Have I mentioned my Buddhist youth? I grew up in Boulder, as I never tire of telling people because I’m insufferably attached to the memory of the place, and believe me, it’s just a memory now, the reality being mostly tech startups. But back then, there were a lot of Buddhists in Boulder and they were fascinating.
I remember one very scene-y bunch. You could always spot them. I mean, their building was dipped in gold! They didn’t wear robes and beads, they wore three-piece suits. They ran a writing school and it wasn’t called Random Writing School, it was called The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.
See what I mean? A certain flair. Naturally I started hanging around. One of their number, a really louche guy (even for them), told me this right away: “Ego will get you into meditation—but it can’t get you out again.”
Sorry to report his observation was accurate: I was not in it for the egolessness. As you will guess, ego-battering ensued. Many personal wounds and community schisms later, I left.
Except, somehow: ego couldn’t get me out of it, after all. Like a dummy, I kept going back to similar places. Which is how I ran into the meditation teacher Reginald Ray at a yoga center.
What happened next was I heard him say something like this: “A meditator can only go so far with the mind. Sooner or later, if you want to go further, you’ve got to get into the body.” (Not an exact quote, but close!)
It was the way he said it, I suppose. With a non-judgmental vibe so different from the patronizing yoga teacher who took me aside to say, unsolicited: “I just reeeeeelly think yoga would help you get into your body.” She may have been right, but … rude! I’m the only person who gets to decide whether or not I’m in my body.
So it’s taken some time, but I’m properly into Reggie’s advice these days. Getting right into that body of mine down three paths.
Ruth Chiles treats “the yips” aka focal dystonia, or a kind of record-skip muscle memory that causes athletes, musicians and surgeons to clutch. I don’t suffer from the yips, but Ruth’s meditation for interoception, or inner awareness, has been my golden key for literally getting into the body.
In the meditation, Ruth gently suggests becoming aware of “bones and muscles, ligaments and tendons, soft tissues, nerve endings, blood vessels, and so forth” and the first time I heard this I LOLed. For real Ruth?! “AND SO FORTH?” Like, is there more!? I can barely feel skin in some places. But I keep doing this meditation (it’s free) and now I can feel some of these things. I look forward to, yes, more.
The next thing I’ve been doing is the breathing meditation on the Wim Hof app. (Here is one on YouTube.) You probably know about Wim Hof, aka the Iceman, or the fellow that climbs mountains in his bathing suit in the winter. He’s taught me to hold my breath much longer than I ever thought possible.
As with Ruth’s meditation, the first time I heard him say “Feel your heart. Slow it down,” I was incredulous. But it’s real. In some way I can’t explain, a person can indeed feel their heart from the inside and slow its pace. Wim, I’ll be free-diving for abalone before you know it.
The Iceman is more famously an evangelist for the cold (which unlike oxygen kinda needs an ambassador). His feeling about getting our bodies into cold water is urgent and messianic and in his book—The Wim Hof Method—you find out why.
But cold plunging also makes its own case. You start to crave it, just like they tell you.
I mean! It’s 100°F here at Daniels Ranch, so check back in with me this winter. But because of upwelling, the water at the shore here is barely hitting 60 right now and I tell you what: there’s no place to be in water that temperature other than in your body in the present moment. No room for hopes and fears there, which is to say: kind of the whole point (if there is one) of meditation.
So I’m so curious: How do you go into the body? What’s that meant for you? I’m keen to know more.
Image credit: Zwemmend meisje, Fotodienst NSB, 1940–1943, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.
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