From C u r i o s i t y to E x p r e s s i o n:
Shaping A New Body Narrative
Shaping A New Body Narrative
Welcome to my body narrative project! Read this essay for additional context.
One day I realized I was well along the way in a journey within myself. What I was learning, through simple observation and practice of meditation, yoga, contortion, dance, and aerial acrobatics was fascinating, inspiring, and delightful. As I started to become more attuned to myself, I began to discover a nuanced language within my body. I began to notice the relationships between sensation and emotion, and this began to inform my actions. I began to intermittently feel my body as a vast, living, breathing expression of love--something I never previously knew was possible. I began to feel a light shining on my muscles, and indicating relationships in my body I had never noticed before, such as my hands and low back. Now, I am devoted to body presence and communicating its value. I study this language every day, and every day, whether predominantly painful or pleasurable, is interesting and rewarding. There is spaciousness, lightness, and resonance. I'd wish it on anyone. Here's a glimpse of my journey and what I've found to be important along the way.
Photos by Brad Davies Photography
Photos by Brad Davies Photography
Beginning on Sunday, September 2nd 2018, I am going to add text to one photo each day until the narrative is complete. Check in each day to follow along with the journey~
Curiosity: There is a deliciousness in wanting to know something and not fully being able to. This universe is a big question mark, and to me this is what makes life so engaging. Inquiry connects us with the unknown and brings us to life. I think fundamentally people want there to be some uncertainty—we want a quest. We’re creatures that are built to learn. When you have curiosity, what is unknown is not a threat, but rather a scintillating invitation to venture forth and find out what there is to discover. Curiosity can help us to see beyond what is considered "normal" and common sense. Today, society is rampant with ideas about the human body, ranging from how it works to how it should look. But our ideas about how the body works are incomplete, and our ideas about how it should look are significantly driven by commercial agendas (it’s advantageous to keep people insecure because there is a lot of profit to be made from your efforts to look good in the eyes of others). We are not obligated to subscribe to these ideas. What is this body? I want to know more about this incredibly complex mystery, shaped by millions of years of evolution. What does sensation have to do with emotion? With connection with others? How can dance make us cry? We don’t have to go along with the opinions and suggestions that surround us. We don’t even have to take a class if we don’t want to. You can inquire within and find out for yourself what this body can feel and do. Curiosity (what is yoga?) instigated my journey, but the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, and the more excited I am to inquire within. I want to find out what can be felt, what can be done, and enter into the diversity of forms of expression and love that this body can support.
Resistance/Acceptance: Resistance is the precursor to acceptance, and acceptance is the gateway to learning, growth, and necessary change. Acceptance of what is comes before any meaningful, wakeful journey or transformation. Lately what acceptance means to me in my body explorations is recognizing and respecting when my life and health circumstances require me to rest more than I’d like to. However, I find myself feeling less and less attached to, but no less passionate about the body arts I love as, over time, life rears its head and challenges my patience. I’m becoming more comfortable with just NOT practicing for periods of time, with losing muscle mass, or gaining weight, or whatever it is that might be considered negative. Again, feeling resistance to the way the body is is okay. We may be there for a while too, but we need to understand resistance as a message that acceptance can come next, if we allow ourselves to let go and grow in that direction. If we embody that resistance and feed it, we come to war with ourselves. But we can choose how we relate to our resistance. We can choose to love it a little bit, to appreciate our struggle a little bit, and to recognize the possibility for change in the way we see ourselves. My growing comfort is connected to the knowledge that as soon as I’m ready and life is ready I will return to practice and will be able to rebuild. I understand that at some point in my life I will hit inflection points where my strength, flexibility, or energy will decline in a more permanent way. I have a sense that when that happens, I will shift into less intensive body arts like dance and yoga, and may make teaching more central in my life than I do now. There is no need to cling desperately to what we think are our favorite things to do. Even tiny movements, performed mindfully, can be profound. Depending on the quality of consciousness, those movements can feel more profound than a complex performance.
Non-attachment: I had to learn that if I had a fixed idea about what I might discover, I would persist in illusion. It is possible to miss important messages when we have our eyes trained on something in particular. In letting go of ideas, assumptions, and judgments, authentic understanding and love arise in the body. Non-attachment is an act of humility and a gesture of trust to yourself. There is a lot of distraction when it comes to the body. Our rigid and agenda-burdened narratives guide many people off the path of body love and onto the path of body accomplishment. The training starts to be about achieving tricks, displaying feats of greatness, boosting one’s status, or attracting others. These objectives don’t have to be abandoned entirely, but if they are not tempered by compassionate presence, the fruits of the practice will not ripen. These attachments can be so blinding that the potential for deep connection with one’s self and body can be unwittingly undermined even if we are highly disciplined. Attachment is not the same as connection, and in our heart of hearts, we all know the difference.
Exploration: Once I was stretching on the cliffs of Davenport, CA, which overlook the ocean. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was approaching a huge change in my life. I was close to no longer being able to live the life I was living, and I was noticing something waking up inside me. As I stretched, I felt something like a patterning of light or energy moving across my body, showing me where to stretch next and how long and deep to hold the poses. This was just the beginning of an incredible breakthrough in body awareness, a journey that is still unfolding today. Exploration is the indulgence of curiosity. It ultimately signals that hope outweighs fear. If we live in fear of what might be found in the unknown, we will not explore, but rather will settle for the ideas that are most accessible and comfortable. Exploration is making ourselves vulnerable to possible danger and suffering, but is worth undertaking because of the tantalizing possibilities of wondrous and important discovery. Everybody lives their life making discoveries about the body. It’s unavoidable. But by giving structure to the explorations—making a purposeful pursuit—learning becomes an active and meaningful part of life as opposed to something that just happens from time to time. Participating in the journey is both grounding and exciting.
Practice: Continuity from one session of exploration to the next has helped me build foundations and make new discoveries. Patterns begin to emerge over time, and this has opened the door for intuition, learning to read my body better. I have come to understand failure, frustration, and confusion to be essential in the process of learning. They can be understood as important stages along the way toward deeper knowledge and skill development. Body awareness must be practiced. It doesn’t spontaneously happen. We have to dive back in over and over again. But that process is IT! There is no point of arrival, although there may be particular moments of success along the way. When people ask me how to learn how to handstand, I just say “Do it over and over until it starts to make sense.” You can’t not learn if you do this. If you have good foundations, it may not take very long (and by not very long I mean months to a year). If you are just getting started, be sure to invite patience into your practice. It may take a while. It was more than a year before my handstands started feeling stable, and that was with an extensive background in yoga and balance.
Discovery: The body speaks a wordless language. Like any language, this one takes time and persistence to learn. As I committed to listening honestly to the body, I began to find it doing AMAZING things, showing me how to move and where to go next. I find myself immersed in those voiceless vocalizations, and thereby relieved of all the burdens and anxieties of language, of all the problems of being human that are simply the products of the words we use. In this way we can enter into an intelligence that is complete in and of itself; it needs no description or explanation—only an outlet for expression. Singers know this. Dancers know this. Surfers know this. Many many people have touched this. I was always athletic, but for most of my life I was a very heady person, very wrapped up in thoughts and ideas, which gave me a lot of anxiety (though I didn’t realize it). Even though I could achieve great feats with my body, I didn’t really know how to listen to or respect my body. After seven years of yoga and about one year of exploring my body more in depth, I noticed it beginning to…speak. I started to notice subtler sensations than had not been apparent to me before. Excitingly, I found that I was beginning not only to hear, but also to understand. For example, I would feel a slight tension in my wrists and I recognized those as cues to stretch and circle those joints. I began to experience communications flowing from one leg to the other while I was adjusting my legs in a handstand, which helped me understand how they were relating to each other and what they needed from each other. I started to feel more and more connected throughout my body, and began to enjoy the pleasure of body presence. This growing body awareness then spilled unexpectedly into emotional intelligence. I’m learning to read the sensations of irritability, fatigue, grief, confusion, happiness, and all those other distinctive but difficult-to-describe emotional experiences that we hang clunky words on. My anxiety has dropped down significantly, and if it starts to flare, I know how to engage my body to help myself feel better. This has freed me up to focus on what I love in life, and my creativity has been flourishing. My evolving understanding and respect for physical sensations has grown into greater understanding and respect for all emotional states. It’s clear there is so much more to learn, and so there comes a sense of peace knowing that after turbulence, some modest fruits of understanding will be at hand and then, the journey will continue on.
Courage: The journey of inner inquiry is riddled with objections, rejections, and interferences—from ourselves and from others. You may notice others criticizing the ways you choose to relate to yourself. You may find others walking all over your sacred ground with no understanding of what they’re doing. Becoming sensitive to the beauty within means becoming more acutely aware of the ignorance (genuine non-awareness) that intersects with your spirited journey. It’s essential to learn to recognize when ego and ignorance play into everyday interactions, and it’s important not to give in—not to validate ignorance, even when it is presented in a compelling or authoritative way. We can fully listen to everybody’s perspective, but we do not have to incorporate everybody’s values and opinions when we do not feel they come from a place of wisdom—when they do not support compassion, creativity, understanding, or connection. We need to take every transgression as an opportunity to build strength, patience, and understanding, and whenever appropriate, take these opportunities to offer a different perspective. I am well-aware that many people will not consider me somebody worth listening to. I am well-aware that some people will take one look at me and automatically assume they know about me. I am well-aware that some people will only ever see me in one limited way. I have people explicitly put me down or tell me “facts” about my own knowledge and experience that they know nothing about. I experience these frustrations frequently, as many many many people do. It’s disappointing, but I take these interactions as validation for the world’s need for the work I’m doing to encourage openness, connection, and compassion. Remember that real insight and real power require no subjugation. There is no need to make somebody feel inferior when you are confident within yourself. The people to listen to are the ones who consistently offer respect and compassion to themselves and others. If you have a message that much of the world is not ready for, remind yourself where you’re coming from. Let put-downs be your fuel. Seek genuine dialogue and transformation. Remember that many people share your vision and your sacred ground, and need you to be strong when you intersect with ignorance.
Connection: As I committed to listening to what was taking place within me and not shoving it away, the doors to connection flew open. What do I mean by that? Well, first there was self-connection. I started to relate to myself in a very supportive and honest way, embracing myself through heartache and inner conflict, seeking creative pathways to make sense of and emerge from challenging situations, and better understanding how being tired, hungry, and dehydrated affect my mood. I became more attuned to my monthly hormone patterns, which helped me prepare myself to get through the rough patches, or at least know that they would be temporary. I connected with my higher self, a divine representation of myself devoid of attachment, infinitely compassionate, who comes through my pen into my journal, or comes to me in meditation, or at moments of great distress. Then there was connection with others. Somehow, in the process of relating to myself in healthier and more honest ways, I became genuinely more interested in other people. It may seem counter-intuitive, but by inquiring into myself every day through meditation, I became less self-absorbed, which freed me to take an interest in others and be more present in interpersonal interactions. Mostly this is effortless, an authentic change. My friendships flourished and my encounters with strangers became more fun. Another element came into play, I think more influenced by training contortion than meditation. This is a heightened physical empathy; in the past when I massaged others, I felt totally blind in the process. Now, I feel in my body what is happening or likely happening in their body when I touch them. My body is participating much more in the experience, which helps me know what to do next, and how much pressure to apply. I’m 100% more engaged, and I don’t feel blind. Finally, and what excites me very much, is imagining if I can apply that connectivity/empathy in different contexts. If I believe that my body extends well beyond my physical self, and we have the ability to cultivate “body” awareness, what can we learn about the world “outside” of us? If I were to spend enough time familiarizing with a natural space, could I develop intuition about what will happen there? How about in conversations? Could I learn to relate to animals more closely? Plants? Musicians find this sort of connective ecology with one another, and I’ve always been intrigued by that. What are the limitations?
Delight: Jumping into a handstand immediately improves my mood. Bending my back clears me out and makes me smile. The brilliance and joy of being takes place throughout my heart, body, and mind when I move. The journey is experienced, wordlessly, in a broader context than the narrow cyclic habits of the mind. The evolution of the relationship between my mind and body have led to a recurring sense of spaciousness and a resilient happiness. Sure, there is still an emotional ebb and flow in life. But realizing that the body is home, and is connected with deep and ancient processes of the universe is pretty inspiring, and being body present is so grounding. Movement and body presence are so important for my well-being and happiness. Getting into my body allows a kind of simplification and makes space for happiness to flow through my entire being. It doesn’t mean I have permanent undisturbed happiness, but it does mean I have a good sense of what to do when I’m feeling off.
Play: It’s not so serious. And we need to remind ourselves of that often. When I was exposed to the ideology of life as play, it came as a promising counter-offer to the puzzle of hard work, success, and fitting in that I was trying to complete. It is so easy to be aware of our own suffering, and impossible to emotionally accommodate the collective suffering of life on earth. So many voices have told us “life is suffering,” and we have learned to equate suffering with work and worth. Understandably, a play metaphysics is a welcome relief to our furrowed-forehead culture. What does it take for us to believe that the plants around us are not growing to achieve a task, but rather for the joyfulness of being? When will we value play and pleasure equally to work and pain? How can we liberate ourselves into the playfulness of life? Free movement in my body is an important way for me to reconnect with the playful, joyful universe. Balancing on my hands, wrapping myself in aerial silks, and laughing in the process makes me feel so healthy and grateful to be here. Skill development leads us to play. For example, when I became better at balancing on my hands, I could start to do tricks with my legs. The process is highly engaging, grounding me into the present moment and resetting my energy. I hope we can begin to experience our bodies as pathways for play and value the wonderful connection play brings us to ourselves, to others, and to our world.
Love: I find that love, including vast love and contextualized self-love, arises of its own accord through honest inner listening. Love and the loss of love have fueled my journey of the self, guiding me inward to intimately encounter the joy and beauty as well as the wounds and aches experienced along the way. I feel love permeating my practice of body awareness. I feel love in the stretching of my tendons. The stabilization of my hips and feet over my head. In the contraction of my chest to call my pelvis back into place. In the muscle groups that pull away from each other to create a long arc across shoulders, spine, and hips. The gentle descent from a handstand, the grateful release into a gentle forward fold. The blood surging through my body, my heart pounding to keep the whole thing going strong. In the smile, the focus, the study of my movements and sensations. In rest. In the emotional tides that body awareness has made me more closely attuned to. In being human. Open awareness and body presence bring me into contact with that pervasive love. And now, having cultivated a more nuanced, in-depth relationship with my body, a relationship built on listening and exploration, I can’t help but really really, really appreciate and love my body. My body has taught me about love and provided everything I need to feel that love. Now I can feel love expressing through me, and I am committed to continue learning so that I can share that expression with others more skillfully and creatively. That said, I don’t claim to have arrived in perfect unattached relationship with this body. Particularly in the presence, gaze, and hands of others I am still learning to be lovingly and uncritically present in my body. It would be one thing to not care what others think about me. It would be another to find that others hold their own and my body as sacred. The former is a temporary measure to cope with the way the world is right now. The latter is the vision I work for. So, I am not without inner conflict—I am human. But the presence of love is growing. You can’t not grow into that love once you begin to notice it at play. And then, the natural next step is to devote yourself to it.
Rest: Sleep, rest, and time away from the pursuit at hand have been essential for my growth and skill development. There is a lot of processing going on beneath the surface. Just as muscles need time to repair and revise themselves after a workout, so do heart and mind. There needs to be an opportunity to assess what has happened and to rebuild in between practices. Unfortunately, ideas that pushing yourself to the max no matter how tired you are is impressive and admirable are bringing people to burnout and injury. It isn't a faster way to achieve your goals, it's just ignorant. You'll damage your body and hurt your relationship with yourself. You'll pursue actions for the wrong reasons. Intervals of rest bring clarity and fresh energy to the exploration. I have discovered a great spaciousness, a sweetness in the time between sessions. Sometimes I take not just days but weeks or months off from a particular discipline, be it aerial silks, contortion, dance, or yoga. Coming back, I have a fresh mind—I am able to feel distinctly sensations that before were unavailable or unclear. I’ve found meditation and dream journaling helpful for processing and integrating what has been learned. Spending time away is a beautiful lead-up to coming back to the practice. And, it takes away the pressure. I know it’s okay if my schedule is disrupted and I can’t do my favorite things as much as I’d normally like to. There is always something else important and wonderful to turn my attention to. Becoming attached to the journey is no good—we risk burning out, losing interest, and falling out of touch with the real reason we began—curiosity.
Surrender: To break down limitations and to come into contact with the wisdom and beauty of the body, I had to release preconceived notions about myself. Embracing the physical, emotional, and spiritual unknown released me from the explicit and subtle narratives I had imposed on myself. The world opened to me and I to it. A universal language of life emerged like flowers from a graveyard of restrictive ideas. Surrender is an act of trust in the fundamental goodness of life. To surrender is to relieve yourself from the impossible and anxiety-ridden task of controlling life. Nothing important is lost in a true act of surrender, for this is when everything that is falls together into beautiful coherence. In truly letting go, we discover completeness. Surrender balances the effort of disciplined practice. To make any progress in learning something and understanding ourselves, we do have to exert effort, yes. But there is another aspect of learning that comes from totally letting go into what’s taking place and letting that happen. That itself can’t be done by any effort, or by any special tricks, or with any agenda in mind. It means not forcing. It’s a true giving up of control, a releasing of the self into what the moment has to offer. You can’t control life, and you don’t need to. You can’t control how and what you feel, and to try only breeds anxiety. But if you recognize and accept how, what, and why you feel, you can choose how to engage intelligently with life. This form of listening nurtures a kind of power and control that requires no reins and no subjugate. A beautiful dynamic emerges with the self. And by allowing life to be what it is, by making yourself open to the goodness of being, love is happy to flow effortlessly through you. In surrender, we lose nothing—for it’s where the truth begins.
Want to participate? Here are a few ideas:
- Ask yourself how you want to live in your body.
- Choose language and actions that support compassionate connection with yourself.
- Begin your own creative body narratives project.
- Call out comments and actions that run contrary to compassionate self-connection.
- If you are involved in education, healthcare, law enforcement, welfare, or law, consider how you can bring body awareness and connection into your sphere.
- If you are in a position to influence policies, narratives, media, or institutions, consider how body awareness and connection could be incorporated. Reach out to me if you have questions or would like guidance.
- Sign up for the Body Connect online meditation program and initiate your own body narrative project.
- Receive support in cultivating body presence and intuition through flexibility training with Sara Kaiser. (Send an inquiry through the contact form to receive a discount code.)
- Read the full Shaping a New Body Narrative Ebook
- Use #BodyNarrativesProject on social media to share your perspective, hopes, stories, and ideas.