404. The Missing Body

When you ask people about their experience when they start practising zazen, they’ll generally talk about their internal dialogue. This seemingly endless compulsive chatter.

After a while they might also talk about more enduring negative emotional states which they often find disturbing and which they generally repress in the busyness of everyday life.

If you ask them what they experience somatically you’re not likely to get much of an answer.  The somatic experiencing of the body generally seems fairly invisible to practitioners except when the body is experiencing pain or where there’s some obvious manifestation of an emotional state like the heart racing or the palms  sweating, or something like that.

The problem is that the lack of somatic awareness and the missing language to describe somatic experiencing  are obviously related. If you turn your attention to, for example, what you’re experiencing at this moment at the back of your throat, there isn’t a language to describe that.  And because there’s not a language to describe it, there isn’t a language to retain it. And so the bulk of our lived life passes from present obscurity to past obscurity, like a vast hidden river underneath the debris of our mind.

Why is it difficult for us to have a somatic language? You can say that it’s because we have a quite intellectual culture that privileges thought, but I think there’s another reason:  if you pay careful attention to somatic experience it’s not one thing after another—the experience is fluid, dynamic, changeable and continuous. It’s like a four dimensional kaleidoscope of feeling rather than a selection of objects and events arranged in time.

It’s as if our evolutionary development has privileged  formulating the world – and ourselves – in terms of discrete things, objects or events, with these then interrelating in a particular way. Perhaps it helped us survive. 

But it doesn’t help us now. 

What we would need to properly describe somatic language is basically a language of process—words like surging, or declining, or bursting; all very different from how we habitually language the world and ourselves.

We’ve been experiencing quite strong storms for the past few days which have blasted the eastern coast of Scotland. When we think of storms we’re likely to think of rain, of wind, of cold. In other words, concrete manifestations of underlying, vaster, dynamic weather patterns. So we are aware of the visible in so far as we can formulate it into discrete things but we’re much, much less aware of underlying processes.

This is very relevant to practise for several reasons. Firstly, if we aren’t somatically aware, then really we’re disconnected from our body. Which also means that we’re disconnected from ourselves. And in consequence, our meditation will be a practice of frustrated reachings for  tranquillity.

On the one hand we’ll have all these thoughts and emotions and on the other we’ll have a sense of spacious awareness which is sometimes concretely manifested in the breath and in a momentary stillness. But the body is missing.      

And so, somehow that spacious awareness is always, as it were, being polluted by the thoughts and emotions and the sense of self that we naturally experience, like the serpent farting in the Garden of Eden.

We feel that way because the whole experience isn’t grounded within what’s actually going on in our life and in our body. 

It’s important for us because if we understand the aliveness of this body then we can understand the aliveness of the body of everything.

 Because they’re not separate.