THE ANATOMY OF THE HERE AND NOW
Body, True Nature, and Rejuvenation
a workshop or ongoing class
In my work, I have been inspired by the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, as well as my own somatic experience and the wisdom of many other approaches, including Body-Mind Centering, the Diamond Approach and the Mother’s focus on the cells. I have created a series of exercises from conscious breathing to awareness of the body, centering in the hara, then beginning to move from that center into moment-to-moment improvisational dance. I have employed many of the meditations I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh’s work together with my own somatic experience in grounding, movement meditation, and improvisational dance.
The Anatomy of the Here and Now
From my own experience, and that of working with my ongoing women’s group, I believe the physical structure of the body actually shapeshifts to accommodate the openness of Being, allowing for increased energy (chi) and well being in the body. I believe this is a development in the descending path, a term used by Hameed Ali of the Diamond Approach, and Sri Aurobindo before him. The descending path is the full embodiment of Being, Being manifesting as the personal self. This is new territory, and, I believe, has a profound rejuvenating affect on our physical health as well. It seems to me that this new perception of body/matter is a development occurring simultaneously with the birth of the new earth.
My experience is that presence or embodiment centers on the tant tien, the energetic point two fingers below the navel, and approximately two fingers in towards the belly center, referred to as the hara The tant tien is the center of the hara area. From the tant tien we are connected to the center of everything, the core of the Earth included. We feel the support of the Earth as an ongoing presence, as well as feel centered in the present moment.
When I am centered in the hara, the weight of my body falls directly over the talus of the foot, the bone at the height of the arch. The iliopsoas muscle, which is the only muscle to connect the leg to the spine, is then free to move as intended, in a pendulum like movement that allows the leg to swing through on each step. The pelvic bowl is balanced, and I feel fully inside my legs and feet instead of on top of them, allowing for the archetypal experience of true Strength. I connect with the archetypal pattern, the resonant energy field, of Strength. The iliopsoas muscle attaches to the spine in the solar plexus area. The Will center, another archetypal field, in the solar plexus area opens to support the truth of the heart, allowing the heart to come forward and be fully open. This support continues through the upper chest and throat, with the throat chakra opening, the jaw releasing, and the head centers opening, resulting in clear seeing.
In the Diamond Approach, this experience of the Will supporting the Truth of the Heart center is called the Citadel. It is a vivid experience of structural support, feeling as if the body is a cathedral or temple. It is support for Being, and I see it as Being informing the body. I call this as body fully transparent to Being. I often feel I am embodying Green Tara, the Compassion center of the Heart, as well, fully supported by Strength and Will, allowing for compassion in action. Once I am deeply centered in the tant tien, invoking archetypal energies effortlessly occurs through intent.
Body-Mind Centering and the Hara
This past weekend I was present at a course led by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, founder of Body-Mind Centering, at Esalen Institute. Bonnie has mapped the mind of each of the systems of the body, each individual organ, gland, fluid, the muscles and bones, through bringing awareness into each area. The course I attended was titled “The Physical Embodiment of Space” in which we explored the embryonic (pre-womb) stage of development, essentially what occurs in the first few days after the egg is fertilized by the sperm but before it implants itself in the uterine wall.
It is Bonnie’s experience that the yolk sac, which supplies the nutritious fluid to the embryo until the maternal blood supply is established, when withdrawn onto the belly of the embryo, transforms into the peritoneal cavity. This cavity will contain the pelvic and abdominal organs and become the “inner sea of chi” as the embryo curls around it into a C-curve. This inner sea of chi – chi is energy in Western terms – in our abdomen is the tant tien, and by bringing our awareness into that area we discover a form of internal respiration, a subtle breath that emanates from this center and carries chi to the bones, reinvigorating the bone marrow and supporting the growth of new blood cells.
I had independently been exploring the tant tien for some time, and had experience a connection to infinite space – and being breathed – from that area. It felt as though my breath was coming from an infinite source of nourishment, and I was being breathed, without any effort on my part.
Meditators often experience the subtleness of this breath, and this is also the breath from which most of my dancing occurs. It is the foundation of effortless movement. I had also experienced the chi traveling through the bones, especially when centered over the arch of the foot. I have been exploring questions such as how the chi moves through the body on the physical level. After focusing on the hara for long periods of time the past week, I believe the chi moves through the fluids of our body, perhaps via the connective tissue, like light through water; I can feel the rippling as it moves.
Bonnie had been in bed for a few years with a recurrence of childhood polio, and nothing in her vast knowledge of the body was helping until she went to the embryonic tissue, and began to breathe from the tant tien at the center of the hara. This released chi to her bones and allowed her to heal. She sees the process as not one of learning, but remembering, reconnecting with this fluid space that we know deep inside us.
Bonnie sees the intent of the cells, which may possibly be located and experienced through the mitochondria of the cells, as informing the chi, which then informs the blood, which then informs the body. I believe she stated that this information (not including the mitochondria) initially came from a Taoist master.
It is my own experience that when I am experiencing the stillness of being breathed through the hara, that my intent – or the cellular intent of my cells through which Divine Will is moving – is immensely powerful, and that chi flows through the blood to move my body according to my intent, or where my attention is focused. MY awareness then joins with the intent of the cells to optimize energy, or provide archetypal support, such as Love or Compassion. This can aid internal healing or be used externally as in martial arts or when I dance.
The Body as Temple
I am attempting to create a down to earth, embodied spiritual path for women in which the body is experienced as the temple through which we come to know the divine. The mystics of the great spiritual traditions have spoken of the present moment, and of the kingdom of heaven within. The moment-to-moment awareness of our breath, our movements, and the sensation and feelings in our bodies are the doorway to the here and now.
I have found Thich Nhat Hanh’s breathing meditations to be both easy to teach and ideal for helping individuals become present. These guided meditations and many more can be found in The Blooming of a Lotus. The following exercises are listed in the order in which I would present them in a weekend workshop or ongoing class, with time for discussion before and after each exercise.
1). Coming into the present moment: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
2). Feeling the body: Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I smile to my whole body.
3). Feeling the elemental nature of the body:
Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh. Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out I feel solid.
Breathing in, I see myself as space. Breathing out, I feel free.
Breathing in I see myself as still water, Breathing out I reflect all that is.
Body as Temple – Support for True Nature
To be embodied is to be relaxed, awake and grounded, present within the body, yet feeling interconnected with the whole
4). Beginning to ground through connecting with the hara, I would now have the group begin to focus their attention in the area of the hara. Sitting with full awareness in the hara, feeling the breath that emanates from that center.
5). Relaxed, awake and grounded: Then with awareness on the hara, we find our support in standing meditation, feeling how the hara both supports our own hearts and extends to the heart of the Earth. We feel this line of support at the back of our heart and extending up to the center of the eyes, where we feel how the movement in this area affects our drawing in and extending out to the heavens.
6). Moving and grounded: Next we begin to move around the room, walking with awareness of the hara, noticing how our feet are moving on the ground. After some time of experiencing what is occurring in the foot, I would bring attention to the inner arch, and then on up through the body, feeling how the support of the hara through the foot to the center of the Earth supports the Heart.
The Improvisational Moment
Once each individual is feeling the support of the hara, I would move on to improvisational movement. As we attune to the dance of sensation, feeling and movement within us, we experience the improvisational nature of each moment. Each movement and each moment arising out of the ground of Being is fresh and new. Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation on the moment, in No Death, No Fear, fully expresses this feeling.
7). To establish awareness in the moment:
I have arrived, I am home
In the here, In the now
I am solid, I am free
In the ultimate, I dwell (p. 99)
When we begin to pay close attention to where a movement is initiated from in the body, we are further developing mindfulness in our movement. The place where a movement originates establishes the pattern of coordination through the body that follows. In Sensing, Feeling and Action, Bonnie writes, “As you refine the place of initiation, your movement becomes more articulated and differentiated “(p. 86). She continues, “The first step in initiating movement from a particular place is to focus your mind on that place, trusting that the movement of your body will follow/respond to the movement of your mind. This is not an intellectual process, but a kinesthetic (sensory/feeling) one.” My own experience of this is that authentic, free and spontaneous movement arises, far more interesting and skillful than I could create willfully. Yet simultaneously, I am shaping the energy that moves through me with my intent, I am participating with the larger Universe as it moves through me. It is mind and body united, moving as embodied Being. This process also allows the body to open and be informed by the fullness of Being.
To me this is the kinesthetic experience of Being. Bonnie says “The more neurological pathways that are established in the body, and the more basic integration it has, the easier it is to express the multifacetedness, the wider and with more breadth and depth will be the possibilities for expression and understanding” (p. 100). In any moment, the quality of mind, or the archetypal energy of the moment, is being expressed through the body. The more centered I am in the body, deep in the tant tien, the more gracefully I can express the full range of archetypal energies, the multifacetedness, of life.
I begin this exploration of improvising on the ground, so that issues of structural support such as feeling the legs underneath the body, balance, and centeredness are not yet involved when focusing on improvisation. This allows individuals to focus on the initial arising of the movement.
8). Moment to moment improvisation: Next, we begin to improvise, with breath focused in the hara, gently moving and rolling on the ground, as free as seaweed floating in the ocean, aware of the body moving as a whole from the still point of the hara. In each moment, noticing where in the body we are initiating movement, allowing our movement to effortlessly arise.
We become transparent to our true nature, reflecting through our bodies the truth of who we are — innocent and wise, compassionate and fierce, sensual and magnetic. We experience rejuvenation, feeling that we are breathed and nourished without effort.
As awareness and breath penetrate matter, we experience the co-creative dance of yin and yang. We become transparent to the archetype of Beauty, magnetically and effortlessly creating. In dance I see improvising from feeling as yin, and the structural support of the body as the yang energy needed to actualize the impulse to move. As our structure opens, we can support the full range of archetypal energies through our movement. Bonnie explains it this way: “. . . in this culture, the more we’re capable of moving in many different ways, perceiving in many different ways, the more hope for the world – since it is this way” (p. 103). Our world is a complex dance of interwoven energies, and our bodies, as I see it, are opening to reflect that complexity.
The environment I am embedded within at any moment, the individuals I am interrelating with, the weather, the community I live in, and the feelings that are currently arising within me all color my improvisation in dance and in life. This truth is described by the word interbeing, a word introduced by Thich Nhat Hanh, which speaks to the interpenetration of everything with everything else. In Peace is Every Step, he writes, “To be is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing” (p. 96). Although I am penetrated by everything, as my awareness refines, I see with increasing clarity what influences are life supporting, and what influences I choose not to express. I then use intent to resonate with those archetypal energies that support me.
9). Improvisational dance, feeling in improvisation with structural support: Standing now, we feel the support of our feet while still focused on the hara. We move from feeling (yin), allowing movement to arise from the hara in connection with the heart of our own body and the heart of the Earth. We feel the support (yang) from below extending up through our eyes and to the stars.
World as Body
The path of embodiment leads to deep intimacy with the depths of our being, what mystics have called the Beloved, the divine, or God. Seeing deeply into our own being, we see that everything that exists is also arising out of the same ground of Being, moment-to-moment. We are interconnected with the stars, sun, air, water and earth — all of life — in the improvisational dance of aliveness that is Interbeing. This world is our body, and we cannot help but enter into it with passion — compassion. We discover a world of wondrous beauty.
In this final exercise, individuals are free to move as inspired, embodying various archetypes, dancing alone or with others, incorporating all they have experienced throughout the class. It is my hope that they have learned a practice that they can return to again and again, through their daily movement as well as in dance, experiencing the pure joy of embodiment.
10). Dance of Interbeing: Connecting with self and others though a free form dance event, we experience our uniqueness within the moving whole.
The anatomy of the here and now is the fluid, ever-changing structural support/flow of Being, an ongoing work in progress, revealing the effortless nature of life lived in the present moment. This is body of now, a new body for a new Earth.
Almaas, A. H. The Pearl Beyond Price, Berkeley: Diamond Books, 1988.
Cohen, Bonnie Bainbridge Sensing, Feeling and Action, Northanpton,
Massachusetts: Contact Editions, 1993.
Nhat Hanh, Thich No Death, No Fear, New York: Riverhead Books, 2002.
Nhat Hanh, Thich Peace is Every Step, New York: Bantam Books, 1991.
Nhat Hanh, Thich The Blooming of a Lotus, Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.