There are surely a hundred ways to come into the present moment. We may ask penetrating questions, risky, ambiguous or simply the most personal inquiries into the workings of the mind and the emotional body that can dredge up the most sublime or painful material. One of these ways is to journey into the body itself, to perform a deliberate inventory of the physical reality that I am, what I take for granted most of the time.
I am so many different landscapes I can barely reference them. From the outside in…the feeling world of instantaneous response, the intellect gathering information, assessing, planning, the influence of history, habit, biological needs, learned behaviors, the open gates of ease and others long closed, all changing every moment. The inner imagery is a constant kaleidoscope of light and sensation, color and function, pleasure and pain, ease and discomfort, conflict and resolution, excitement and calm, space and fullness.
I distinguish myself from others in every moment by both instinct and conditioning. Establishing safe boundaries is where my attention goes right away. My default focus is on feeling and sense perception. Setting myself apart is completely automatic. I barely think about it; but when I do, I am usually horrified by how absent I have been and at the superficiality of separating myself as opposed to noticing myself in relationship.
Is my physical separation objectively real, or is it merely a convenience? The closer I investigate, the less sure I am of a true boundary between what is and is not my body. I make no distinction between my body, my “self” and “my” mind. Attempting to remain objective about my physical life as if my subjective experience is irrelevant is impossible. Science does inform my view, but only in a limited way. The less influence given to scientific language, the more accustomed I become to a different view that feels more accurate.
This body is a ‘thing’ that I am and also that I am not, both foreign and intimately familiar. Myriad opposing energies operate in every moment, the tensions that hold my world together by separating everything from everything. Right now, my shoulders are a little cramped. My elbows are rubbing on the arms of the wicker chair I am squeezing into. My gut is gradually emptying after a dinner over an hour ago. My upper thoracic spine careens to support my neck, tilpping forward to view my screen.
The story of my body is written in an ever-changing pixilated environment, an ocean of shifting light, a storm of biochemical gates constantly opening and closing.
There is no permanent story. There is only a whirlwind of accumulation and shedding around a seemingly constant core of practice and belief, light undergoing re-creation, temporarily held in a limbo of semi-existence. The relations of my inner space are as parts, a multitude of languages decoded and interpreted by a central governing body and reinterpreted for assimilation by the various “nations” that I am.
I am the instability of a torn meniscus in my right knee, occasionally and slightly guarding against excessive torsion, the quietly desiccating lumbar discs requiring the regular lubrication of full motion, my eyes that do not see the fine print so well anymore, a recurrent heel soreness, the restriction of motion in my neck and other joint limitations.
Sometimes I live in the inner space between the roof of my mouth and the center of my cranium somewhere behind my eyes, relaxing in a bony four-poster bed reserved for the pineal gland. I am also the ringing in my ears, my sternum dropping into my solar plexus when I slouch. I am my winged sacrum, the parachute of my diaphragm filling as I exhale, surrendering to the laws of nature, my true nature. I am the hammock of muscles spanning the coccyx to the pubis, all the structures that mediate my generative relation to the earth and the sky, the gross and the subtle, the energetic, the electro-magnetic, the phenomenal and the metaphysical.
I am consciousness inhabiting structure, consciousness as structure, in one moment creating a towering edifice of ‘self’ and in the next, collapsing in abject surrender. I am stored memory, the spontaneous execution of learned motor tasks, symphonies of movement so deeply embedded they will never be forgotten. Coordinated actions of thousands of motor-neurons sing in distinct and unique patterns as if nothing else exists. I continue to swim through this world, continuously modulating timing, length, effort, relaxation, rotation and drift.
I am all these domains at once, the “external” world of microbes I host in my gut, the transformation of water and food into consciousness, of breath into presence, gravity into movement, conflict into work, rest into knowing. I am the outside turned inside, the inside turned into a dynamic exchange with everything, a tube that selects from everything and gives back in form.
Sometimes I am shouting within, contorted by the unspoken fullness of a thwarted explosion to touch the pink-orange sky at dusk or to salve some old wound. Sometimes I am quiet, or seemingly so, still on the outside but teeming on the inside, nourished by and dying into all that surrounds me.
When I gaze into the dying light of the Balinese sky, I sense the vitality of an ongoing massive emergence just beneath awareness. Birds, geckos, bats on automatic pilot make impossible course adjustments in a constant search for dinner, a visual representation of the random maintenance-level neural firing of discursive thought. And the silence beneath that, a capacity to find and rest in a quiet beyond all quiet, a vast uninterrupted place of no time, no beginning and no end. To suggest that my body is no more than a spontaneous construction beyond conception, ineffable, measured against the felt sense of my reality, is a paradox whose unwinding has occupied greater minds than my own for centuries.
I have never been immune to vanity. I am undergoing the common physical changes associated with aging. On one hand, holding a certain physical image as a model of attainment is a form of vanity, but it’s not entirely driven by cultural standards for me as it is by standards of personal comfort. Thus, I resist the physical changes of aging all the way, though not compulsively. I am accustomed to a certain level of vitality rejuvenated by both active and passive practices. Am I attached to a self-image? Yes. But that too is softening.
This is also “my” body, after all: the complexity of signal interpretation, response, inhibition, reasoning, resolution, intention and action. The body is illusory, yet also the vehicle of the greatest sense pleasures and the greatest pain, heaven and hell in any given moment. But like the durian fruit so plentiful in this part of the world, hell and paradise are inseparable, two sides of the same face. There are days when I must overcome the repulsive odor, the teeth of this demon life, before I get to experience the incomparably succulent smile of its inner sweetness.
This is my body as well, the one having no substantial boundary. Separation from the elements is indeed illusion. Connection arrives as a heron dive-bombing for frogs in the wet rice fields, as the setting sun filtering through the Maya trees, grandmothers riding sidesaddle on a motorbike.
I have spent the first half of my life creating and cementing boundaries with the world and other people, differentiating the separate body, the individual identity and the trajectory of a chosen life. Having been released from any imperatives, realizing entropy and mortality, I am spending the second half loosening my grip, allowing those boundaries to dissolve. One day, if I’m lucky, there will be nothing left other than empathy, generosity and compassion. Every act is potentially a step toward realizing my true condition. And like empathy, authentic compassion requires unflinching presence.
Beyond this, I listen to the unending internal conversations between disparate territories. They speak to each other quietly at all times of the day and night in language I may not always comprehend, requiring adjustment, refreshing attention and devotion to position, alignment and breath, continuously attending to the energetics of presence. They drift across my awareness like the distant strains of devotional music, hammered strings and practiced voices across the paddy outside my window at sunrise. They are a waking ritual, the heart beat driving the blood of community, invoking spirit in the language of both gods and demons. That is the reality of every moment. Insofar as I live in this awareness, I am healthier, more vitally engaged with the truth of what this body really is.
This Creaking Wagon
These bones are now but drying dates
shrivelling in the sun. They squabble
with each other like ravenous lovers.
Yet they are not strangers in my house, uninvited.
Nor are they pack animals, hard on the scent
of death. They still crave the lamp of midnight
stories sweetened with the truth of young wine.
They are still vessels of honey, pouring slowly
their devotions to the last breath.
I used to wake as a baker ready to feed a
village. Now I rise at dawn as fallen fruit, ripened in
dreams. This creaking wagon, the blessed bounty
of life, one morning shall rise to see the doors gone,
the windows thrown open and the sun shining
through the hole in this roof.