Where are you? Right this second, this moment, where are you? Are you in this room, listening to the sound of my voice, enjoying the artwork, experiencing the feeling the cushion underneath you? Perhaps you are partially here, and partially at home in your warm bed with your snuggly pets and children? Maybe your awareness is here, but your knee is outside in the cold, packing freezing snow around an arthritic joint.
We talk quite a bit about bringing and keeping our awareness in the here and now, but we haven’t talked much about keeping our bodies in the here and now. That’s our topic for today.
My car has this strange problem where, every once in a while I can’t drive over 35 or 40 miles per hour, or the car begins to shake violently. This is really fun when it happens in interstate traffic. I have to put on my hazard lights and drive very slowly, hoping people see them and go around rather than rear ending me, until the problem stops. I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about body awareness, so one day last week when this happened, I found myself driving on I270 in the middle lane with my hazards on, attempting in vain to stop my car from shuddering and shaking. I thought "maybe I should pay attention to what my body is doing right now".
My hands were gripping the steering wheel tightly. I was leaning forward, my jaw clenched. My stomach began to hurt and the muscles in my legs were trembling they were so tight.
Where was I in that moment? In that moment where actually was I? Was I in the car? Perhaps my mind awareness was on the road, on my windshield and rearview mirrors, but my body was not in that car. My body was in an accident. My body was stopped by the police, trying to explain what was happening. My body was late for my eye doctor appointment. My body was at the auto repair shop, getting a quote to fix the issue. With my clenched jaw, tight muscles, and upset stomach, my body was only partly driving the car. Most of it was somewhere else, what-if’ing me into feeling sick.
I read a statistic once - I’m sure it was made up, but it illustrates a good point - that 90% of what we worry about never happens. I think it's probably 99%. Over time, we can train our emotions to decrease the amount of worrying that we do, but our bodies don’t understand logic or teaching with words. Most times, our bodies are trying to anticipate and avoid threats, or responding to old trauma, or trying to keep clumsy people like me from accidentally tripping with a knife in my hand.
I'm reminded of Sunday night syndrome. Like what little gets get before the school week begins. We spend so much of Sunday worrying about what Monday will be like - at school or at a job we dislike - that we don't even have a weekend. We have Saturday, that's it! The other day, you're already at work, the kids are already at school.
What happens when we do keep our body in the here and now? Well, we don't like that. As a chronic pain sufferer, I don't want to be in the here and now, it sucks! My inflammation is up, my legs hurt, I'm throbbing so badly, it's like a sound; I don't want to be in that! The problem is that when we're in the here and now, sometimes we have to make changes based on what's happening, and we don't like change. If I'm talking to my boss and I'm present and noticing that my palms are sweaty and my heartrate increases and my stomach feels tight, I might have to do something about that. But if I ignore those feelings, I can push that back for a while.
What damage is caused by that? A lot of illnesses like heart disease and stroke, have their roots in unresolved emotions.
One of the benefits of awareness meditations like zazen is that if we practice keeping our mind and body together in one place, over time we can drop more easily into that state, therefore reducing the amount of trauma our bodies put us through, because it doesn’t know any better.
By breathing deeply, slowly, we bring our body/mind awareness together in one place. Have you ever had a moment where your head and body are on the same page, and something amazing happens? Like you nailed a serve in tennis. Or your hands finally learned that chord progression. Or your spent two minutes of your zazen with your awareness - mind, and body - in the same place at the same time.
We can increase the amount of time we spend with our body and mind in the same moment by adding in awareness of our body to our mind awareness during mediation.
I sat back in the car, loosed my jaw, loosened my fingers on the steering wheel, shook my legs a bit and took a deep breath. With my body and mind in the same place, I continued on toward my destination.