I went riding this morning, after a week of being thwarted by the weather and lack of sleep. Yesterday I decided that my body needed the extra hour and a half sleep much more than it needed to get up at 5am and drive out to the barn. I was off kilter all day. I was trapped in a staff luncheon and couldn’t go walking at noon, then over to a friend’s house that evening. This morning it felt really good to make my body move.
I’m not a morning person by any means, but I love the cool, quiet wet solitude of 6am in the country. No one’s awake, the deer are still in the fields, and Sunshine and I are the first living creatures to knock the dew off the grass along the pasture that day. Riding is hard work, if done right. For me it’s also centering and meditative. I can’t disconnect from my body when I ride. I have to be right there observing my posture and position and balance. I have to pay attention to which muscles are tight or loose, what bones I’m sitting on, and how I’m holding my arms. If I lose track of my body and drift, the horse responds with mischief.
I’m just starting to learn the difference between self-consciousness and body-consciousness. The former is tied to shame. You are hyper aware, not of your body but of how others might see or think about it (usually by assuming their reaction will be negative). While it may feel like your body is exposed, I don’t think your awareness of it is the same. There is an awkward level of double-vision, where the illusion overlays the reality of your shape and movement and your body struggles to decide which one it wants to live up to.
Body-consciousness, for me, is the act of connecting to the reality of your body without value judgement. There are thousands of automatic functions and movements ongoing in your body that you cannot possibly be aware of or control. As you type, the muscles of each individual finger contracts and releases with machine-like precision to strike each key in order to form words that express your thought, all without conscious control. How amazing is that?
I have the privilege of not living with chronic pain or disability that limits what my body can do. Unfortunately I’ve also reached a point where I have let too many things become automatic. I’ve distanced myself from my own body because I don’t have to think about it. Of course there are some hormonal complications from PCOS that interfere, but part of it is that I stopped paying as much attention to my body’s signals of pleasure, pain, wants or needs. My mind acknowledges that something feels or looks or tastes “good”, but I don’t actually stop and feel the sensation itself. Later I may have the memory of pleasure, but as if it was someone else’s memory. I am trapped in my own head and the litany of external concerns that occupy my waking hours.
Last Friday when I went out on my lunch hour to go walking on the Kal-Haven trail, my legs just took off under me and ran. I was walking where the trail bends through a woods by a little stream, and it seemed like suddenly the muscles in my body were all working together to propel me down this path faster and faster until I couldn’t help but run. I also had to laugh, because what a picture I must have made in my skirt, blouse and bright white sneakers, tearing down the trail like I was being chased and grinning like mad. It felt really good, and I actually felt it. All alone and away from anyone else’s eyes, I could pay attention to movement and balance and all the moving parts of my body involved in running. All of a sudden, with my mind connected to my body, I could feel the pleasure of the movement.
That’s what I mean by body-consciousness.
I’m still working on connecting outside of those moments of physical activity where I’m forced to be aware. I’d like to also learn to connect to thirst, hunger, rest and sensation. I’d like to be more aware of the little things I experience on automatic without awareness, like a breeze, or the texture of the carpet under bare feet, or the weight of the water when I shower or swim. All this towards the goal of getting out of the trap in my head and developing an awareness of the rest of my body, as an antidote for the half-lifetime I spent rejecting it as a place to exist.