Body Stories

I have memories of being inside my mother's body - being the contained and the container both, alternately... And so I know some of what she was thinking and feeling during her pregnancy. When later on I became a mother I would sometimes look at my daughter and think - you know what I was feeling and thinking when I was pregnant with you ... And would feel humbled, and connected to her.

How would it be if we could allow ourselves to be thus known - from deep inside? Moment by moment? Even just to ourselves? How would it be if you would let yourself know, at this very moment, what you truly felt and truly wanted?

To allow ourselves such knowing, we need to let ourselves be connected to our body: to go inside, to breathe deeply, to become aware of the ebb and flow of our inner energies. For it is in the expansion and contraction of the tissues, the in and the out of the breath, the budding movements of the body, that this knowledge can be accessed. We are bodily creatures, with a bodily reality - and our sense of self needs to include all of our aspects of being to be complete and solid. Often, like travellers on an express train, we rush past the intricate details of our lived experience, the mind on other things. And in so doing, miss our aliveness, and our life.

In our body we carry such a wealth of information! All our past experiences leave their imprint in our body: as memories in the cells, as patterns of movement, as frameworks of thinking, feeling, doing. Touch a body, and the memories come back. If we allow it, we can be 'as if there now': can vividly reconnect to the thoughts, the feelings, the sensations we had at the time when we first lived the experience, can find the voice, the movements, can hear and see what was around us then - and can thus gain insight into our past, into what was, and what was not.

Not only memories, but present realities too can be found in the embodied self. The flutters in my stomach may tell me of a fear I had not noticed before; the headache may alert me to my tiredness; the small movement in my left hand may, if paid attention to, become a gesture of pushing away, a desire to exclude something or somebody. We live such partial lives - and there are so many more and different stories in the body. They can give us the other threads for our tapestry, to make the picture clearer and more detailed, to make the melody more complete. So we can know ourselves more fully.

Nobody else can tell us what we want, who we are. Yet, in our culture we look outside for answers about ourselves, our life, our health, our purpose: books, horoscopes, advice columns, guides, gurus, health consultants, therapists, friends... Others can help us - they can share from their perspective, their life, their experience and knowledge. They can help us most, however, when they help us to strengthen the skills of being attentive to ourselves and our inner realities, to listen in, to take the time to notice...

So take a deep breath, just now. That's right. For that breath is a doorway to an inner experience. Notice where your breath goes to. Where it goes easily. Where with difficulty. Where not at all. And while your awareness is directed inside, notice whether you are comfortable and how you might make yourself more so. Now listen... once upon a time .... What do you notice now ?

by Silke Ziehl

This article was first printed in the Open Centre brochure in 1998, later reprinted in Self and Society, and then again in Cahoots.


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