Modern life is complex. You are extremely busy wading through the complexity of the life.
For many of you, it can be hard to cope with the realities of the life. There are lots of responsibilities that are there upon your shoulders.
You feel overwhelmed. Life also becomes very boring, monotonous, uninteresting and more painful.
The Disembodied Living
What ends up happening a lot is you get caught up. You get caught up in the rat race. You get caught up with the business of the life.
When you get caught up, very frequently the worrying thoughts catch up with you. The anxiety catches up with you.
This is the disembodied living.
You live mainly in thoughts, emotions, and mind states. You also call this living in your head.
It is the most unstable form of living. It is very fickle.
Of course, it can easily become very painful once you get caught up in worrying or anxiety causing thoughts.
So what can you do?
There are some choices that are available to you. You may realize this or not, but the choices are out there.
Following are the four possibilities or ways of living.
- Living in the thoughts, emotions, and mental state
- Living in the physical sensations
- Living in the breath
- Living in the body
They are listed in order of progressively increasing stability.
Living In the Head
When you live in the mental world, where thoughts and emotions predominate you can easily get worried, anxious and depressed. You can easily get hijacked by emotions.
This is the default state of living. You start out here. We all start out here. This comes naturally to you.
Living with mental states means identifying with mental states. Getting lost in thoughts and emotional reactions.
Living In the Physical Sensations
The next more stable state of living is living with physical sensations. What does it mean?
It means becoming aware of physical sensations. There are almost always lots of physical sensations that are present throughout the body.
They are available to pay attention to. For example, you can feel the bottom of your feet touching the floor or the shoes.
Many such sensations are constant and when they are constant the mind tunes them out for its favorite activity, which is thinking or getting lost in thoughts.
But when you pay attention and feel the contact at the bottom of your feet, it doesn’t give you anxiety.
When you feel your buttocks pressing against the chair. Or you feel your back pressing against the chair or a couch it doesn’t give you anxiety.
Either you sit, stand or lie down, some extension of earth hold you and this holding can be felt as a sensation of touch. There is a certain kind of stability to this sensation.
It is not fickle, it doesn’t go away that easily. In itself it is natural.
You can say that it is a form of distraction away from your thoughts. That is true, you can say that. We just live so much in our heads you can use many types of distractions.
But it is not a mere distraction. Physical sensations are very much part of your reality as are your thoughts.
It is just that your mind judges them to be unworthy or inconsequential. But they can be real stalwart allies once you learn to pay attention to them.
You mind is not a very reliable source of good judgments. Because instantaneously judging everything is its nature.
And when you judge things out of habit, you can’t always do justice. You mind is more adept at passing quick and dirty judgments that help it wade through the life.
A quick and dirty judgment that makes you feel certain in a moment, may not be a very judgment in the long run.
Living In the Breath
Next type of living is the living with the breath. It is a more stable form of living compared to living with the physical sensations.
Primarily because the breath is the life force. It never goes away. Thoughts come and go.
Physical sensations also come and go, although not as fickle as thoughts. But still physical sensations are more dyadic they change a lot.
Whereas breath never leaves. Of course, breath is not stagnant and static.
It has its own internal dynamism and rhythm, but still it is always there. Not only there, you cannot live without it.
You can live without thoughts, you can live without physical sensations, but you cannot live without breath.
Not only that, the breath has the power to sway the mind. By properly regulating breathing you can calm down your mind.
When you breathe out it relaxes you, so by extending your exhalations you can relax you mind.
But living with the breath is the next higher level of stability because breath is always there. You can count on your breath.
Of course living with the breath means paying attention to the breath.
Living In the Body
The ultimate form of stable living comes from living with the body. The body is the primary basis of our existence.
Everything is there because there is the body. Even what we call mind, seems to be housed in the body.
But still we tend of disembodied. We tend to live as if the body is just not there.
It is usually all about the mind. Mind dominates.
You tend to take the body for granted. But the body can provide a solid foundation which unwavering.
Your thoughts or emotions could be completely wild and crazy and can give you a lot of grief. But the body is always there available at the moment.
So how do you live with the body? You do that by paying attention to the body.
There are several ways of paying attention to the body.
- You can use the sense of seeing and visually look at the body.
- You can use the sense of touch to feel the parts of the body.
- You can use internal sense (interoception) to feel the presence of the body, even with the eyes closed.
The 1st option is a legitimate way of paying attention to the body. But there is a problem with this option.
You are so used to looking at the visual objects. And your mind has a tendency to start thinking about them as soon as you take a look.
There are more chances of you falling back to living in your head with option 1.
Also, as you can see that option 2 is really living with the physical sensations as we saw earlier. In a sense, living with the physical sensations can be a doorway to living with the body.
But here the recommendation is to feel the presence of the body using the internal sense.
Although it may sound unfamiliar to begin with, it is not that difficult. You can do an experiment.
Close your eyes for a moment. Even with your eyes closed you can feel the presence of the body.
If you are sitting in a chair, you can feel the body present sitting in a chair, even with the eyes closed.
That is interoception. The internal sense.
This sense of the presence of the body is the extreme form of stability. This sense never goes away, throughout your life.
That is your body, always there, always present.
The mind can go all over the place. It can think about the future or think about the past.
But the body is always in the present moment. We haven’t devised ways for the body to not be in the present moment yet.
Living with the body does not imply that body is immune to any unpleasantness or discomfort. Of course, at times, the body could be hurting or aching.
And if it is aching a lot, it could be impossible to live in the body. And that is okay.
Living with the body doesn’t mean always be able to live with the body.
The point is that even when the body is hurting living in the body provides more stability than living in the head.
Let me explain.
When you experience pain. There is the internal resistance to the pain as it is an unpleasant sensation.
But typically as soon as you experience the pain, your mind starts catastrophizing. It immediately runs through the worst case scenario.
What if the pain doesn’t stop. What if I need a surgery. And on and on.
As soon as you start living in the mind, your suffering exacerbates. But more you chose to live with the physical sensations or the sense of the body, less the suffering.
A Practice to Ground Yourself
Following steps are for a meditation practice that you can use to learn to live in the body.
- Settling into a comfortable posture.
- Placing your hand wherever it feels comfortable.
- Closing your eyes if you prefer or keeping them open with a soft gaze in the front.
- Keeping the back upright could be helpful.
- You are really looking for a balance between relaxation and vigilance. A place where you are not overly stiff nor overly relaxed.
- Take a couple of intentional deep breaths.
- As you exhale, see if you can have a sense of letting go of concerns and worries. Give it a try if you are unable to, that is okay.
- Then going back to normal breathing.
- Now bring your awareness to the bottom of your feet. Becoming aware of the sensations of contact or pressure wherever your feet are in contact with floor, shoe or bed.
- As best as you can, continue to feel the sensations in your feet.
- Now if you can, expand your awareness to include physical sensations in your hands. Perhaps hands are placed in your lap or on your knees. Then feeling the sensations of pressure, touch or contact in your palms.
- Continue to be aware of sensations both in your feet and your hands/palms for a few more moments.
- Now expand awareness to include the sense of the whole body. You are still feeling the sensations in your feet and palms. But now you are also feeling the whole sense of the body, present and either sitting in a chair, standing up or laying in the bed.
- If it is easier, you can drop the sensations in your feet and palms and just continue to have awareness of the body as a whole.
- If mind wanders, then whenever you notice, bring yourself gently back to the sense of the whole body. As many times as needed.
Living in the head is the most unstable form of living. It makes us more prone to suffering. Still, you tend to live here a lot as it comes naturally.
Living in the body is the most stable form of living. The body is always rooted in its firmness. Always in the present moment.
You can learn to live in the body to be more grounded, stable, equanimous and peaceful.