Updated: Mar 4, 2021
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The world we live in today seems out of control, as if we’re just living moment to moment in a reactionary way, surviving day-to-day as best we can. While it’s understandable that the body lives in the present moment, the mind doesn’t always work that way, and this causes many of us to feel uncomfortable in the present moment because we perceive, mentally, that we cannot control much of what comes at us. As a result, the “doing self” is “out of a job” when we are in the present moment. We may be present in our body, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are here/organized in the conceptual “doing self” – our habit of being, rather than the “true self.” It’s challenging when you are in your body but not feeling the senses/awareness – we start to feel very anxious and vulnerable. It becomes hard to communicate because we are so used to being in a controlling mentality, to feel as though we are in control. Instead, what we really need, is a lot more truth in our lives, and a little bit more dare as well.
For me, the first occurrence of this kind of “body disconnect” feeling happened when I returned home from a 9 month/17 countries backpacking trip. Back home, I immediately found myself feeling like I was living outside my body because the natural senses my body had developed, through the diversities of culture I had experienced the previous 9 months, didn’t correspond with what I was suddenly facing. But my journey that led to this situation had actually started as far back as 2 years before. From the beginning of yoga training, to volunteering at a yoga resort, and then to the many eye-opening backpacking experiences that followed over the next 9 months, I learned not only about myself, but also about the people I loved the most. When I returned home, I felt weak and vulnerable (I thought it was the most vulnerable I could’ve been at that point). It took me a while to process and I realized I wasn’t ready for it. So, I decided I needed to go back to the place that I fell in love with, in the beginning, after my first awakening at yoga training and where I volunteered as a teacher in Costa Rica before backpacking. I still think this was a good move for me, in theory, but 2 weeks after arriving back in the jungle and living with a local there (I barely knew him, but took the risk thinking I would only be staying a month), the COVID-19 pandemic hit and I didn’t know what to do. My options were limited, as I wasn’t sure how bad the virus spread was going to get at that point. So, I decided to stay in the jungle and face my fears there, rather than go back home and live in a city full of monkey minds and memories from previous traumatic experiences.
It turned out that my decision to stay in the jungle made me feel even more weak and vulnerable., but it also helped me to grow. I was still digesting my dream backpacking trip experiences, and at the same time learning how to survive in the jungle during a pandemic. Everything was new to me and I didn’t completely understand Spanish so my mind played tricks on me. I learned a lot about the lifestyle, culture, and even more about myself and relationships. Looking back now, that time in my life transformed me more than I would have ever imagined. I went there thinking I could work on my travel blog that hadn’t been started, but the Wifi wasn’t working so instead I practiced Spanish, surfing, fishing, cooking, gardening, and did a lot of reading. I had a lot of down time with the locals around, but especially with my partner who I was establishing a very close friendship.
During my backpacking experience, I had met many people who were shocked about how fast I was moving from one place to the next, saying things to me like “you’re not going to experience the full culture.” Well, I was doing it my own way, so deal with it...that was my attitude, and still is. I had been able to see what I wanted to see, do what I wanted to do, and meet who I intended to meet. Every time I think about my decisions, to this day, it brings me happiness because it’s not all about experiencing what other people want you to experience, it’s about taking the action steps to do what you think you want to do, not what others expect you to do. I had dared myself, in my own terms, and it had been joyful.
But it’s true, during my whirlwind, 9-month, backpacking trip, I had moved extremely fast. I was in fight-or-flight, survival mode for a long time. And it was thrilling. So, now back in the jungle, during my 5 months of trying to digest all of it, I ended up getting more fogged up in my mind because of the disconnect between the beauty of my backpacking memories and the daily struggle I faced to speak Spanish, find food, live in a different culture, and deal with a developing but uncertain relationship. I found strength and empowerment in certain areas, such as my daily yoga practice. It was a time in my life I will never forget because my mind and heart were fighting each other on the extreme levels of consciousness which forced me to go more inward and spiritual. I finally found my root during that time, though I had a lot of layers to shed still. Later, when I was finally able to return home on a repatriation flight, I returned home to a depressed, pandemic America, and on top of that, a struggling family situation that I wasn’t ready to face either. It seemed like I kept facing new challenges, one after another, still in fight or flight mode...when was it going to end?
Fortunately, the fight or flight mode has ended and I am settled for the first time in 2 years. The challenges will never end, but thankfully I now have more tools. I packed up my belongings, moved cross-country during a pandemic Summer, and then flew back to Costa Rica (the same place I went to the very first time I went to Costa Rica in December 2018) to teach yoga for a month, and to further work on myself – which brought this journey full circle, providing a sense of completion. All in all, I know that everything I experienced was part of aligning to my purpose, which is the reason I am stronger with the authentic root I was able to plant. And none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t taken the dare.
Throughout my travels and experiences in the past 2 years, I’ve come to realize more and more that people tend to move towards security, which means we gravitate toward control. And in so much as technology allows us to have, or feel like we have, more control, we definitely lean toward technology. But technology, wonderful as it may be in some ways, also takes us away from our bodies. Consider, for example, how children these days spend up to 6 hours a day glued to a screen.
As Tara Brach mentions in one of her podcasts, as we are removed from the natural rhythms, we don’t feel connected to the earth or care for the earth (we are living in a cyber world). That’s the reason why obesity has tripled since 1980. At this rate/trajectory of leaving our bodies and living in a mental world proves the unfolding of agriculture where we have progressed into industrial/technology. This in fact has removed us from the natural rhythms, where thinking brings on more consumption, though we tend to ignore nature (our most cherished source). Many seem to move throughout the day living in this virtual reality, thinking our way through the day, given a choice to be lost in our thoughts or not. We can develop this skill of mindful presence, creativity and channeling which only brings us back to the root.
At the present moment, we all have the choice to be lost in our thoughts in this virtual reality. We need to develop this tool of mindful presence in order to not get lost. When we get lost in thought we are removed from nature, whereas when we are in contact with nature, we are intimate with our natural rhythm. Reggie Ray once said something similar: “To approach the world by objectifying it, To observe in head, domination, mastery and control, Leaves to violate that which we have dissociated from...violating humans and animals.”
I experienced this while living in the jungle, as I was forced to be detached from technology and solely connected to my thoughts and my senses. I was finally getting closer and closer into my body, down to the root. But I was also distracted by the living conditions I was in, living in an open-air shack in the jungle, by the ocean where the closest grocery store is an hour away. I was out of my body and mind at that point, comfort wise, everything was different from anything I had known. I was learning so much at the same time as trying to process what I had been through. I was going through the ups and downs of everyday living there and trying to learn, but also wondering what the heck was wrong with me, I didn’t have any present help. I was only able to call those that I could rely on through Wifi phone calls and listen to podcasts that I could only have access to after downloading throughout the day to watch or listen to at night (with the little Wifi we had). I kept hearing more about how badly the pandemic was getting in different parts of the world and how my family was trying to survive, while I was in a different type of survival mode. I was in a completely separate survival mode from the rest of the world. I was surviving in my own depression, in my own healing heart, but I was getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Trusting in the unknown is what makes life comforting to me, but it is all perspective at the end of the day, right?
The red flags we receive when we’re leaving our bodies are all about control. We must train ourselves to be mindful. Train the mind to be aware of where we are and whether or not we’re being present or not. The four main focal points to help with that are:
Obsessive thinking (e.g. worrying, planning, preparing) what’s dangerous that we can prepare for (fears)
Judgement (e.g. something wrong with us or others, jealousy)
Distractive numbing (e.g. habits, obsessive consuming, addiction)
Speed (e.g. need to get more done, to be more, contemporary societies to be more, don’t observe fully).
I guess you could say that when we walk half as fast, we notice twice as more. That being said, when we’re “plugged in” we are rarely awake. I realized all this while being alone during my backpacking trip and also living in the jungle. I had to remove the obsessive thinking, judgement about myself and what others thought, as well as the habits and addictions I realized about myself. I was so fortunate that the universe had almost literally picked me up and dropped me off in a totally different world to learn how to become the most authentic version of myself and I will be forever grateful for it. Because, if those two things didn’t occur at that time, I would have continued to live the “normal” life thinking I was happy and running that rat race with all the monkey minds trying to get to the finish line...which is what again?
When we are controlling our experiences, we are not here to experience them, to experience life. So many people are disappointed that they are not in reality, the life they imagined--they’re skimming the surface...repeating the same patterns...never going to live a meaningful relationship. Karl Young once said, “When we are cut off from aliveness, one of the greatest influences is the unlived life of the parents.”
For example, it’s the greatest influence-when we think back about what we didn’t pursue or what career we didn’t achieve-we get to a deeper meaning like we never really arrived in the parts of the body that we craved-the aliveness that’s right here-the trans means unmanifested spirit. When there’s unlived life, we don’t have so much choice, we are under the line, and keep repeating the same patterns. We’ve lost connection to truth, and instead live just within our own stories. But coming awake in the body begins to open us to awareness. When we disassociate, we don’t trust ourselves because we know we are avoiding. When we start connecting, the trust grows, and truth becomes more palatable.
For example, when we think “I’m not going to be accepted” we get tight and critical inside and outside our body, losing ourselves. It’s important to get in touch with our true fear/insecurity in order to get back at the core root.
Why do we always feel like we need to feel accompanied? When we disassociate, we leave—we leave the wounded places in our bodies. Instead we need to feel and be with the vulnerability—the space of compassion and presence. Then we have more of a choice to buy into the thoughts or not. When it’s just a thought, we have the choice to inhabit the being.
When I looked in the mirror for the first time in my hotel room before flying back home, I was in utter shock. I had lost 20 pounds and a bunch of traumatic layers from the past 15 years and beyond. I wasn’t just shocked at how beautiful my body looked within this change, but also how differently I looked at myself. I had changed myself (the old version of self), on my own - I had planted my root in this universe again, and I was ready to let it grow.
I’ve noticed that being awake is the portal to freedom, it’s the sacred source. This sacred space awakens the senses by fully inhabiting the moment, which is the foundation of mindfulness, the portal to deep freedom. When there is no certainty, when we are faced with the unknown, this is the biggest awakening of all. That there is a possibility, we learn to bring heart into our bodies, to stay and find aliveness from it. We must undo all the patterning from childhood and the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dare to value truth and seek it. We need to start getting civilized.
John O’Donohue suggests that while we tend look toward eternal values and ideals, that is only helpful and positive in the long run if those ideals are ultimately based in truth that we can feel, hold, and see: “What happened to the wildness is that it got covered and lost in the mind. We live in a time when most ideals have become suspect . . . An ideal is a beautiful thing, it’s the heart of all creativity, prayer, love, everything. But an ideal that isn’t realizable is facetious and false. An ideal is there to lead you on further and further, away from the lowlands to begin to climb the mountain where you can see more and where you can be more. We need something like that, but not from religious fundamentalists, for they only want to lead you back, driven by nostalgia for a past that never existed, to manipulate and control you.”
The source of wisdom is our nature. When we bring our awareness or returning of the senses, we discover impermanence and sense through the form that is full of aliveness. We sense it’s a real mystery when our body lives in the present (spiritually). When we arrive fully in the senses, we can directly discover a sense of mystery by being willing to living comfortably within our bodies.
I can attest to that I had used my body to practice (as a work out) and now I have to inhabit it, respect it and love it with all the feminine force and nurturing and understanding I had withdrawn in my spiritual life. Keeping my heart and my body happy has become my practice and it feels more joyous. Until my first awakening, I didn’t come close to living in my body and senses in each moment. Now I love my life in a new way and this has become the place for freedom in my daily life. I have embraced truth and dare, and that has made all the difference.
As Tara Brach says, “Full aliveness is that which is aware of returning the senses, arriving fully and entering the wilderness of the senses.”
I’ll close here with a poem that speaks this truth:
Living in the Body, by Joyce Sutphen
Body is something you need in order to stay
on this planet and you only get one.
And no matter which one you get, it will not
be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful
enough, it will not be fast enough, it will
not keep on for days at a time, but will
pull you down into a sleepy swamp and
demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.
Body is a thing you have to carry
from one day into the next. Always the
same eyebrows over the same eyes in the same
skin when you look in the mirror, and the
same creaky knee when you get up from the
floor and the same wrist under the watchband.
The changes you can make are small and
costly—better to leave it as it is.
Body is a thing that you have to leave
eventually. You know that because you have
seen others do it, others who were once like you,
living inside their pile of bones and
flesh, smiling at you, loving you,
leaning in the doorway, talking to you
for hours and then one day they
are gone. No forwarding address.
El Sabanero Eco Lodge, Costa Rica - November 2020