Being in the body
Whether we see the mind and body as one or as distinct, we cannot escape the fact that our human experience is, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty pointed out, an experience of embodiment. Our lives are very much wrapped up in the fact that we live in or through a body. One might believe that the highest life is the life of the mind or the spirit. I too believe that these two aspects of one’s being do constitute its higher realms. But I also acknowledge that I have a body, and a life well lived is one in which we embrace this reality. For many years I ignored this truth. I was very much stuck inside my head. I was much like the university professors that Sir Ken Robinson speaks about who “look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads.” This, I believe, contributed to a lack of grounding and wellbeing. But eventually I saw the folly in this and the need to be in my body – to fully inhabit it. I started doing yoga, qi gong, and “blatant” exercise such as running, which I had previously seen to be a trivial waste of time. I also worked on maintaining good posture.
More recently I have started learning about the Chan method of meditation. Chan Buddhism is the Chinese precursor of Zen Buddhism in Japan and the origin of its meditation methods too. However, there are some differences. In one form of Chan meditation called “silent illumination” the focus of the meditator is the body. But unlike the systematic scanning method of Vipassana meditation from Theravada Buddhism, silent meditation, as I understand it, promotes an open and more general awareness of the body as a whole. This for me seems like a perfect way to kill two birds with one stone: develop mindfulness and a connection with my body.
I have a natural tendency to get stuck in my head and neglect my physicality, so I constantly have to consciously push myself to focus on my body. The effort is worth it because it always yields fruit. Connecting to the body helps us stay in the here and now and become more grounded and calm.