“Our bodies know they belong; it is our minds that make our lives so homeless.”
Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong?
I’d be surprised if your answer was no. Human beings are social animals, finely tuned to seek belonging. We notice when we feel that sense of belonging, and notice the lack of it even more acutely.
At times in my life I’ve ached from not feeling I belonged: to places, to people, even in my own body. I’m sure we all have our own versions of these stories.
One of the most distressing cases of this ‘not belonging’ came when I began a meditation practice and found, almost every time I sat on my cushion, the experience of feeling sensations in my body was so intense I would jump straight up and walk away.
Years of diligently not paying attention to my body had created a sense of discomfort when I finally tried to be present to it. It was the worst feeling of not belonging–far worse than a sense of not belonging socially.
If you can’t belong in your body, where can you belong?
Luckily, the act that triggered these feelings–noticing that sense of alienation–was also the act that eventually allowed me to get in touch with the reality that I do belong in my body.
Learning to sit and be comfortable in my own skin took some time, but now it is one of the greatest joys I have in life.
I love being in my body, I enjoy paying attention to the nuances of energy and sensation that continually flow through me and remind me of my aliveness.
Looking back on times where I have difficulty being present in my body, I can see that trying to avoid unpleasant or unfamiliar or strong sensations is often the heart of the problem.
Coming back to the body after being habitually immersed in thought for so long, makes us unprepared for the occasional intensity of feeling the energy in my body. This is the point where we habit kicks in and we find way to distract ourselves. In other words, we leave our bodies.
Eventually I realized these sensations were simply energy moving around, information flowing through my body, and it was going on whether I paid attention to it or not.
Welcoming the sensations helps you to let go of the resistance and judgement that can often attach to ordinary feelings.
When you do this the signals become clearer. You can listen to your body and better understand what it needs.
You learn to discriminate between a sensation that is just there doing its thing, and a sensation that is asking for something to change, telling you to shift your legs a bit, or breathe a little more deeply.
Whenever you have visitors in your home, it’s second nature to greet people as they arrive and welcome them. So they feel at home, so they feel they belong.
The same principle can help you to feel at home in your body.
Simple Cues To Invite Presence
A key principle I try to follow in my presence coaching is the use of gentle persistence to help change habits.
Small shifts, introduced slowly and mindfully, help to make change easier and also allow you to integrate these changes at the same time.
The mind is a very persuasive part of us. It makes a very loud and aggressive case as to why we should hang out with it. Exclusively.
And while there is a lot going on in the mind that is useful for us to pay attention to, bringing attention back down to the body is also very helpful.
Presence cues can really help as we learn to be more present in our bodies.
A presence cue is simply a reminder that you set to encourage yourself to be present in your body.
In the spirit of gentle persistence I like to pick everyday activities as my presence cues. The best activities are those you repeat often, and that are simple and non-threatening.
Sample presence cues might include–washing the dishes, walking to the bus, brushing your teeth.
Each of these activities can serve as a reminder to be present to your body and notice what is going on. Setting a presence cue also serves as a small commitment to yourself that you will follow through on a regular basis.
The regularity is important as it allows these small acts of presence to accumulate over time and become habits.
Each presence cue can be assigned a simple act of awareness.
For washing the dishes you might notice the temperature of the water on your hands, or how you hold your body as you stand at the sink.
For walking to the bus stop you might give attention to the smells from the gardens, or the traffic, as you walk by. Or feel the ground beneath your feet as you walk.
Below are three simple activities you can use to remind yourself to be aware of your body. at the top of each one I have included a simple presence cue.
Three simple ways to welcome yourself into your body
1. Follow the flow
Presence cue: Every time you drink a glass of water
Whenever you drink a glass of water make a point to slow down and follow the sensation of the water going down your throat.
Notice the changing sensations as the water goes down, I like to try to determine the point where I don’t feel it anymore.
This is a wonderful exercise in directing your attention, which is a necessary skill in learning to be more present in your body.
It’s also very time limited, and if you do this every time you drink water you are effortlessly building up the habit of returning to the body at least a few times a day.
2. Feel your feet
Presence cue: Every time you sit at the computer
This is a great and simple exercise to try whenever you remember.
Sit down at the computer is a time you’re likely to abandon your body for the world of thought.
Feeling your feet on the ground is very grounding, and it’s helpful to remember to make that connection when you’re doing this–”I feel my feet on the ground, I feel the support of the ground/floor beneath me.”
One thing I like about this activity is that our feet are the furthest physical point from the mind.
This creates a natural tension between awareness of your lower body and awareness of your mind at the top of your body.
It gives a nice sense of back and forth, of simultaneously being grounded in the body and reaching up through the mind in the quest for new ideas and thinking.
Holding both of these aspects in awareness engages your body and mind together in an inclusive and welcoming way.
3. Follow the flow II
Presence cue: Every time you enter the shower or bath
Having a shower, or bath, is a great opportunity to practice being present to your body. The flowing water is comforting and provides pleasant sensations to follow, this can make it easier to remain present and really notice what’s going on.
Bathing is naturally a very body centered activity, and so bringing our awareness in creates a great starting point for the practice of coming home to the body.
It’s also a regular activity (I hope!) and will help you build a little repetition to the practice.
These are some simple practices that help to create a sense of belonging in your own body, I hope one or two of them resonate with you.
If you try any of these practices, please leave a comment and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear about your experience.
Maybe you have your own ways of welcoming yourself into presence with your body, if you have any tips that have worked for you I’d love to hear from you as well.