Tag Archives: embodiement

Crisis as Meditation

*This is based on my notes from a recent training I offered to staff who work with teens in a crisis home. It involved a meditation, experiential body-awareness exercise, and group discussion about the relationship between crisis and deep embodiment. If you are interested in having a similar workshop or training at your agency, write to me

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

― Archilochos

How we react to crisis is how we react to life. The way we train for crisis is to practice in our life. This means that what is needed is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year practice routine. The bad news is you don’t get paid for this. The good news is that this is one of the keys to a rewarding and fulfilling life.

We live in a disembodied society. There is very little about the reward mechanisms of our culture that promote self-awareness, especially the awareness of our bodies. Our jobs, education system and daily lives are increasingly becoming more cerebral, and the barrage of instant and constant gratification on our phones creates an opportunity to be distracted each and every moment of the day.

And we have enshrined this in our modern mythology. Our Sci-fi movies show us a future where our consciousness is no longer confined to these pain-and-disease-ridden bodies. There are people in Silicon Valley trying to figure this out right now. This modern myth encapsulates our culture’s highest values: We view our bodies as a mistake to be overcome.

But what I am offering today is a possibility that our bodies, rather than being a mistake, are actually the greatest gift we have. They are the vehicle of our consciousness. Our consciousness is not just housed in our brain but, at the very least, is infused throughout the body. This is the barometer that receives information from our environment. The more we bring our attention to this great tool, the more we can act with the best possible information. This is especially true for crisis.

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Bracing Against the World

Our samskaras, or the accumulation of habits formed from past action and thought, are deep impressions that have dug themselves into our mind-body system. These samskaras manifest in the form of bracing. We tighten in our mind-body in order to push away unpleasantness or to grab at the desirable. It is this contraction that creates the illusion of separation. By bringing our awareness to these deep holdings, they begin to loosen on their own, returning to their natural state.  We stop bracing against the world.

We often think of this in terms of our personal life. We brace against our relationships to other people, to work, and to ourselves. But, there is another set of deep contractions that we rarely, if ever, talk about.

We constantly brace against the immense suffering that surrounds us and the inevitable guilt we feel as an accomplice. Every time we buy something… anything, drive a car, turn on the electricity in our homes, or even travel to a dharma retreat, our mind-body braces against the horror of our involvement in the exploitation of people and the planet, and we brace again to stave off the helplessness of having no escape in sight. It is this bracing that allows us to continue without fully acknowledging our role as accomplice, or if we do it stays hidden from sight or subdued as a subtle whisper.

We brace out of the mistaken fear that we will drown in the world’s pain, but what we seek to protect is merely the outer shell of our Being. By protecting it, we not only create a dam from the world, but also from ourselves. The world’s suffering is our suffering. We spend precious energy maintaining this illusion of separation.

When we lower the floodgates, this outer shell begins to crumble against life’s oncoming river. What remains is something remarkable- the fierce courage of an open heart.  This heart carries the tides of grief and beauty on its inhale and exhale like a billowing sea, informing the way we inhabit the world and animating each step. This heart sings the song of the world.

For most of us, this is not a one-time event, but a continual and gradual letting go. I have found that each time I allow myself to feel, I discover a new part of me that is still holding on, not yet ready to let go, still believing in a someone to protect from a world out there.

But this also leaves me with a strengthened faith in the process, for an open heart is inherently satisfying. It teaches that the world’s pain contains seeds of its power. And, if we are ever going to change the oppressive power structures at play, we will need that power to do so.

Problems cannot be solved without being acknowledged, and all of us, I don’t care if you have spent years in spiritual retreat or years protesting on the streets, can go a little deeper.

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