Now that I have designed and led 8 Belly Intelligence workshops, I can see that much of the impact of the introductory level material for participants is about changing one’s relationship with our body. The most compelling outcome is a change of perspective: one from seeing and treating the body as an object, to moving and relating with one’s body as a resource. What does this really mean? And why is it important?
In the western world view, which is steeped in the Newtonian perspective of mind over matter, the intellect is seen as FAR superior to the body in terms of perceiving, understanding, and knowing about the world. For most people, the body is not even on the radar when it comes to reflecting on one’s experience. Most of us simply see and treat the body like a tool. A means to take us from point A to point B, a device to use and abuse as we wish, an apparatus that, when it does not meet our expectations, we berate and assume it “let us down”. Think about it, what happens when your body does not perform up to your expectations? Let’s say you get sick. Do you think to yourself, “Wow, did I pushed myself beyond my limits?” or “Huh, I wonder what my body needs right now?” or “Sometimes I just get sick, time to take care of myself.” Or do you think, “Why is my body so weak?” or “I don’t have time to be sick now!” or “I am not going to give in to this sickness and can push through this.”
Another way this attitude manifests is in the way our head tries to tell our body its business. I have been teaching Oriental Belly Dance for a decade (www.ShimmyWithSheikha.com). All kinds of women have entered my studio, a diversity of backgrounds, body shapes and sizes, ages, attractiveness, personalities, intelligence levels, extenuating circumstances, ways of learning, levels of natural rhythm, and ability to learn the dance. Consistently, when women first stare into the mirror so they can see what their body is doing, they tend to see with a critical eye towards their physical appearance. This is across the board, for we are taught to look in the mirror to see how our body measures up. Furthermore, no matter how easy or how difficult learning to belly dance is for women, I see a consistent way that the mind tries to control and judge the body by berating it for not doing a better job. Generally speaking, in the beginning, if the dance is particularly difficult for a woman, then she tends to judge her body for not keeping up. If a particular move is hard, she will usually get frustrated and somehow berate her body for not learning faster. If all has been going well and then she has an off night at class, she will somehow feel that she is letting herself down. It’s so unfortunate how the mind judges the body when learning dance, especially one like belly dance that brings up so much societal conditioning about one’s sexuality and body image. Most of us tend to have negative judgment about our bodies, how they look, how they perform, and how well they meet these internal standards we have assumed are realistic.
Let’s look at another perspective, dancers who learn the dance easily. For the most part, for me the dance was natural and easy. Aside from spinning, which stopped my learning dead in its tracks, I could stand behind my teacher and my body could mimic the movement just by looking at and following her. In the beginning, I rarely had to think hard about what I was doing, I just did it. Looking back, I can see how I began to pride myself on this ease. I was one of those dancers who didn’t really need to practice. I believed I was one of the best dancers in the class. Then came my first show. I was SO self-conscious I couldn’t relax on stage. I could hardly bear to look up at the audience watching me. I felt small and immature and less than the other dancers, who seemed comfortable and at ease. In reality, I’m sure that most of us were terrified. I couldn’t see that even if it was true. What’s amazing to me, looking back, is the way I just scolded myself for not dancing with the ease and confidence I felt in class. I believed that I failed somehow, and felt the deep self judgment of not having performed up to the ability of my body. But, instead of looking at the psychological thinking behind my self consciousness, I instead began to drive my body harder so that it would not happen again. I assumed that somehow my body should have had more self control and that dancing on stage should have feel effortless. My thinking was negatively affecting my physical performance; and, worse yet, my mind scolded and shamed my body for not doing a better job. My head was telling my body its business! From this perspective, my body was just an object to my head, which used and abused my body to meet the ends it had in mind. Thankfully, those days are gone, and belly dancing has taught me to appreciate my body as a seat of deep wisdom.
The body is, after all, the physical dwelling place of conscious awareness (you know, the awareness we humans have because we have a neo-cortex). Whether or not you believe that there is more to life than the material realm – the point remains the same: “who” I am is housed in this physical form. For those of us who believe in something more than this plane of existence, the body houses my spirit, as my sister says. Or, as we understand in the Ridhwan School: the body is the vessel of the soul. The point I am making is that most of us don’t really get that a LARGE part of who we are is our body. Our body is the residence, the street address, the abode of our “self”. Why don’t we treat it as well as we treat our other material possessions? Why do we abuse it in so many ways and then wonder why we feel like crap. It’s interesting how much research there is on how our thinking affects our life and our body …wonder what would happen if we started studying the other direction?
I am very curious about this in my life. I have been deeply investigating my relationship with my body and what my body is teaching me in any given moment. I ask myself all sorts of questions. Do I think I’m separate from my body? What are my expectations of my body? How do I treat my body and why? What historical/environmental imprints in my body are still vital to me? Which are simply outdated constructs? How am I ashamed of my body? Where do I feel prideful of my body? There is a great book by a guy called Steve Sisgold: What’s Your Body Telling You? In it, he shows the way that our thinking gets locked into spin traps, meaning we just ruminate in circles and rarely have a creative thought when facing upset and emotional challenge. He also teaches how to have a conversation with your body, on its terms, in order to “solve” an issue that you are facing in your life. I like the book. It has practical tools to problem solve with issues we humans face. It understands that the body is a resource. It is a great start to the process of somatic inquiry.
But I want to take it a step further. What if we simply knock on the door to our somatic abode (our body) and ask if we can just sit down and hang out. You know, like when you hang out with your partner or go over to your best friend’s house and you just chill. Talk about life. Relax. Unwind together. Hameed Ali (my spiritual teacher, pen name A. H. Almaas, www.ridhwan.org) calls this hanging our with ourselves, abiding with ourselves. Abode, abiding…both from the same word roots. I looked them up and found:
- AlphaDicionary.com: “It came to us from the Old English verb abidan, comprising a-, an intensifier prefix + bidan “to remain”. The same root that came through the Germanic languages to English as bidan emerged in Latin as fidere “to trust, confide” and fidus “faithful” (remain unchanged)”
- Angelfire: “When we abide in something, we are loyal to it even unto death. When we abide, we remain in a certain place even when the rest of the world has left us behind. To abide means to continue doing whatever is being done even when it is hard and the urge to quit is almost too much. The word abide means to cling to something and have faith in it, even when it seems to have failed.”
My understanding is that in order to participate in open-ended, deep, truthful and whole-hearted somatic/body investigation, we start by changing the way we relate with ourselves, we begin abiding in our bodies. We sit and listen, move and listen, breathe and listen, sense our bodies and listen. And then we listen some more. We bring the body into the foreground of our awareness and treat it like we want to be treated in relationship. “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, Bible). Once we begin treating our body with loving kindness and moving with it as a treasured resource, we can begin to build trust in this relationship and start asking our body questions about challenges or feelings or confusion we are having. But, as any good relationship, we have to be open-minded about what our body is telling us, respecting the body’s perspective and intelligence, and listening on our body’s terms. We also need to spend time with our body, relaxing and enjoying our physical presence, just for the pleasure of being with an old friend, with no particular outcome in mind, simply because our body is an intimate resource which deserves “me time”.
Your body is a treasure trove of support, information and wisdom. Once you establish a trusting relationship with your body, it will share itself with you. When it’s ready, your body will reveal what needs to be revealed. Your body is not an object. It is a precious resource. The most valuable “asset” you have. This work of cultivating a deep relationship with our body through somatic inquiry is not complicated. As one of my participants said of my facilitation at the end of a workshop, “she has a way of asking the questions that almost makes this simple, yet not always easy”. Truly, it is simple, but it takes a deep commitment and openness and a willingness to suspend what you think you know. Once you drop into the somatic well of your body’s knowledge, you will find that the universe is waiting to reveal itself through your tissue. My next Belly Intelligence workshop is in my studio in Evergreen, CO on Sunday, April 3, 2011. Come and let your body blow open your mind!