Theater of the Body
I hope you are enjoying your summer. Before I share about the theater of the body meditation, I want to invite you to join me at Kripalu for my upcoming SomaSoul: Soul-Centered Somatic Therapy workshop entitled Awaken Your Heart.
At the workshop, you will experience the meditation within this e-news and much, much more. My SomaSoul workshops provide pathways to love and heal ourselves, offering practices that help befriend our bodies and discover the presence of wisdom even within our pains or tensions.
In fact, as we recognize and allow ourselves to feel our tensions or pains we are taking the first and most important step on the path of healing our body-mind split and the first step to receiving wisdom from our bodies.
Now, onto sharing about the theater of the body meditation. Speaking of theater, the other night I saw an absolutely phenomenal play here in the Berkshires called Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon-so meaningful, so truthful, and at the same time hilarious. What a treat! We can experience a treat as we enter the theater of our own bodies as well, where we can discover meaning and truth and even some humor at times.
There are stories and dramas within our body. Through this body meditation practice, we can take our seats and then simply listen and watch the story, the drama that's contained within our body that can reveal itself to our awareness. This kind of attunement to the body satisfies a fundamental need we all have-to know ourselves, to heal the body-mind split I mentioned above as well as take the first step to uncovering the wisdom in our bodies.
I came upon the theater of the body meditation as I was going through a body scan a while back and began "receiving" information from within my body. Not just the usual body sensation kind of information like tension in my shoulders or heaviness at times in my heart, but different images, thoughts and emotions. It was as if I just hooked up a viewing device, called my awareness, into the play that was going on in my body and voila, specific thoughts, images and feelings related to specific body areas arose.
Whether we are aware of it or not, this theater is always in process, beneath the radar of our awareness and it colors and shapes our experiences.
As I was reflecting on my shoulders and upper back, for instance, in a recent theater of the body meditation, specific thoughts and images of responsibilities I "needed" to address emerged-the various responsibilities I was "shouldering." Just as I was bringing a receptive awareness to the area of my shoulders and beginning to feel the sensations here, spontaneous thoughts of "I've got to go to the bank today" and "Don't forget to take the trash out to the street."
And as I felt into my heart, just a couple inches in front of my upper back and a couple inches below my shoulders, a whole different cast of characters and plot change occurred. I left the world of responsibilities and entered the world of sadness and grief that was showing up in this part of my body, from within my heart. A couple of images emerged in my inner vision as to what I was sad about.
Wow, so close were these two body parts and yet so far away was the experience, the information that was emerging from within the theater of the body.
So this is what this meditation is about-take your seat and wait for the curtains to open into your body and then just relax and wait. Something will appear in the form of sensations, feelings or emotions, maybe spontaneous thoughts that emerge from that area of your body or even images and memories from the past as well as thoughts and concerns about the future.
Creating this intimate link between our observing mind and our experiencing body is a foundational step in knowing ourselves, in being more at the center of our lives and in touch with who we are and even what we might need in order to be happy.
Through my studies of Buddhist meditation I have found clarity and support around the theater of the body meditation. In Buddhist meditation practice there is said to be four foundations of mindfulness: mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind, and dharma. The theater of the body meditation is like a holographic meditation in that you may discover how these four foundations or objects of meditation; the body, feelings, mind and dharma are interconnected and contained within each other.
In this meditation we begin with the first foundation of mindfulness, mindfulness of the body, the most "grounded" object of awareness. But along with mindfulness of the body, you will experience the other three objects of meditation as well-feelings, thoughts and the "dharma" within the body.
Very briefly I want to take a moment to clarify what is meant by two of these four foundations of mindfulness-feelings and dharma. I think you understand mindfulness of the body (observing physical sensations including the physical sensations of our emotions that live within our body) and mindfulness of the mind (observing mental thoughts).
What is being referred to in mindfulness of feelings isn't specific feelings like sadness or joy but more the feeling tone of our experience. Our feeling tone is fundamentally either pleasurable or painful, or better put, somewhere on the continuum of pleasure to pain.
Along with feeling tone implicitly comes aversion (to pain) and attachment and clinging (to pleasure.) Think about this for a moment: doesn't this make our world go round so to speak. It governs so much of our experience in life, having moments of difficulty or pain (and its attending aversion) and moments of well-being or pleasure (and our clinging to the pleasure).
So before specific emotions are recognized or named, we have this more primitive experience called feeling tone; pleasure and pain, and the primitive reflex of holding against or moving away from pain and running towards or clinging to pleasure. I like being aware of feeling tone within the body since it is so fundamental to our reactive self. I feel it's so important to be mindful of our reactive self, to give loving space for its existence, for our reactions.
Now let me see if I can tackle dharma: it's not referring to the spiritual teachings of the Buddha, but to the various phenomena that emerge in our experience and how our inner experience is connected to both the life around us and to all our actions from the past. This is my rudimentary understanding of this reference to dharma.
In other words, our day to day life experience can open the key to our various patterns of beliefs, emotions, and behaviors that are grooved in our body and mind: these phenomena of beliefs, emotions, and behaviors are rooted in our past actions, revealing themselves in the present moment and creating our future moments. This dharmic unfolding holds the potential to be sacred spiritual teachings when we can work with them with wisdom and grace.
The theater of the body meditation will invite you to visit different areas of your body where you then take a receptive, wait and see attitude to what emerges: noting various sensations, feelings and emotions, observing the "feeling tone" contained in our bodies, taking note of the thoughts from within the body and appreciating the dharma and drama of our body.
Please visit our LIBRARY page to access the recording.
May you find support and inspiration from this practice.