Where can being a mindful tender of my body lead me?
I tend to neglect my physical self. It’s not intentional, but I’m a person far more comfortable with introspection, and with widening and deepening my inner vistas. I’m also a writer, and my mind is forever churning with bits and pieces of plot, dialogue, sensory details, and scenes rolling through my head like movie clips – except that sometimes they feel more real than anything happening aroud me.
Peering deeply into my own soul, I can get a little lost, and – well, vague, I guess you could call it – about the shell that holds all of my inside stuff inside. I tend to forget where my body stops, and the world’s sharp edges, ledges, and corners start.
Am I really practicing mindfulness if I stub my toe three times in as many hours, or bang my knee – yet again! – on the cedar chest that’s been at the foot of my bed for several years now?
I think there are levels to being mindful. There’s inner awareness – knowing what motivates my choices, learning and accepting myself as I am – as an individual, and as part of a greater whole that encompasses everything that exists.
But there’s also outward-oriented awareness – awareness of my body, and how I interact with the world and people around me. How I occupy my physical body, and move it through physical spaces.
There’s something about physical challenge and testing myself, daring myself to stretch and grow, that makes me more aware of myself on every level. When I give myself wholly to the experience, it feeds my outer mindfulness, and sustains my inner focus, as well.
Over the last several months, I’ve renewed my practice of tai chi. I love the way the meditative poses flow in a slow, deliberate dance with a multi-layered, higher, deeper purpose.
Tai chi is exercise for the body, and can be used as an effective, non-aggressive form of self-defense.
It’s also a spiritual practice, intended to move the chi, the life energy, throughout the body, and to encourage mindful motion and intention.
It’s at once powerful, gentle, challenging, consuming, energizing and meditative. It’s possible, in only a few minutes, and in a very small space, to get a thorough workout, whether alone or as part of a class or a larger group.
Practicing in a group is enlightening. I regularly attend am open free class at my local Y that includes seasoned practitioners who flow like water, first-timers who struggle with each movement, and all levels in between. We’re both men and women, and span multiple ages. On occasion, we even have a child in the class, which tends to add an element of delight.
We work with intensity, and a sense of play. Although the movements are slow, I’m always sweating long before our warm-up is done. Our instructor, Sal, is passionate about learning. He goes out into the world, collecting knowledge from his own instructors, conventions, books, videos. And then he brings them to us, and shares it with us. Every class is fresh, with new information and perspectives that keep my mind busy while it’s being expanded.
Sometimes, we make mistakes, everyone seeming to be in a different place, or moving in a different rhythm. That could be frustrating, but Sal, is warm and kind, and so it ends up humorous and fun, instead – all part of the practice.
Other times, we flow together, every will drawing the same breath, enacting the same intent. We are connected and attuned to one another, and there’s a certain kind of magic in it.
Using my breath, my muscles, and my mind as I hold positions and move through precise forms fosters my awareness of the connection between them, and a sense of what my body can accomplish if I give it the chance. It also reminds me that I am a part of everything, and everything is a part of me. It’s uplifting, energizing, deepening, – and wonderful.
I’ve had epiphanies during my practice, and I’m beginning to feel it in a new way that’s deeper and flows more from myself in ways that go beyond language. I’m richer in body, mind, and soul than I was before I began, and I know I’ll continue to become so as I deepen and extend my practice.
Do you have a physical pursuit that nurtures your journey into mindfulness? I love learning about how other folks explore self-awareness! Feel free to drop comments and/or links in the handy-dandy little box below!