tracks.
What if my body is more intelligent than I am? What if its wisdom is speaking to me from the shadows of mishap and decline? These pains, better known in the Buddhist world as “sensations” are my body using its voice. Ray calls it the “divine intervention that arrives at our doorstep and calls us back to our body. This can take many forms: injury, illness, extreme fatigue, impending old age, sometimes emotions…[A]t a certain point we start to get pulled back into our body. One way or the other, something comes in, sometimes with a terrifying crash, and begins to wake us up.”
My wake up call led me into fascinating explorations of sensation and the stories I make up about it. The pain at the base of my right thumb escaped from its ‘arthritis’ cage and became the voice of my body singing a sharp song, wanting desperately to be heard.
The swollen ankle, and not being able to walk for a while, lifted the veil on the stories I told myself about “disability.” Helped me notice the mind scrambling for meaning, order, and certainty. When I saw the scrambling for what it was (mental activity) and let it flow downriver, I began to truly hear the voice of my body. I heard its directive to elevate the foot and rest. I began to distinguish pain from other sensations that I’d conflated it with (fatigue, throb, buzz, ache, intensity). And I got good at hearing when my body was just saying, “Listen to me now, otherwise I have to shout.”
Waking up to the body as it is, I find myself moving downward from the head, (where I keep trying to control chaos) into the present moment as experienced physically by this particular ‘guru’ I’ve been given.
This gurubody invites me to open all my senses.
This gurubody smiles at my resistance and reminds me to stay calm.
This gurubody asks me to watch out for “trying to get somewhere.” Am I waiting for pain to subside, as proof that the meditation or yoga ‘worked’? Busted. That’s not meditation. That’s trying to control pain. Let go of agenda and meet all sensations with curiosity.
This path is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t for those who just want relief (although who among us does not?). It is for those who really want to wake up. It’s for those who have been lost in the weeds for long enough. Those who’ve lived for years, maybe decades, believing every little story they made up about what the state of their body means — and they’re ready to let go of all that and come home to compassion, clarity, and what is.
The pain may not go away. It may not even subside. But because we’re no longer fighting it, we can reclaim the energy that’s been wasted in that fight. We can use that reclaimed energy to witness and love who we are today. And we can become loving witnesses for everyone around us, which can ultimately change the whole world.
May we enter into a curious, tender relationship with all our body sensations. May we allow our body to be the guru we have been waiting for. And may we follow that guru into full awakening.
Tina Lear is a writer, composer/lyricist, yoga teacher, and mother of three really interesting humans. She founded the Long Island Dharmata Sangha and is currently navigating the liminal world between her past and her future. Doing her best to be in the present. She lives in Floral Park with her beloved wife and their big little dog, Ruby.