Finding Peace in the Body
Most of us intuitively know we can find peace by deliberately moving our attention away from thinking to physical sensation – this is why we pace up and down or go for a long walk when we feel overwhelmed by mental chatter. What would happen though, if instead of waiting until we hit some type of mental rock bottom, we began resting in the body as part of our daily routine?
Here is what I found:
Over the years, I got to see how focusing my attention on the body (physical sensation) caused me to feel more at ease in the world – the more I did it, the more at ease I became.
Resting in the body didn’t seem like much of a big deal at first, but over time, I developed a deep yearning to experience this state of inner peace – it made life so much more enjoyable. It eventually dawned on me that it had been the desire to experience this serenity that led me into addiction – I had wanted to ‘feel comfortable in my own skin’, and by moving my attention away from thinking to physical sensation, this began to happen.
Once we experience the benefits of resting in the body, shouldn’t it then just be a simple case of remembering to switch our focus to physical sensation regularly throughout the day?
Unfortunately, it is not usually so easy to do in practice. The problem is there are certain patterns of thinking that hook us every time. These thoughts are often related to our desire to protect ourselves from suffering – we’ve been hurt before, and we can’t let it happen again. It is only by ‘removing the sting’ from these thoughts that we can more easily rest in the body.
The Link Between Trauma and Excessive Thinking
There is nothing wrong with thinking – it is vital for our survival and prosperity. The problem is that much of our thinking is useless at best and harmful at worst. A lot of these troublesome mental chatter arises as a result of past trauma. Bad things happen to us, we get hurt, and we respond by creating mental defenses – these defenses are kept in place through excessive thinking (e.g. planning, anticipating, and ‘acting’ in certain ways).
The more trauma we experience, the more thinking we need to do to protect ourselves – everything can begin to feel like a potential threat. All this thinking means we become so disconnected from our body that almost every physical sensation can trigger a new bout of excessive thinking (e.g. we respond to a bit of normal anxiety by becoming anxious about it). This is why it can be so hard to rest in the body for any length of time.
Opening Up to Escape Excessive Thinking
The key to being able to rest more easily in the body is to begin lowering our mental defenses. We become willing to open up like this once we clearly see how this excessive thinking is keeping us trapped in misery. We find better ways to deal with the ups and downs of life (e.g. compassion), and this gives us the courage to open up more and more.
Some of the ways we can begin to open up include:
• Focusing on the physical component of our feelings rather than the thoughts generated by these feelings – e.g. if you feel sad, focus on the physical sensational associated with this feeling in the body
• Practice metta (loving kindness) meditation as this is a fantastic practice for developing a sense of openness and reducing our sense of living in hostile world
• Develop compassion (this gives us the ability to sit with discomfort rather than retreat into thinking) through practices like tonglen