I used to attend guided meditation classes where I drifted out into the universe and danced with the fairies or some such scenario until the facilitator’s voice softly called everyone back to their bodies. Come back to my body? NOOOOO! I would open my eyes and everyone in the class was sitting there blinking in the dim light, all expressing the same sentiment – ‘I didn’t want to come back.’
Guided meditation classes like this have their place and I am not criticising them at all, but I do find it interesting that there is such a widespread belief that all things that can be described as ‘spiritual’ occur ‘out there’, detached from our bodies. Many traditions make a distinction between the body and soul or body mind and spirit. Whether we consciously subscribe to these traditions or not, this idea that distinct compartments exist within humans has filtered through to just about everyone.
In Christian and New Age circles alike the body and soul are often presented as adversaries, and because the soul is the good and important one, then your life mission is to subdue the desires of the inferior body that thwart the aims of the soul.
In secular culture we see advertisements for medications promising to help us ignore our troublesome bodies and quiet their pleas for rest with a pill so we can get on with more important things.
Escaping from the prison of the body through guided meditation used to be particularly appealing to me because I suffered chronic pain from fibromyalgia. I lived in an almost constant state of dissociation from my body, trying to pay as little attention as possible to my discomfort. Also, for spiritual thrill-seekers like myself, everyday mundane life was boring. The stuff that mattered and was exciting all took place floating out in the cosmos with Jesus, the Ascended Masters, angels, spirit guides or whoever I was into at the time.
After many years the pain was getting worse and I pondered on how I could possibly improve the experience of having a body. One question I asked myself was ‘do I check out of my body because I’m in pain OR am I in pain because I check out of my body?’
What came first? What if my body was trying to get my attention because I was distancing myself from it? What if the body is not merely a container, temple or vehicle for the soul but has a divine consciousness of its own? What would happen if I consciously moved back into my body and tried feeling instead of thinking at least some of the time?
With a spirit of curiosity, I started practising turning into my body. Watching my breath, taking notice of what sensations I was feeling but suspending judgement and labels. Just noticing without wishing they were different, breathing into them and relaxing into them.
I established a connection with my body and started the process of being willing to believe that my body is actually a part of me, not a burden I have to drag everywhere I go. It’s not my body’s fault it’s in pain, it’s just doing its best but it needs my attention and it needs me to come and live in it.
It was a few years ago that I started trying to be more in my body with the aim of reducing fibromyalgia pain and it is an approach which seems to be working to some extent. I am not pain-free yet, but my pain has reduced considerably and my mobility has improved. It has been a slow process, painstakingly slow, but when I look back I can see how far I’ve come.
Three years ago I rarely cleaned my shower because it was so painful and difficult to crouch down, and then I would need several days to recover afterwards. I would have been barely able to get out of bed the day after I had taken a slow 20 minute stroll. I would need days of recovery following household tasks like vacuuming, and the one time I tried gardening I practically had a near death experience!
Now I can usually walk fairly briskly for half an hour with no ill effects and I can also usually do housework without too much trouble. It is healthy to inhabit my body, not run from it. The more I settle into my body in a non-judgemental and accepting way, the more physically comfortable it becomes. Sometimes I still like to drift out into the cosmos in meditations for a refreshing break, but I no longer have an adversarial attitude to my body or make demands of it of how it should be. It is slowly releasing the pain as it learns that I no longer regard it as inferior and I sincerely respect its wisdom.