What’s your history? What’s your body story? If I were to meet you right now and ask about your body, what would you say? Do you have bad knees? Do you have a bad back? Are you weak? Are you strong? What’s the body story you tell yourself? What’s your emotional story? Do you have anxiety? Do you have depression? Are you a powerful person? A sad person? What’s your narrative?
People I’ve worked with have told me a lot of their narratives:
I have bad knees.
I had surgery on my hip and now my hip is delicate.
I have weak hands.
I have no core strength.
I have anxiety.
I’m too skinny.
I can’t run.
I can’t jump.
I have depression.
I have a tight back.
I have bad posture.
I’m easily scared.
I have round shoulders.
I’m a bad person.
I carry too much tension.
I have scoliosis.
I have uneven hips.
I have jaw problems.
I have bad shoulders.
That last one is my own. In the past my arms would quickly slip out of and back into my shoulder joints, which typically left me on the floor clutching my shoulders and whimpering. Because of this tendency I unconsciously began labeling my shoulders as “bad.”
These are all examples of a body/emotional story: the narrative that you use to define yourself. I want you to get curious about your own story, right now. What do you tell yourself? What do you believe about yourself? Did someone else tell you this? Did you perceive it on your own? When did it become a solid belief? Just start to see it. It was already there, now you’re starting to see it consciously.
Stop for a moment. Let yourself consciously experience your breath. Let your eyes soften. Let yourself experience the ground and the space around you. In essence let yourself experience what is already happening. Purposefully stop reading for one minute and let your attention specifically rest on this vast experience.
Welcome back. Now let’s play a game. Imagine that you’ve just been born in this moment, in this being, with no history, no past. Just coming into existence now. You’ve never experienced what it means to be human before. You don’t know what a body is supposed to feel like. You don’t know what emotional experiences you’ve had in the past because you have no past. See what’s happening now. What are you experiencing in this moment? What is your body telling you? Let yourself experience the sensations and feelings of this moment. If you find yourself trying to define them by referencing the past, let go of that strategy. That’s a comparison to what once was; it is not what’s happening now. Now is not lesser or greater than the past; your experience now is just that: now.
There’s a lot of letting go to do in this game. If you find yourself thinking that you’re missing something, or think you feel lopsided, or crooked, or wrong, gently put that thought aside for now. Those words reflect more your beliefs about what you should be as a person rather than simply what you are experiencing. This creates a conflict in your own being. For instance, if you think you feel lopsided, then you’re most likely holding onto the idea that you should be symmetrical. You’ll keep trying to get to symmetry, subtly fighting what is already there in you and creating extraneous tension in the process. Instead of continually telling yourself to straighten out you could let go into your curves and see that they’re okay.
Your body doesn’t tell you judgments, or interpretations, only experiences. If you just met your body right now through your sensations in the moment, how would you describe it? What’s the experience you’re having now? Does it correlate with your earlier body story? How does this present experience affect your body story? Even if you are feeling unpleasant sensations in your back, your body is not telling you that you have a bad back. “I have a bad back” is an interpretation of the experience you’re having. This interpretation transforms into something solid, into some conclusion about what you’re capable of and what you’ll be FOREVER! Does what you’re feeling right now actually justify your beliefs about yourself?
These beliefs can hold powerful emotions and some serious experiences from your past. If we approach these beliefs aggressively and attack them, you’re the one who suffers because you’re approaching yourself. That’s why we want to approach them gently, with kindness and with a playful attitude.
So let’s play around some more.
A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and just had a mastectomy. “That’s terrible!” That’s a fairly normal response, and that idea could easily become part of her static story. There are certainly events that are painful, emotionally and physically, but “terrible” doesn’t accurately describe her experience of every moment. That’s too permanent. You can get trapped in the static terrible beliefs of disease and surgery. In those moments it’s miraculously freeing to let go of your evaluations of what you once were or what you think you should be.
Perhaps scoliosis is part of your story. As you lie on the ground you might have a sensation that one side of your back is touching the floor more than the other side. That’s a sensation. Can you recognize that as a sensation separate from the evaluation of scoliosis? Can you soften into the sensation and let it be okay?
Perhaps in your story you have depression or anxiety or arthritis or another disease. Let go of the permanent belief of “having” these things. Let go of those evaluations and allow yourself to be mentally born anew, connecting to the experiences occurring now. What are the sensations and feelings of this moment? Are you having an experience of a disease?
A diagnosis of a disease can help orient you toward paths of health. It can help give you context for experiences you’ve had. It can also be a trap of expectancy. Once you’re diagnosed you can become a justified hypochondriac. Pre-diagnoses when you felt some painful sensations in your hands you might have just registered that pain as a small facet of your attention. Once you’re diagnosed with arthritis, when you feel that pain you “know” it’s your arthritis. This cycle can feed itself. Belief: arthritis = pain in the joints. So if you know you have arthritis then you’ll expect to experience pain in your joints. We often respond to pain by tightening ourselves against it to stop moving and hopefully stop the pain. Even if you’re not currently feeling pain, if you’re just expecting it then you’ll also guard yourself against the possibility of pain by tightening up, which can actually increase the pain if you try to move against your own tight guarding! If you expect to feel pain, if that’s your view of your body then you are more likely to experience pain. If you’ve been feeling pain for some time it seems completely logical to expect to feel pain in the future because that’s been your experience! That’s why it’s important to honestly connect with what’s happening now. Use your open imagination, be born anew and look at your experience now without your expectations and without your past.
How would you describe this person you’re discovering now? “They felt very good. Their breath moved freely. They were generally quiet. There was a little something happening in the fingers. Overall they felt quite nice. They had these great bones!” Do you feel your own story, or do you feel something else? The experience you’re having now is you. And it’s you right now. It’s not you tomorrow. Can you use this skill to connect with you now and to be a little skeptical of your body story and your emotional story? No need to be too invested in your own story. Be a little skeptical of it, otherwise you could accidentally use it to keep yourself exactly where you are. Even if you don’t like it! That body story can pen you in. It makes it very difficult to change and to appreciate the change that will happen anyway, simply from being alive, which naturally involves change.
Many people use their story to define themselves. Your story also limits you; your story keeps you stuck. It will be very hard to change if you’re consistently telling yourself who you are and what you are. In this way you become static. You’re telling yourself not to change. You want to get very good at listening to the experiences you’re receiving now. Your story is about the past and may not actually correspond with your current state or your current experience.
So what’s your story and what’s your experience? If you’re willing to share, please do so in the comments below. Acknowledging your stuck story is an important step in allowing it to change.