A friend came over to my place the other day and was complimenting me on some decorating touches I’d added, then said it still looked unlived in, though I’ve been here going on three years. As I looked at my mostly bare white walls in my living room, my bedroom furniture that sort-of all fits together, my stacks of books haphazardly thrown into my bookshelves, I realized she was kind of right.
My life sometimes feels a bit unlived in like that.
Body workers and yoga teachers like to talk about how much we live outside of our body, which I realize can sound like yoga speak or crazy talk…
When I first went to yoga classes, I remember thinking teachers were talking so much about body alignment and I would tune them out. I was in the pose, I could see that, so I would drift off to think about what I was going to do after or about the guy I was dating at the time. Gradually more got through. I could stay in my body a little longer, I could see that adjustments like opening my thigh out in warrior 2 changed the pose even if the basic shape was the same. I could feel what it meant to breathe as I moved.
I’ve been re-reading The Body Has Its Reasons, a book that speaks beautifully about the idea of living/not living in our bodies and I was hit by a couple sentences: “All our life we juggle words so that they’ll reveal the reasons for our behavior. And what if we were to seek, through our sensations, the reasons of our body?”
I’ve spent time learning about my body from the inside in terms of how things feel, from the outside in terms of how things look, learning about others’ bodies, thinking about how I move through space, but I’ve never really considered the reasons for it.
I noticed yesterday how my jaw always tenses when I’m talking to my puppy or when they were little, my baby brothers (one is 10 years younger, the other 18 years younger.) My dad does the same to all of us kids. It’s a family trait, handed down from my dad, who lost his parents when he was still in high school, maybe from his mother who lost her brother, maybe from her mother who lost her father, lost her son, handed down from those who knew loss and maybe learned to hold the ones they love close, knew that time together is always undetermined.
Until yesterday, I hadn’t though thought of the reasons or that it was something I could ever undo.
I didn’t want to undo it. To undo it meant to let go of my grip, to not love so intensely, so preciously. Of course, this is true and it isn’t. To loosen my jaw and not squeeze my puppy would mean to love her softly and loosely. To grant her freedom. To recognize that holding tight won’t keep her frozen near and that to love her loosely, softly won’t mean that she will disappear or run away.
My jaw is often tense. In photos I can tell. My smile is sometimes forced, I’m trying to hold the world in place or brace against the bad. It took me years of yoga practice to connect enough with my body so that I could feel how to release my jaw. It took a fellow yoga teacher noticing the tension to tell me to loosen my jaw to connect it to my forced smile.
Then there are my hugs, which friends have teased me about as being fake hugs as I lightly pat their back with my hand, not getting too close, not truly connecting. And I haven’t been. I have kept people at arms’ distance.
“Get them into the body,” these words from my anatomy teacher Leslie Kaminoff keep ringing in my ears. I’ve been using it all day on myself when I feel myself drift away into something I should be doing or how things could be. I try to pull myself back to feeling my body, feeling my breath in my body, seeing what’s happening in front of me.
I’ve spent so much of my life outside my body. I’ve been in my head in worlds I’ve created, worlds I thought were better than mine, worlds I created to not deal with disappointment. I was missing from my body and my life, floating through it without listening to others, without feeling the pain of harsh words, without seeing those in front of me because I was too absorbed in some imagined place, without connecting with others because I couldn’t control the situation and that scared me.
What if I were to just stay here in my body, accepting my world as it is, with my jaw soft, my hugs warmer, allowing myself to connect deeply with friends and boyfriends and jobs and experiences and still hold them loosely, allowing life to shift and change, to contract and expand? Can I stay present enough to feel it all, to experience it all? Maybe it’ll give me the time to put some art on my walls.