“People think bodywork has only to do with muscles and fascia. I don’t think so. I think it has to do with letting go, leaning into discomfort, and breathing.
Inevitably our bodies tighten, we experience pain and, if left to our own devices, suffering. But the body knows. It knows what to do. All it needs is a little nudge. Just something to remind it. And touch is such a beautiful avenue.
The body would seem to be a rather perfect mirror of where we find our minds mentally, even emotionally.”
I wrote something to this effect recently, posting it on my social media, curious if it would pique anyone’s interest. Soon thereafter, a friend responded.
“As a body worker for 8+ years, I would add that more pain is not always a sign of growth or health.” They went on to explain that for many, chronic pain can desensitize nerves, and that this “no pain no gain” mentality is such an unhealthy, toxic piece in the body-working world.
This really piqued MY interest. I hadn’t thought that was what I had written about at all!
All of a sudden, we were now discussing not only the body, but also the mind. And I absolutely love how interconnected these two truly are.
In Tibetan Buddhism, we find a description of two distinct “bodies.” Chogyam Trungpa, for all his eccentricities, was incredibly skilled at putting Buddhist thought into a psychological lens, and so called these two the “body-body” and the “psychosomatic body.”
The body-body is, for all intents and purposes, just the body.
The psychosomatic body, however, is generally how we relate to ourselves. This is the body we see with our eyes; this body we have actually created with our minds.
I love this distinction. I actually see it on a daily basis.
Sometimes I look a certain way to myself, while at other times I feel that I look wholly different.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the diagnosis of body-dysmorphia, a classification we tend to diagnose those with eating disorders. In essence, a diagnosis such as this asks the question as to whether the way we see ourselves is in fact the way we are (or at least, the way the majority of others see us). If these two are incongruent—if we see ourselves as underweight or overweight while most others would disagree with such a sentiment—then a diagnosis such as this may be enacted.
But from this perspective of the body-body and the psychosomatic body, on some level we are actually all making this mistake. And this distinction is a wonderful avenue with which to get curious about, especially when we experience physical or chronic pain.
I have experienced chronic pain since childhood. It got to the point where it was such a normal part of my life that I stopped relating to it from a mindful, conscious place. It just was. When doctors asked what my pain level was, I always had two options: I could tell them that it was a 10 (which it always was, really) or I could say that I was at a one or two, which seemed more relevant because, well, it was nothing new. So I did just that.
Others would talk about their chronic pain and I would listen as if I had no experience with it myself. “Must be less chronic than mine,” I would think to myself.
In a lot of ways, I had disowned my own pain.
And that, I think, lead to an experience of what we might call suffering.
Now, some Buddhist writers have described suffering from their lens of mindfulness as a “holding on” to pain — a distinction that can, perhaps, be discovered through meditation and enquiry (Buddhists love suffering and subsequently thinking about it). But what if we think about all of this through a more somatically-minded lens? Remember, from this perspective, we can’t really separate the mind from the body. In many ways, the body is the mind, and vise versa.
In my experience, letting go or “leaning in” to my pain does in fact tend to make me question whether I even have it at all. I like to ask myself, “Was I experiencing it before I remembered that I had it to begin with?”
But one thing I don’t want to do here is try to extinguish this concept of pain and suffering from such an intellectual space. “Just meditate” is not a request that has ever done much for my own self-enquiry. What does interest me is when we actually experience these things. If I am holding on, and I am experiencing pain, then is my body actually physically tight in places? Are there areas of my body that are so imperceptibly tight that I am not even aware of it? And what happens when I get really clear and focused on this pain, when I really let myself feel it? I tend to find that I am now more capable of letting that go.
When I lean in, I am able to let go.
When I lean in, I am able to let go.
I like calling this kind of bodywork seele or psyche work. When we translate Jung from the German, we tend to translate the word “seele” as “psyche.” And we tend to think of the psyche as the mind; the conscious and unconscious. But the word seele can also be translated as the soul. There’s something deeper to all of this psyche business. And, when we talk about the soul, spirit, whatever you like, we don’t have to go any farther than our very own bodies. The famous Taoist, or alchemical, or even yogic phrase exists that “as above, so below,” alluding to the belief that that which exists on a grander scale also exists on a smaller one. We are the microcosm that is the macrocosm.
Thing is, I can’t do anything for you or myself if all we want to talk about is some abstract god or spirit or what have you. I’m no spiritual teacher. I have plenty of stories from different traditions that I love to tell, stories with beautiful metaphors about god or the universe. But how does that help us? How does that help you or I?
What I love about all of this, however, is that it is so easy to replace the abstract with the personal. Here we are. Right here. We are bodies, minds, and souls. We have everything we need right there. Right in front of us. Inside of us. What else do we need?
And now, when we relate from this very special place, we have every tool we could possibly want at our disposal. We have the physical, the emotional, even the spiritual, if we would like it. And when we have the body, the mind, and the soul, we can truly relate to others.
Now we have a relationship, and we can discover from this new place. This magical place. Let’s discover together.