By Maninder Cheema
Thoughts occur in the mind, but they cause emotions that are felt in the body. If we can transfer our awareness from the mind to the sensations in the body, the mind will quieten and the body will relax, says Maninder Cheema
Recently, I went shopping for some dresses. As I was getting ready to go, the thought crossed my mind that I should not wear slip-on earrings because I would be trying on several clothes. Yet, I went ahead and wore a pair of pretty gold earrings, reminding myself to be careful while changing dresses. In a long day, at some point, I forgot to be careful. As I reached home and stood in front of the mirror to remove the earrings, to my horror, there was only one left. This was a favorite pair, quite unusual in design, and besides, it was gold. I was so upset with myself that an old habit of severely clenching my jaws came back to bother me. I woke up in the morning with my gums throbbing with pain. For me, any kind of upset shows up in tightly clenched jaws. At times, the clenching is so strong that I have cracked a tooth because of it.
The body is intimately linked to our thoughts and emotions. Thoughts, in general perception, are linked to our head or brain. The popular image of a thinking man is one with a thought cloud emanating from the head. When we think, we even feel a physical strain on the brain.
Thoughts, in turn, are intimately linked to emotions, so much so, that they are like two sides of a coin. Take any thought – the thought that it’s a warm day. As soon as the thought arises, so does a subtle emotion linked to reactions to a warm day. For some this may be a pleasant feeling, for others a feeling of discomfort. Some may immediately feel as if the body is feeling hot, some may move to start the air conditioning.
Pick any thought and linked to it will be an emotion. Sometimes, the emotion is subtle. You have to be really watchful to become aware of the emotion. But it is always present, linked to every random thought.
It is easier to be aware of thoughts, of the chatter of the monkey mind than of the background emotion. If we stop and pay attention, we can trace our thoughts jumping from one to the next to the next. We may soon get lost in the chain of thought, but we can pull back and again become aware of them.
It is somewhat more difficult to be aware of the emotions linked to each thought. Thoughts move very fast. Emotions take longer to be consciously felt. An emotional person may become aware more easily. But in today’s mind-dominated space, it takes a while to become aware of the emotion. This is not to say that the emotion is not present. It is present with every thought. But the conscious awareness is missing. For instance, a thought may cross your mind of a flat tyre. Deep inside you, this thought will trigger an emotion of some discomfort. You may not be aware of it at all. But the body would have felt the emotion and reacted to it. The body would have tensed or clenched with impatience or frustration.
Emotions cause a physical reaction in the body. Unlike thoughts which emanate from the brain, emotions have a presence in the body. Many emotions are felt in the heart region. Some are felt in the pit of the stomach. Pain can be felt anywhere in the body. Happiness and joy can also be felt anywhere in the body. Fear can be felt in the stomach, but it can also be felt in the teeth, clenched in fear, or the knuckles of clenched fists, or the legs which start to run, or get paralysed. Guilt can be felt in the stomach or the heart, burden is often felt in the shoulders. Resentment and anger can burn in the chest, or even the skin. Feelings are the language of the body.
Emotions are linked to the primal part of the brain, the part which is much faster than the conscious brain and which runs on auto mode. Sometimes, the physical impact of thoughts is so strong that you cannot ignore it. But more often, the impact is very subtle. A slight tightening of an organ, a muscle contraction somewhere, a slowing or speeding of the breath. Most often, it is not noticeable unless we look for it. With awareness, we can become conscious of bodily reactions. But it may take a lot of practice and a degree of solitude to become aware of the subtle bodily reactions to every thought.
I have not done vipassana, but I believe in vipassana the practitioner becomes strongly aware of bodily reactions because the meditation requires you to scan every part of the body in rotation. Body consciousness takes your attention away from the mind and into the body. The mind does not stop its chattering, but a part of it engages in noting the effect of the mind’s chatter on the body. As you bring your awareness away from thoughts and into the body, through observing the emotions which arise with the thoughts, the mind slowly quietens. It has to, to be able to remain attentive to what is happening at the level of emotion and body. If you practice, you will notice that the moment your attention goes back into thoughts, your emotion and body awareness falls.
In a converse way, it is possible to escape bodily and emotional pain by staying engaged in the mind. If you are very absorbed watching a film or reading a book, or lost in your smart phone, you lose awareness of both body and emotions. Many of us practice this as a way to escape facing reality. However, blocking away pain does not take it away. The emotions, feelings, sensations and body reactions still occur even if we choose to be unaware of them.
A large part of my journey of self-discovery has been to learn to be aware of both emotions and the body, to move down from the brain into the body. Body consciousness helps me know when I am involuntarily tensing up at purely imaginary thoughts, when I am moving away from the present moment into imagined yesterdays and tomorrows, when I am reacting to things which are not even happening.
Body consciousness also helps you to become aware of changes in your body. The tiny but innumerable reactions repeatedly felt by the same organ, caused by destructive thought patterns, will eventually grow into a disease, often a chronic one. Escaping into the mind may dull us to the pain of emotions, but the body will eventually demand our attention loudly.
An acquaintance was under a lot of pressure at work over several months. It showed up in his body as an involuntarily twitching left eye, and he would appear to be winking every now and then. The only way out for him was rest and a change of job.
Another person I knew was under constant work-related stress which appeared in the body as involuntary muscular spasm, a sudden twitching of muscles in the body. When he switched work, and was free of the stress, the muscular twitching disappeared.
Many healing modalities have developed around bringing attention back to the body. There are stories of miraculous cures. But what needs to be remembered is that bringing balance and attention to the body is an individual journey. Because the mind chatter and body awareness of each person is different.
Today, we are chronically in the mind. It is encouraged and supported by the choices available to us and by the models of success presented to us. Mind power is an acknowledged power and is sought to be harnessed to achieve more and more. Honing the intellect and the pursuit of knowledge are respected and revered. And the Information Age makes it ever easier to stay in the mind.
To return to body awareness requires conscious effort. Some people intuitively do it through active sports, or working with their hands as in sculpting, painting, embroidering, knitting, or gardening. Some simply go for long walks, some enjoy dancing. They find that these activities relax them. The relaxation happens because these activties take awareness away from the mind and into the body. As you move into the body, you become more aware of the present moment, you relax into the now, free from the tyranny of never ending thoughts. You become more available to engage in whatever is happening in the moment. You get into the flow or the zone, that space which gives a sense of well-being and completeness.
|Yoga is a time-tested way to return to the body.|
Everyone needs to find the way most suited to their lifestyle and temperament to return to body consciousness and then keep at it as regularly as sleeping. The mind needs rest, and the body needs the energy of our awareness which it doesn’t get. Choose your method and practice being in the body, bringing your awareness into the body, everyday for at least an hour or two. It will lead to a happier, healthier you.
About the author: Maninder Cheema is based in Mumbai and works with SEBI. Searching for answers to the puzzle of life is her engaging interest.
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