Do You Dwell in Your Mind or in Your Body?

The theme of the week for me seems to be touch.

Do you “live in your head?” Are you one of those who are rarely present in the moment, but instead drifting off on a swiftly flowing current of thought? I am. While I love the robust riches of my mind, the years have shown me that I miss much when I can not anchor myself in the physical world, in even my physical self.

Inspired by a post on Brain Pickings, I recently purchased and read Eve Ensler’s new memoir, In the Body of the World. The book begins with this beautiful passage.

“A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother. Or miss a place or know something called home. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life. … The absence of a body against my body made attachment abstract. Made my own body dislocated and unable to rest or settle. A body pressed against your body is the beginning of nest. I grew up not in a home but in a kind of free fall of anger and violence that led to a life of constant movement, of leaving and falling. It is why at one point I couldn’t stop drinking and fucking. Why I needed people to touch me all the time. It had less to do with sex than location. When you press against me, or put yourself inside me. When you hold me down or lift me up, when you lie on top of me and I can feel your weight, I exist. I am here.”[white_space]
― Eve Ensler, In the Body of the World: A Memoir

Eve well-illustrates a familiar ache. Human touch asserts a certainty. Proof. Evidence. Connection. For those of us that dwell chiefly in our minds, the hunger for this confirmation of our existence in the physical world may grow until we binge in corporeal experiences. I penned such episodes in my novel, which focuses not just on the separation of body and mind, but also the division of self.

We sit on the bed in my minuscule room, glasses of sickly sweet plum wine in our hands. He looks at me with a sadness so deep that I worry it might take me down with him. He sets his glass on my nightstand and places his hand on my thigh. A breathe I’ve been holding releases from me, long and slow.[white_space]

First touch brings great release. The frenzied anticipation fades, smooth relief flows through my limbs. Even from a stranger, a gentle touch feels like love. It is the realization that you can reach someone, can make a connection, even if you barely share a common language. He touches to feel my stockings and the curve of my thigh, but also to feel the heat and calm that comes when you are close to another person.[white_space]

– Kelsye Nelson, The Secret Life of Sensei Shi

Eve’s book talks largely of trauma, of physical violence, of illness. These horrible actions came with a gift of mindfulness, of clarity, of immediacy. How lucky we are that our experiences needn’t swing to such extremes in order for us to achieve presence of being. Here are the things that I do to root my mind to moment:

  • Run
  • Get outside for a little bit every day
  • Sleep well
  • Indulge in a steady, constant stream of light physical affection
  • Walk by any large body of water
  • Pet my dogs
  • Work outside doing something that requires the labor of my entire body
  • Breathe deep
  • Travel or put myself in uncomfortable environments
  • Walk in the woods
  • Swim

I love my brain, and the ethereal journeys it takes me on. Some of my favorite activities, such as writing or reading or dreaming regularly lift me from the concrete world. The trick, per usual, is balance. I have a natural inclination towards happiness. If for some reason I decide I must hold on to anger or resentment, I must actively work on it. (Which, like a fool, I sometimes do.) It’s the same in this situation. My natural inclination is towards the mind. While a trauma or violence may rip me out of thought and into the present, in normal days I must make vigilant efforts to wake from my dreams. It’s work. Thankfully, pleasure accompanies the process.

And you? Where do you stand? Do you live mostly in mind or in body? What do you do to anchor yourself to passing moments?

Also, go read Eve’s book. It’s incredible.

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