Nowhere Where it Isn’t Crying in You

Reflections on an Inspiring Quote

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“It is not first this, then this, then that – the whole person comes into motion.
There is nowhere where it stays as is, when I begin to allow movement.  
There’s nowhere, when you have to laugh, where you don’t laugh.  
Or you are only partly involved with laughing.  
Nowhere, when you are crying, where it isn’t crying in you.  
Does that make sense?  
In other words, to give myself to something means not to go point by point.”
Charlotte Selver

Before you read on I suggest you pause, read the quote again, and let it sink in.

What is your response?

Here’s what happened with me: “Yes! What a powerful, awesome statement. This is how we ought to live. Fully alive. “Nowhere, when we laugh, where we don’t laugh.”

And then: Oh, no. I don’t live up to this at all. After all these years of practice, I am still not fully involved. Rarely is my experience even close to this. I need to work very hard to get there.

And then: Wait! Just because Charlotte said this, is this really what is supposed to happen? This may have been Charlotte’s experience but is it mine?

Nowhere, when you are crying, where it isn’t crying in you: The fact that this has ultimately not been my experience, has probably saved my life. There have been times when I was so depressed that it seemed like there was nowhere in me, where I wasn’t experiencing depression. Life became unbearable. But then I discovered (thanks to Charlotte’s practice of Sensory Awareness, nonetheless) that there were places in me that weren’t at all depressed. I noticed that my feet felt usually very good, even when I thought I was ‘completely’ down. Not a shred of sadness in my left foot, no tears but only sensations, pleasant ones to boot: tingling, subtle adjustments towards the floor and – as I continued feeling – triggering a sigh and a deep breath which gave me much-needed space in my chest. No depression in my lower belly either but warmth and softness.*

What’s more, when I continued to feel what was going on in and around me, I noticed that what felt so unbearable was only taking up relatively little space in a bigger context, while the rest of me and my surroundings felt quite different. It just ‘shouted’ so loud, I couldn’t feel anything else. This recognition didn’t mean that all was well. There was still tremendous pain. But by having a larger context and places to ‘go to’ that were not infected by mental illness, I was able to hang on and find my bearings again. This is no recipe for all and for any circumstance, to be sure. But it has been – and continues to be – tremendously helpful in my life.

I have no desire to fault Charlotte. What she said in this Sensory Awareness Leaders Study Group in 1987 is something to deeply explore. This inquiry can be of tremendous value and will lead to important discoveries. But it is not something to blindly believe or to attach our hopes to, maybe not even something to aspire to. That’s for each of us to find out.

“Trust your nature more than a teacher. Teachers are dangerous.”
Charlotte Selver

In my work on a biography of Charlotte Selver, I have become very interested in finding out ‘what actually happened’, when I hear or read something. In my research I have noticed that surprisingly often what people say or write about someone is stated as though it  happened just that way, when indeed it was a story that had been passed down ‘the line’ much like in that beloved telephone game. That is not to say that it, or something like it, didn’t happen. It may well have but then again, the original ‘experiencer’ might not recognize our account of it.  I have also learned that writing about someone (even myself) is at best an approximation. Even when we quote them verbatim, we might still miss their point, and can probably only make our own. And that is okay, too, as long as we aware of it.

So, in the interest of full disclosure: The first quote is verbatim, from a transcript of an audio recording. In that sense, the quote is ‘accurate’. But it is also taken out of the context of a two-hour session and the particular chemistry of the time, place and the group of Sensory Awareness teachers with whom Charlotte worked. And – I was not at that workshop to witness how it happened. All that said, I intend to use the quote unquestioned in a chapter titled How Does a Movement Begin? It fits perfectly and it seems to belong in the particular context.

The second quote is from my on class notes, taken during a workshop with Charlotte in 1991 in Austria. I took the notes in German: “Vertraut eurer Natur mehr, als einem Lehrer. Lehrer sind gefährlich.” I wrote this down right after class, so chances are this is what Charlotte actually said – or approximately. But I cannot reconstruct the context and can’t really recall that particular class. I wonder what other participants might have jutted down or remember.

* See “Beauty and the Beast

** Photos are like quotes: They can inspire and move us. They can also be deceptive. I took this picture in Charlotte’s living room, probably during a break or at the end of a workshop she gave (aged 100!) I don’t quite remember, though I do remember taking pictures while we had tea with friends, fellow Sensory Awareness leaders. It was not a photo session and Charlotte didn’t like to be photographed. I don’t remember why she held up the gong striker but probably to threaten me because I took pictures. Then again, maybe she was posing. In any case, I am sure we laughed. Charlotte could be very funny and silly. Were we ‘all laughter’?

“There is Always a Form”

While teaching in Europe and with little time at hand for writing, I’d like to share with you some fascinating interviews I conducted as part of my Charlotte Selver Oral History and Book ProjectThese interviews are an important source of information for my work on an extensive biography of Charlotte Selver, but beyond that they are a wonderful collection of voices in their own right of people whose lives have been touched by her. Enjoy!

 “There is Always a Form – Charlotte Selver’s Form was Awareness”

A Conversation with Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen

Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen is a movement artist, researcher, teacher and therapist. For over fifty years, she has been exploring movement, touch and the body-mind relationship. An innovator and leader, her work has influenced the fields of bodywork, movement, dance, yoga, body psychotherapy, infant and childhood education and many other body-mind disciplines. In 1973, Bonnie founded The School for Body-Mind Centering®, dedicated to the development and transmission of somatic practices based on embodied anatomy and embodied developmental movement principles. In addition to programs at her school, Bonnie has taught workshops throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. She is the author of the book Sensing, Feeling and Action and has several DVDs on Embodied Anatomy and Embryology, Dance & BMC, and working with children with special needs. She is currently producing other books and DVDs. 

Stefan Laeng-Gilliatt: Tell me a bit about your work.

Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen: It’s hard to describe. The form is the embodiment process. With Charlotte, the form is the awareness. It’s not about any particular thing, and in that sense they’re similar. I always felt kindred spirit. I don’t know very much about Charlotte’s work. She didn’t know very much about mine, but there was that meeting.

I remember before our first meeting at Esalen*, I sent a video of four children that I was working with – maybe twenty-five years ago – and when she saw it, she said: “And she didn’t study with me either!” Our work was just similar. I remember once, when Charles was still living, we did something with sandbags. They gave me this sandbag, and I just felt the spirit was in the sandbag, but it wasn’t about sandbags.

Most of my memories of Charlotte are just playful and pure delight. One of them is my throwing Charlotte to the ground. I don’t know what we were disagreeing about – something. She wouldn’t listen to me. I would say, “Charlotte! Listen to me!” And she’d go, “Aahaahaahahhha.” I said, “Charlotte, you have to listen to me. If you don’t listen to me I’m going to throw you to the ground!” “Aahahahah.” So I took hold of her and I threw her to the ground very gently. We just had that kind of a playful connection.

We were always laughing. Once we went to this little bird house that she had in Big Sur on the cliff. I happen to not like heights and she just – was a bird. She loved that house. I didn’t even want to go inside. But going up to the house she was so happy, she was running. She was like a bird, flying up the path.

Bonnie and Charlotte were part of a two-year training in Esalen on Somatics for professionals in the field. From left to right: Michael Marsh, Don Hanlon Johnson, Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen and Len Cohen, Charlotte Selver, Seymour Levine (one of the founders of psycho-neuroendrocrinology, Stanford Med School); Robert Hall (the Lomi School). [ca 1989; photographer unknown]

Stefan: That’s interesting you say she was a bird. I don’t think I’ve heard anybody say that.

Bonnie: Together we were birds – I wasn’t the bird; she was the bird.

Another time we met at a ZIST**-conference in Garmisch Partenkirchen in Germany. I walked – we didn’t know we were going to see each other – and she just ran, at this age, she just ran with her arms open. I think she left her cane behind. She had that light spirit. In that particular conference I brought out a hundred air balloons blown up and a hundred water balloons and spread them among 1,200 people. The person before me was Thich Nhat Hanh and everything was very quiet and peaceful. And then I brought all these toys and these balloons and the people went crazy. It was wonderful. And afterwards Charlotte asked if she could use the balloons for her workshop. So there was that playfulness that we shared.

Stefan: Can you say something about Charlotte’s place in the somatic movement, or the importance of her work.

Bonnie: I consider her one of the forerunners who prepared the way for me. I see her in the lineage even though I’m not in her exact lineage, I’m certainly in the lineage of the broader path. I also come out of the Laban work. I’m very influenced by that whole school which came out of Germany.

Stefan: She really respected what you were doing, though she no doubt had little idea of what you were actually doing. But one thing that I remember she said was something like: there’s too much form or dance or, you come from performance.

Bonnie: Yes, there’s a lot of form in our work. The form is very important, but it’s a changing form – it could be any form. There’s always a form, but her form was awareness. I mean, if you pick up something there’s a form if you are sensitive to what you’re holding. But I came from a dance background and working with children with special needs. I was certainly much more form oriented. But the essence wasn’t form, and that’s where we met.

Stefan: I don’t know your work either, but to me that question of form has always been intriguing, and it’s hard to talk about it. Charlotte certainly did not want a form in that sense, and she also certainly stayed away from expressive movements. That was her struggle because she came from that. With Gindler she said she had to unlearn so much. Before that she did Bode Gymnastik, which was very expressive and she had to shed that. Then, whenever she saw, or thought she saw, expression or form in somebody’s movement, she would want to work to shed that. But in my experience too, we cannot but express ourselves in some way. There’s always some kind of form and expression, and I’m really curious about that edge of being true, being connected.

Bonnie: In any form. Or all forms. That’s my exploration. But how one is the form, not how one makes a form.

Stefan: When you say form, what do you mean? Do you have particular movements that people do?

Bonnie: No. Charlotte gave up form where I went back to understand my form. Right now I have two yoga programs here in California. And one where we focus on embodying different tissues. In the yoga, we’re not creating a new form. It’s just whatever your form is, how do you embody it? What’s your style? It doesn’t matter. But are you just making a style? Or are you really a warrior? Is this a warrior pose or is this a loving pose? It’s very much about expression, but what is it when you are that?

Stefan: And how do we know?

Bonnie: If I say move your pinky finger, how do you know you’re moving your pinky finger when you don’t see it? You still know it. I’ve worked with a lot of dancers through the years. What is the principle for a dancer or athlete? That’s the same for a baby or a child who has severe cerebral palsy or someone with muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis or arthritis. What do we all have in common? This isn’t pathological.

These children that have severe challenges – people approach them from the place that there is something wrong with them. But they are what they are. That’s their form. Let’s honor them for what they are bringing into the world and what they have to teach us. Their form is perfect, not imperfect. I see them as my teachers. This is the place I meet them. And the same principles of movement and consciousness apply to them as to anybody.

How do we reach that level of being who we are, whatever that is? As soon as the egg and the sperm do their dance there’s a marker that goes to the membrane in which your immune system knows what is you, and there’s never been another marker like it, and there’ll never be another marker again. We’re that unique. So, how do we come to really know that marker, or that essential drone, if you think of music, that vibration that is our own?

Stefan: Would you want your clients to consciously remember? Or is it more about embodiment of that?

Bonnie: The grown-ups are different than children, because we do have a kind of conscious intelligence. We use that, but ultimately need to let go of it; otherwise you’re always witnessing, you’re not actually participating. There’s a level at which you feel the sandbag, you consciously feel it, and in a way you just forget about it. You know the sandbag. You don’t have to keep witnessing it. But in the beginning you would focus your attention because otherwise you’re just not remembering. It’s nothing to learn. And that I think Charlotte and I have in common – we never talked shop, by the way. We just played….
Maybe Charlotte thought of unlearning, when you said a form.

Stefan: Yes, the unlearning of what is extra, what is not needed, so that we then are free to connect with what is now rather than with what we have learned.

Bonnie: So it’s not a gaining from somebody else on the outside but from your own experience.

Stefan: Yes, I think that was really Elsa Gindler’s major turnaround, as I understand it. She came from teaching a form to say: if you really become sensitive to what wants to happen, what happens then? Rather than: Do this or do that. That exploration. It is really starting from not knowing every time. And I do hear that from you too.

Bonnie: Yes, it’s always the not. So students will say: “Well I don’t know.” I say: ”Great, just stay there.”

Stefan: When I first asked you to tell me about your work, your immediate response was what our response often is. It’s very hard to talk about it. It has a form, but it’s beyond that form.

Bonnie: Or the form is the process.

Stefan: So what is the goal of your work?

Bonnie: Just to enjoy the day.

Stefan: To enjoy the day.

Bonnie: Why not? Whatever you do. Because they can always get worse. Even when I was so very ill – not to say I didn’t suffer greatly – I still looked for what was in the day that was quite extraordinary. It doesn’t take away the suffering but it doesn’t waste it. (Bonnie was housebound for three years due to a collapse from post-polio.)

Stefan: In our work gravity is so important. I actually don’t call it gravity very much anymore. I call it the attraction of the earth, because gravity to me sounds like it’s a thing, but what it is is a relationship with the earth, the earth’s pulling on us constantly, and then our response. Gravity and then the support of the ground is so central, and was so central in Charlotte’s work. How does that play into your work?
Bonnie: It plays a lot. We are looking at gravity, and we are looking at space – which I know you’re doing too, but in a different way. We say, if you only feel the gravity, you can’t stop it. If you feel the gravity and the rebound, the anti-gravity, and the pull of heaven, then you have lightness.

Stefan: Charlotte never used the word space. Well, I shouldn’t say that. But that’s not something that comes to mind – space. She certainly worked with it, but not . . .

Bonnie: And she also had it. I think she was so spacious and light, and this bird quality, that gravity for her would be like the balance. But also the sun is drawing us.

Stefan: Tell me more about that. You also said the pull of heaven.

Bonnie: We’re in this position, we are the bridge between the earth and heaven. I mean, fortunately there’s attraction out there. Otherwise we would be chaos. We are rotating around the sun, and this is rotating around that. There are all these pulls. The moon is pulling on our fluids. We are under the forces of the universe. We’re spinning off the earth, but we’re also being pressed into the earth.

And we carry our ancestors. I don’t know about past lives. That’s not where my attention goes. But I know we carry all of the experiences of our ancestors. We have talked about genetics like gravity. It’s this thing that looks like this. But that thing was developed from experience with relationship to the world, and to the family, and to the emotion, and to the gravity. I always feel we heal our ancestors as well as ourselves. We’re a time machine or something. It all exists right now. I don’t know if that makes sense. So we also look at time. We are this collection and it makes a difference whether we feel it by remembering or by being. It’s not just: oh yeah, my grandfather was this and my grandmother was that, and we can trace back to seventeen hundred and something.

I’m interested because Hanna (Bonnie’s grandchild) comes from two languages that are getting lost – if you go to the generation before me and before Len and before Hanna’s other grandparents. The Okinawan speak Japanese now; they’re losing the roots of their culture, the Yiddish of our parents’ generation (except my father was English) – on my side three out of four – not the history but the successiveness is wiped out. How interesting, this little girl. If she goes back that far, the languages and the cultures are fading. And at the same time, all the possibilities that she has by this shadow of who she is.

Stefan: So in that sense, where we come from is really important because that’s – can we say, that’s who we are?

Bonnie: We carry all of those experiences. Whether or not we ever know our ancestors, our grandparents or parents or whatever. My parents met and were in the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, so I grew up in the circus. After my mother quit the show when I was eight and they separated, and then my father, when I was fifteen, they closed the big top, I never wanted to go to the circus again. And then, when my mother died, the circus was in town. We went and I had no connection, because it was indoors. It wasn’t the stench of the elephants and the animals. There was something on television – Cirque de Soleil. It’s so boring to me. I see them doing these things. It has no meaning. And television has no meaning, because after this, there’s nothing they could do on TV that would compare – I mean these people were risking their lives every moment in performance.

This is why I would not want to take this form out of my existence. Where if I had a form that felt artificial – certainly there’s nothing more artificial than this circus getup. They dressed and everything was superficial on the outside, but there’s something real about death-defying acts. Inside they were risking their lives.

Stefan: So it’s very real in that sense.

Bonnie: Yes. It’s a paradox. So that’s an insight for me, when you say that, talking about Charlotte. I would not want to take away form. When I think of the man who led the circus band. He never missed a show in over fifty years. He would say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, and children of all ages, welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth,” and the band would hit up. Over fifty years. How could you erase that? Who would want to?

Stefan: This is fascinating. I like exploring form.

Bonnie: Yes. I know Charlotte had form. It’s just that she wanted it to be real.

Stefan: Yes. And no doubt we do have form. Or we are this form. And it comes from – from our ancestors.

Bonnie: And from our daily life, our environment.

* As part of a two-year training on Somatics for professionals in the field – see photograph.

** Center for Individual and Social Therapy, Munich

Exploring

This entry was to be the introduction to a report of an experience a while back that seemed to call for an explanation. It now is relevant enough to stand on its own. It may sound a bit theoretical but it is important, so please bear with me. In it, I explain a central tenet of Sensory Awareness. The term Sensory Awareness, as I use it, refers to a specific practice based on the work of Elsa Gindler as Charlotte Selver offered it and which lives on in her students. (More on the work here)
Wow, I just wrote a preface to the introduction to next weeks blog.

The beauty of Sensory Awareness lies in the question: “What is your experience?” It is an invitation to explore. In a session, this question underlies an agreed-upon task, which can be as simple as coming from sitting to standing. Ideally, as a teacher* I give as little guidance (and philosophy!) as necessary but enough to provide students with a  framework within which to explore coherently. This is usually done by asking open-ended questions, such as: “As you get ready to come from sitting to standing, can you feel that there is something under you which supports you? Can you feel that something pulls on you, pulls downward? And what in you arouses in response to the pull and the support of the earth that allows for the coming to standing to happen?” Such questions are hopefully not premeditated but arise in the moment from my own experience and from what I notice by seeing the students work.

The questions serve as pointers to experience. Is it possible not to ponder them but to let them sink into our tissues and to then allow for what wants to happen to unfold? The questions are not to be answered through internal dialogue. I may later ask the student what her experience was but until then it is not necessary to verbalize, though incredibly hard not to, because we are so conditioned to give immediate answers to teachers (and the right ones too).

In Charles Brooks’ eloquent words, what we offer in Sensory Awareness is “the rediscovery of experiencing”.  The teacher’s questions ought to give authority/agency to the experiencing student to find out for herself.** In this sense, the students are not “our” students and we are – as Charlotte often pointed out – not teachers, but together we study living, “our attitude towards life”, and how life could be, if we lived without an “attitude”.

This does not mean “anything goes” as one excited student once remarked after back-to-back sessions led by first Charlotte and then myself. It seemed to her that I was giving students more freedom to do what they wanted. I was mortified. No, on the contrary: giving students more freedom means to give them more responsibility. “Here is the task. How do you go about it?” is not an invitation to do ‘whatever’ but a request for diligence and for taking responsibility for one’s own experience. It is not: “How do I want to do this?” but “How does this want to happen?”. Not an easy proposition. In Charlotte’s words: “Sensory Awareness is a demanding mistress.”

An important aspect of Sensory Awareness is reporting back to teacher and fellow students, so we can compare notes, as it were (more on the art of reporting another time). It is with this in mind that I write here. My entries are reports from my own experience rather than teachings of a method, and meant to inspire you to find out for yourself, diligently, playfully. They are spontaneous writings in response often to intentional exploration of real situations. I share them and then ask: “What is your experience?”

After such a report, Charlotte’s sole comment often was: “This was your experience.” (Sometimes followed by: “Now forget it!”, meaning: This might have been an important finding but don’t let expectations get in the way of experiencing anew next time.)

*Or, as Charlotte Selver preferred to call us, leader (because our task is to guide and not to teach.)

** Again, the Buddha’s “be an island onto yourself”. (Beware: this link is supposed to get you to the respective quote on top of the page but your mind might get sucked into the startling title for the next chapter of the Sutta.)

Of Split Rocks, Stone Walls and Clothes with No Emperor

The many responses to my last blog entry, online and off, have been received with much gratitude. Thank you! I trust that you are now not expecting a blog on depression. That is not what I have in mind. But the drought hardened ground upon which it thrives – the persistent illusion of separation – will be a recurring theme. I get terribly caught in that thorny hedge, grown from drought resistant seeds of long forgotten trauma.

Nor am I in the business of debunking Buddhism or any or any other religion or practice. I deeply respect traditions even when I wrestle with them or disagree. I am part of the Buddhist Sangha and as such I deem it of great importance to participate as an active collaborator rather than a passive follower of premeditated “truths”. This is my understanding of what the Buddha meant when he admonished his followers to be an island onto themselves. It is also what I cherish so much about the practice of Sensory Awareness, which has its roots in the work of Elsa Gindler. As Charlotte Selver often suggested, encouraging her students to find out for themselves and in collaboration – rather than blindly following a teaching (or the Führer for that matter) – was Gindler’s foremost gift to the world.

To be sure: this is not an easy path and treacherous for students and teachers alike. Charlotte had to painfully learn that. When she followed Gindler’s advice and went off on her own, learning as she made mistakes, her independence was not appreciated by her teachers. But she knew she had to follow her own sense of the real, even though it meant painful separation. One important teaching I received from Charlotte was at her breakfast table one morning, when she suddenly turned to me and said: “Forget about Sensory Awareness. Do what burns in you.” This blog is such a following-what-burns-in-me forum: partly poetic outlet, partly laboratory, partly screening room for findings from my practice.

On recent walks in the woods I have been curiously attracted by things that are split or torn apart, by snags too. And by manmade divisions such as the ubiquitous stonewalls of New England, marking boundaries between individual sections of the same land. Incidental borders often – serving as much as linear rock dumps as they were intended for keeping anything securely in or out – these walls have long since become an integral part of the landscape and home to an array of small creatures, legged ones and rooted ones, foraging out on either side of what they do not know as wall but call home and shelter and playground.

Maybe most of our beliefs are such incidental linear dumps for thoughts, carelessly tossed away and suddenly perceived as deliberate boundaries, inherently empty of meaning but vehemently defending a perceived permanent self: thought fabrications, clothes with no emperor. Maybe these captivating features of the landscape could help me understand something about what is torn in me and about the walls I have built within and around me. I always think splits have to be mended and walls need to be torn down, but maybe they can be permeable parts of a whole, hatching ground for new life and landmarks for other lost wanderers. Just as the eye recognizes the beauty in a split stone embedded in the soft forest floor, maybe the heart can recognize the beauty in its brokenness, sheltered tenderly in the woven basket of what the English language calls rib cage, more accurately and breathably named Brustkorb in German.

The most impermeable borders are probably those in our minds, limiting our participation with the larger here and now more than any old stone wall could. Or skin and bone for that matter. Our skin is not just form and boundary, it is just as much like that old stone wall, permeable and infused with sensitivity: a place to make contact. Nor is our skeleton a coat-hanger for our flesh but rather an articulated participant in this adventurous life: responsive and gregarious.

Perception and thought may at times seem like an odd couple but they belong together and make us human. However, thought tends to puts itself in charge, even though  it is completely dependent on and emerging from experience. It tends to get lost in the exciting mirror hall of its own reflections, using the sensuous world preferably as “food for thought”.

My practice is dedicated to felt exploration and the realization that we are participants in a world from which we are not essentially separate but rather active ingredient. This requires that thinking becomes a collaborator rather than an out of control tyrant.

Let it inhabit that stone wall, humbly and boldly, reaching out for nurture and play, let it take a walk on the wild side – as I enjoy doing in this blog entry – but always let it come back to the felt ground of experience.

Every moment of feeling, hearing, tasting, seeing, smelling, is an act of participation. So is thinking, but when thinking thinks it is separate and superior rather than youngest sibling and equal to the other senses, we get deluded quickly. (Maybe it tends to go overboard because it is such a latecomer among the senses in evolutionary time, much like a teenager in need to push boundaries to find her own?)

Being this breathing creature, entirely part and participant of a place, of an intimate world of air and bark, chatting humans and asphalt roads: right here, in a felt exchange with this fragrant air I’m breathing, with this chair I sit on, and this floor under me, I write down these bubbling thoughts.

However, that we are part of a place is often not our experience. Confused as we are, we tend to perceive ourselves as solicitors, barely embodied, peering into this world as if from some place that we might imagine to be somewhere in our skull or – worse – “spiritual beings having a physical experience”, as I once read on a bumper sticker.

To break through that persistent illusion I’ve made it part of my practice to roll around on the floor, rub against boulders, lean against trees and otherwise to give myself a chance to experience being in a less mind-mediated fashion, running and jumping for joy when that is what my muscles ache for. Skin and bones and tissue know more about the realities of this world, of belonging, than thinking may ever understand, unless, that is, it joins ranks with the other senses. It is through this bodily intimacy that we can connect with what is also here and wake up to who we really are.

It is often easier for the thinking mind to be integrated and find its place when I move and physically connect with things rather than sitting still in meditation posture, where I often find myself struggling to achieve something: concentration, a quiet mind, not to mention enlightenment.

All senses, including the often disregarded and intimate tactile sense, are crucial for awakening. The senses may be suspect for some Buddhists, tolerated as necessary tools for survival maybe, but essentially perceived as ghastly sirens, leading into the murky swamp of craving and from there straight to suffering. That this happens all the time is sadly true but not inevitable if we are wakeful: the same senses are also the doors to liberation according to the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, the Buddha’s teaching on the Foundations of Mindfulness.

Sitting quietly on a cushion is for me not currently the primary tool of awakening – in fact, it is often literally a good way of going to sleep – though sitting is also part of my daily practice. It has its importance, its beauty and its place. But if I am not very careful when “sitting”, I tend to get into, what Charlotte Selver called, watchtower mentality: I observe rather than experience, “looking” for insight and liberation. Curiously, in Buddhist teachings we are often asked to watch our breath: something that is entirely impossible, as it is not visible, unless, of course you find yourself meditating outside on a frosty morning or if you look at the expanding and contracting chest of your meditating neighbor. Not commonly recommended as a mindfulness tool. Such “watching” may easily foster the sense of self.

The breath can only be felt. What an intimate communion with air and all other breathing beings.

I consider, thus, rolling on the floor to be a valid Buddhist practice alongside many others. The intimacy of visceral experiencing guides us to a felt, to an incorporated sense of what in Buddhism is called Emptiness, namely that we are part but not apart, that our human individuality is but a rather extravagant way of being a cherry blossom: beautiful and fragrant for a moment before tumbling back into the fertile earth of Impermanence, giving way to another juicy fruit.

Cherry Blossoms

Recommended further readings:

If you read my adventurous friend David Abram’s new book Becoming Animal you will recognize him soon as my favorite wilder brother. Visit his web site at http://www.wildethics.com.

Then there is the beautiful work of Charlotte Selver’s husband, Charles Brooks. His book Sensory Awareness – The Rediscovery of Experiencing can be ordered in its recently revised and expanded version, Reclaiming Vitality and Presence, through the web store of the Sensory Awareness Foundation.

For a fascinating history of New England’s stone walls, read Robert Thorson’s Stone by Stone. http://www.stonewall.uconn.edu.

An insightful piece on Agendas – that ambitious offspring of thoughts and beliefs – can be found here: On Having Agendas.