Life Transformation is an Embodied Experience

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The class I took this fall semester for my Doctoral studies is called, “Your brain on God.”  During the semester, we read about how meditation deepens our spiritual connection to ourselves, others and The Divine.  We also read about how neuroscience is studying meditation.  It is fascinating to think about what spiritual experiences look like in the brain.  Equally interesting to wonder if The Divine created our brains for the experience or if our brains create the experience and we attribute the experience to The Divine.  For me, if an experience changes a person’s life in a healthy, more loving, more accepting way, then I believe The Divine is involved.

Dr. Alane Daugherty in From Mindfulness to Heartfulness talks about life as an embodied experience.  She writes “any experience we have is registered through, and can be measured in, various systems of our body…Our human body is the instrument through which we experience life, and the instrument through which transformations are continually taking place.  Most of us go through life completely unaware of this phenomenon, and as such, fail to see one of the greatest tools of enlightenment at our disposal.”

As we experience life, our brain takes in the information and forms a memory.  Deep within the brain, we have the limbic system or emotional brain.  The Limbic system’s main job is to evaluate your experience asking, “Is this good or bad?”  Then, it stamps the experience and stores it in our memory.  The process does not stop in the brain, though.  When the emotion is registered, the brain sends out signals through biochemicals all over the body to tell the body how to act, feel, behave in this moment.  Then, the body sends signals back to the brain in a loop.  Our experience of life is an embodied experience.  In order to heal, we can’t address just the reasonable side of the brain or the emotional brain, but we have to address the entire body.

I began the semester practicing a form of meditation where I scanned my body noticing and observing what I was bringing to the practice that day.  Then, I would draw my awareness to areas in the body that were tight or painful.  Since I deal with chronic pain, my attention went to the place of pain easily.  I would ask the area of pain why it held pain or what feelings were stored that needed my attention.  Whatever the response from the pain, I would thank my body for protecting me in the past or I would apologize for how I treated my body in the past.  The point is to honor that the body wants to keep you safe and developed habits to be successful, but most often those skills are no longer useful.  So, I honor my past with thankfulness and then with compassion offer the idea that the painful area of my body is free to rest and relax.

February is the love month.  Maybe this February, you begin to practice loving yourself in a new way.  Talking to your physical pain is one way to practice love and compassion.

Here is how to begin:

1- Find a comfortable position for your body.  Begin to scan your body noticing and observing the sensations throughout the body.

2- Settle on an area of the body that you feel pain.  Be curious about the pain asking questions like, “Why are you here?”  Other questions may come with time.  Be gentle with yourself not judging any answers that come.

3- Thank your body for always keeping you safe and protected.

4- When you are ready, offer rest to the area that has been working to keep you safe.  Honor the past need for this type of protection and release the area of the body from this job.

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