Anxiety, Trees and Clouds

With lots of resistance to feeling it, I wonder why I would resist the presence of anxiety but not the tree’s presence across the field. Granted, the anxiety is very unpleasant* but it is it really unbearable? Don’t I perceive it just as I perceive the tree? Is it essentially different? It is here and it won’t go away, not now or anytime soon anyway. Can I turn to anxiety just as I would look at a tree? I quickly realize that by focusing in on the pain my resistance grows. I just can’t be with it in this way. It is too much, it is too painful. Forcing to meet it head-on does not help.

This is when I actively begin to notice things I am seeing through the window. They are there too. What if I spread my attention, noticing non-threatening things, going from tree to tree, occasionally weaving in the sensations of pain and anxiety?

Just like this tree is here, this cloud, this chair, anxiety is here. It is just one of the things present. Would I want for the tree to go away? Would I want this cloud to change? That pain is here just like everything else is.

Letting my gaze wander I keep saying out loud: Here is a tree, here is a house, there is a goat, here is anxiety, here is a treetop, there is a cloud, there is a wall, here is this pain, here is a tree, here is a fence, here is resistance, here is the vibration of my voice. The wind blows through the leaved branches of the maple tree. Breath blows through the tightness in my chest.

Image


Autumn over Norway Pond

By and by, anxiety becomes part of the landscape. It is simply what it is, no need to resist it, no need to take it personally. No need to zoom in on it in a vain attempt to blow it out. The ground under me holds it just as it holds me. A sigh of relief, when I feel that support. I don’t have to hold that pain, the earth does.

The pain doesn’t disappear by this recognition but I feel supported and ready for the day.

* Is this accurate use of language? Can anything be inherently unpleasant? The sense of unpleasantness is not in that thing but a response in the perceiver. That’s not inherently bad either and can be very good for survival. However….

Allowing

The first autumn winds are blowing through New Hampshire and the sky is of a deep blue. The crisp air clears my head too. This is not something I was looking for. I simply notice a sudden clarity in my head and how refreshing the wind feels on my bare skin and how this spreads through me. What happened ‘by itself’ I sometimes try in vain to achieve through Sensory Awareness*.

IMG_1970

I have been very interested in ‘allowing’ lately. We are often quite obsessed with trying to change what we believe needs to be different – including ourselves. As Sensory Awareness ‘experts’ we might work hard to try to ‘allow change’. But what if the conditions are not such that change is possible?  Can I allow for something to be as it is? How would that affect my quality of life?

Much of the time I might go as far as ‘accepting’ something but really only under the condition that the undesired will eventually – soon! – go away. Such ‘acceptance’ is really a subtle form of aversion and might even stand in the way of change. To engage with things as they are is different. We may still not like them but as we become participants instead of victims, we might – for moments – be free of the desire for things to be ‘better’.

When we are able to let go in this way, when our attitude towards things and events changes, we often experience beauty where just a moment ago we could only see misery. And sometimes, sometimes, it just happens that something gives way to change – as if by itself.

* Substitute with your preferred system of inquiry and “present-moment-work”, such as mindfulness meditation.  ‘Sensory Awareness’ here refers to a specific practice. For more, go to http://www.mindfulnessinmotion.net. 

Inside

I sat beneath a stately fir,
calling out like an abandoned child:
Can you hear me, tree?
Air, do you know I’m here?
Timid voice of an embarrassed fool in the woods.

The wordless ditty which rose from me,
was answered by a rustling, as of a delicate rattle,
from the bare twigs of a young maple sitting next to me.
Rhythm to my melody.

Words joined in:
I am here, I am here – and you are too,
I sang onto the bark of the fir.
You are here, you are here – and I am too,
I sang into the air.

Still lost I got up, following
what looked like an inviting trail
deeper into the woods.
Delighted, when I noticed there was no trail
but only invitation.

Is there one consciousness or are there many
bubbling up from a groundless ground?
And why, if one, did I just imagine a male god?

Image

This is when I suddenly could sense and almost see her
an all-encompassing she,
as I stood among the trees,
my arms spread to reach into the air, touching her.
I was inside and she was woman and I was received.

When the human veil faded it gave way to more
and she was forest, and I was inside and part and not apart.
And she was air, caressing me outside and in.
She was earth and snow under my feet.
And every tree was she and I was too
and all belonged.

Life Has No Meaning: What a Relief!

or

Landscapes of Sensations

The humming of a compressor by the library three houses over keeps penetrating the outer layers of my consciousness, traveling straight to a raw spot all too close to center. It is more than a humming – overtones and undertones and felt vibration, in my head mostly. I am working at my desk and periodically I notice the discomfort this hum causes. It hurts. I complain: when is this going to stop. It’s too much! Immediately followed by my own unsolicited “spiritual” advice: I shouldn’t have a reaction to this. This is aversion. A liberated being is not bound by craving but welcomes things as they are.

I have become keenly aware lately how I constantly push myself to do things differently and better. No wonder I get tired and depressed. Not only does the world not do my bidding – I don’t do my bidding either and I fall far short of my own expectations! I constantly demand of myself to be different, to be present, to be kind, to be efficient – rarely do I let myself just be. I can apparently not be trusted and need constant supervision. I live in a correctional facility – skillfully camouflaged as it may be to look like a sophisticated Buddhist temple. I carry it with me like a snail does her house. But a snail’s house is not built of concrete walls, surrounded by hidden barbed wire and staffed with obnoxious guards!

And though I have become somewhat of an escape artist – no wonder! – I keep getting thrown back into the hole. One thing that keeps me locked up in this penitentiary is the idea that life is about me and about doing good and growing and becoming a better person. But have I become the spiritual master I think I need to be – or have I merely mastered the art of policing myself?

I’m always looking for meaning in everything. Just like the people I hear saying: we are here to learn.

Nothing against learning but – really!?

Life is more than a classroom. I feel increasingly bored with that notion – though I am apparently in the business of helping people who also want to learn and become better persons.

Could we stop this? For moments at least?

I love to move, I love to play and interact with the earth’s pull on this chair
and I really enjoy seeing you touching the floor under your naked feet.
I love to feel this breath gently moving through me.

I love to carry that bucket of milk for Sarah.
And mucking I enjoy. That goat pee is pungent.


Movement Studies. Workshop with Amoz Hetz in Zurich.
Photo by Cornelia Sachs.

The other day I walked through the woods, pestering myself with endless questions about the meaning of life and why I haven’t figured it all out yet, and when I would – and when I would finally manage to be one with everything, at which point everything would be perfect.

What a relief, when I suddenly heard myself say: Life has no meaning!

Finally I could just be, along with everything else, in this mysterious, beautiful and dreadful world.

Moments of sheer freedom – until I heard that voice saying: But!

But this time, I was awake for it and saw: this ‘but’ is but another miracle among the many colorful leaves gently tumbling through the autumn air, sailing towards the welcoming forest pool.

Together we practice Sensory Awareness, we meditate, we move, we are mindful. All in a relatively futile attempt to finally be good enough and please – our parents, the universe, god, who knows – most of all we fail to please ourselves, to measure up to our own image of who and how we should be. How did we get in this mess? This is not your fault, I hear Wes Nisker say and I smile. I love Wes.

Sensory Awareness, moving, mindfulness, spiritual practice, to use another trendy term,  is much more than achieving something and I have less and less interest in helping you – or myself, for that matter, to become a better person. I am forever puzzled by our sheer existence, by the raindrops plopping into the puddle outside my window. Why is there anything rather than nothing? There are these moments when I can ask such questions not because I need an answer but as an expression of wonder and affection.

I love “working” with you in this way. Being.

Landscapes of sensations through what we call shoulders. What is this? Someone writing this blog says: my shoulders are aching. Maybe – but what a miracle: sensation, consciousness.

The humming of the compressor has stopped.

A breath. Where did it come from? Now it’s gone.

 

Addendum: In response to this post, my dear friend and clowning mentor, Ann Willcutt, sent me part 7 of Mary Oliver’s amazing poem Rain. Oliver’s choice of the word ‘purpose’ may be a more accurate expression for what I mean with ‘meaning’.

Titled The Forest, Mary Oliver’s poem ends like this:

Where life has no purpose,
and is neither civil nor intelligent,
it begins
to rain,
it begins
to smell like the bodies
of flowers. 
At the back of the neck
the old skin splits.
The snake shivers
but does not hesitate.
He inches forward.
He begins to bleed through
like satin.

Thank you, Ann – and thank you, Mary.

A Meditation on The Mystery of Experience and Imagination

I sit leaning against a tree. Flooded by thoughts, it is a miracle that I can feel my breath touching the bark and the gentle but persistent push of the tree against my ribs. How simple life is in this dialogue, how thoroughly satisfying – how tangled it gets in my thoughts. But there is no denying it: both that dialogue and my thoughts exist for now and I cannot wish one away.

When I come home and want to write, my thoughts are so scattered, I do not know where to begin. I notice something in me struggling to get hold of the breath. How exactly it happens I do not understand but I’d say it is a wholesome habit. Without such an anchor I cannot find a beginning.

For a while it seems impossible to get there, so loud and demanding are thoughts. What is it that drives them? But questions like this are tricky: they might only lead to more thinking. If the answer does not reveal itself in the experience, I’d rather not spend my time speculating.

Finally, here is the breath: calm and warm and peaceful. No struggle – only thinking trying to explain the phenomena. But it is recognized before it gets tangled up with the breath. Good enough for now. I can write. I realize that it is not either all peace or all struggle: in my experience, they appear to exist alongside and wanting only peace is war. But when my intention is clear, I can ground myself in peace rather quickly by being present in what can be felt and touched and heard and seen, whether it is comfortable or not. With no preconceived notion – just sensing. I guess that’s why we call it Sensory Awareness. It is the foundation for living gracefully.

When grounded like this I can write from experience rather than letting the mind weave its alluring cloth of imaginary perfection. Mind is so good at dreaming the life of unobstructed happiness but reality keeps intervening and there is no counting on it to follow the mind’s script.

I have had these moments of understanding lately, where the two appear as parallel universes: the dreamlike mental fabrications and the tangible reality of day-to-day experience. And it really does feel like dreaming and somehow knowing that I am, but the dream is so convincing I keep getting confused. When I sit, quietly experiencing, I notice that quickly the commentary pushes the actual experience into the background. This process is subtle and in a way fun to notice. What I tell myself about what is happening, presents itself as the real thing. It’s like listening to a radio report about what is going on where I already am.* Somehow, the account appears more real or trustworthy than reality. It is as hard to come back to experiencing as it is to wake up from a dream at night. But not impossible – for moments at a time.

The constant friction between wish and reality has bruised me so much, I wake up wailing in the morning. But it is reality really so bad? No, that does not seem to be the problem. When I center myself in moment to moment experience I am fine with things as they are and happy to engage with them – though, frankly, such moments require cultivation and very often I refuse to live in the present but believe that my dreamed up narrative of life is better than the real thing. So, instead of living what is, I demand for things to be the way I want them to be. The perfect recipe for suffering, though knowing this does not seem to keep me from engaging in this “practice” with great vigor.

Or maybe it is not all that complicated: I just don’t like to be uncomfortable. When it hurts I pull away. And maybe that’s okay – if I can get away. But when I can’t, but refuse to be with what is, I have a problem.

I do no want to oversimplify what is ultimately mysterious. There is a place for dreaming and thinking. How the world we meet with our senses and what we may call imagination weave the fabric of life is beyond my comprehension. Just like what we call “body” and “mind” cannot be separated (and are not separate from the rest of the world), so are images part of the real that can be touched and tasted, smelled, heard and seen. Whether or not thoughts/images illuminate or obstruct what is real, that is our challenge to meet.

The beauty of this moment of touching the bark of the tree with my breath is all too easily covered with a web of imagery and desire, removing me from reality. That encounter is sacred and it needs space and time to unfold in consciousness. It has a depth and “realness” to it that I cherish deeply. It reveals the kinship with that which is more than I, a richness untouched by words.

Closing remark for Buddhists (and Sensory Awareness folks): Buddhist teachings, such as the Satipatthana Sutta, recommend that we sit erect under trees and do not lean against them. That is good practice. It keeps us alert and engaged with the pull of the earth and the strength of its density. However, it is good to lean and touch too for the world has other textures that are as revealing as a well-balanced brain on top of a spine.

* Now that reveals my age. I guess more timely images would be texting or twittering.

“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

Meditation as Participation

For this week’s blog, I want to share a talk and guided meditation for you to listen to and take part.

Meditation as participation is a rich theme which I explore in my work frequently. In short, what I mean by this is that when we meditate (when we do anything) we are not observers of reality but participants among many other participants in the web of life.

Sensory Awareness and other forms of “present moment work”, especially sitting meditation, where we don’t “do” anything but sit and perceive, may sometimes be confused with witnessing or observing what is going on, but – as we also know from modern physics – we are not removed from and peering into a reality separate from us but always active participants, even when just “following the breath” or seeing someone in despair. Perception is not passive receiving but interaction with (and interpretation of) another presence/agent.

What we interact with – air, wood, cars, glass, frogs, distant mountain tops – are also participants. Be it the air we breath or the earth under our feet – whatever we do, we do with “someone”: walking, breathing, touching. We may consider ourselves to be the main agent when we do something but what about the water when we are washing dishes? It may consider us to be mere assistants in its task while it is really the one doing the washing.

Guided Meditation and Experiential Talk
Given for the Santa Fe Vipassana Sangha on February 22, 2011 

When I took my first Sensory Awareness workshop I had already been a dedicated Buddhist practitioner for several years. I quickly realized that the two approaches not only complemented each other beautifully but that Sensory Awareness gave my meditation practice a solidity and grounded it in everyday life in ways I had not experienced before. It has been my wish ever since to bring the two practices together in my work and in the life of others.

I recommend that you participate in the guided meditation rather than just listening to it. It takes about 20 minutes and can be done sitting up or lying down.

You can also partake in the talk. You will need a fellow participant, like a rock, a mug, or some other “thing”. In this talk we used stones and sand bags but it may be worth having an everyday object ready, such as a cup or plate or something from your office desk. Including a fellow human might be even more fun.

Feel free to download the meditation and talk.