Sometimes I feel like my body is distilled to a point in the center of me that is atom bomb explosive. It’s a point in the middle of my solar plexus that I curve around as it pulls me into its contraction. It tightens and I can’t feel my extremities.
My fingers seem alien. My face in the mirror looks like a stranger. I look down at my feet and wonder how I can’t feel the floor underneath them. My whole body shakes with earthquake anxiety and fear, and I’m trapped in a brutal prison with many layers. Like Inception, it’s like a dream within a dream – my own mind keeps me here.
But then, ever so slowly, I started to uncurl. My hands flexed and like petals, I could feel my phalanges moving from the inside.
My yoga teacher, Jessica Patterson, has said a handful of times to feel into sensation rather than the story of what is happening. And, in moments where you are distilled into feeling one thing, find something slightly different on the spectrum to feel. I was exploring this and slowly began to understand.
When I say slowly, I mean it like the process of a bulb that was planted in winter and will come up in early spring. What’s it doing all winter? Are the leaves inside of the bulb loosening, starting to feel the cover of soil around them, starting to feel the veins that will grace their leaves? Was I starting to feel the blood in my veins, letting it coax me out of my shell into black soil above me?
I took her advice literally. The next time I started having a panic attack, instead of feeling the ice core in the center of my stomach, I felt my arms. The hair dancing down the length of them, and the air that ever-so-slightly danced across their surface.
Something at my core melted. Baby leaves started to uncurl a wee bit, searching for the sun.
As I did this more and more often, I started taking this habit into my yoga practice. Anxious, mind-racing morning? Well, what else did I feel? How do my feet feel on my mat? How do my thighs feel in high crescent lunge? If that’s too intense, can I focus on the feeling in my shoulders, instead?
While I was starting on this process, I happened upon another hugely influential teacher. At a friend’s book swap (yes, that’s a thing, and it’s quite delightful) I came across the book Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach. I picked it up at the swap and couldn’t put it down, so I brought it home.
I haven’t even read the whole book, to be honest. I just pick it up and read little chapters as I need them. I’ve re-read the chapter on fear several times, as well as the one about coming home to your body. If I were to read the whole book, I’d think I’d “learned it” and I don’t know if I’d ever pick it up again. So I cherry pick… I’d rather learn slowly than blaze through and not digest.
Interestingly enough, she was talking about the process I’d started in myself. Feeling slowly into sensation, rather than the story behind the feeling I was having. How did fear feel in my body? What about anger? And when I am feeling this way, what does the rest of my body feel like?
With these practices, I’ve been coming back into a body filled with creaks, and shakes, and sudden startles. As my body rushes with feeling, I am slowly learning to let go of the story. If my legs get jumpy, I simply notice rather than deciding it means some certain thing about me. If my abdomen tightens, I surround it with compassion, and breathe into it. And if that gets too strong, I notice – what do my fingers feel right now? My toes? Are they cold or hot? Achy? Strong? Quiet?
When I stop practicing this, I can tell. Recently, I’ve been ridiculously busy trying to start a new nonprofit, the Colorado Springs Resilience Center. Even though I’m keenly aware I have to upkeep my own resilience while starting this, I have lost my practice from time to time.
I can tell this because I stop feeling so close to people. I feel a little disconnected, kind of floaty. I feel disconnected, too, from my own words. And then I start to feel the panicky kick of anxiety, like a little ice-baby, in my stomach.
Last week, I surrendered back to my practice. And I noticed how much I wanted to run from it. I’ve made this sound so far like, “Oh, I just do this, no big.” But when I dip my toes into it, my mind wants to pull back. “Just go drink your coffee. Go eat your breakfast. This morning practice isn’t going to do much for you. You don’t want to feel all this shit anyway. Don’t do it.”
I very gently just watched all these thoughts, and my inner resistance to coming back to my body, and at the core of that, my fear at what I was feeling. The fear wouldn’t let up during my practice… and that indeed was not the point. I knew that I was just going to need to really SEE myself, and that was the point.
When I’m doing this observation work, having an anchor has helped. I keep a candle on my table surrounded by plants. The candle is one of those memorial candles – The Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I don’t call myself a Christian… and I believe a LOT of things. I believe in a Power without gender. To some extent I believe in a goddess energy… I feel it and see it around me in the earth. I am a mystic and lover of all mysticism from Islamic, to Buddhist, to Hindu. I adore devotion. There is something about the Muslim doing namaz five times a day that inspires me, for instance. That devotion is something I want to curate in my own heart.
And yet in the middle of all my strange views about spirituality, I still grew up with the sacred heart of Jesus carrying me through everything. The true heart of Jesus was the first place I found that mystic energy. I hear it in Gregorian chants, especially Kyrie Eleison (which can bring me to tears). Lord, have mercy. There’s a tenderness to that, and a strength. Masculine and feminine united.
I have felt the same energy throughout other religions (this is WHY I am not a Christian, I find it everywhere). I feel it, to the horror of many Americans, upon hearing the Muslim call to prayer. I feel it in my yoga studio. I have felt it in the heart of a friend’s friend who was Wiccan. I have felt it in the heart of another friend who believes in the Goddess. I feel it in the heart of a Vine star who offers their words of authenticity and their eyes are so genuine that it is obvious they practice Zen meditation. I feel it in churches, meditation rooms, yoga studios, sacred rituals, in the banjo music of my friend’s bluegrass band.
It is the Sacred Heart of Jesus… and it is everything else.
That energy is what I put my faith in when I come to the mat. When I feel my feet on the mat, whether in Mountain form, or in a crescent lunge, I rest in that inherent loving energy that holds up all things. I offer my devotion to that energy.
That strong resting place gives me the courage to listen to the terrifying feelings I find in my body. It is the soil that coaxes my leaves to unfurl and slowly, slowly extend towards the life-giving sun.
And as I feel the warmth on my skin, I notice.
In the noticing the resilience slowly blooms forth.