projects and writings of T.A. Burkholder
In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 35.
The morning we drove to Seattle the sun was not only up and out but strong, warming the air in a way that seemed impossible just a week or two ago. As we approached the city, my friend and I both dropped our jaws at the sight of white-capped mountains surrounding the bay. How strange that something as enormous as a mountain range can be a surprise. How strange that you can forget something so large and beautiful if it’s hidden long enough beneath a cloak of rain.
I was in the city to take my first class in “Being in Presence” from the Center for Mindful Body Awareness. How do I train my own mind and eye onto and into the corporeal and then how do I guide my clients toward their own inner experiences? How do I offer myself and others a different relationship to our body stories?
So many of us are minds and eyes and minds and eyes and only occasionally skin and hearts and stomachs. We are minds and eyes when we slug through rush-hour traffic. We are minds and eyes as we pick up dirty laundry from the bedroom floor. We are minds and eyes and minds and eyes when we stare into our screens. It’s so easy and interesting and compelling to be there that our bodies can be nearly forgotten, attended to with minimal effort. If your heart gets bruised from a bad breakup, you might pick apart the relationship and wonder why it happened and how it could have gone differently. If your low back hurts with every step, you might bring a laser-like attention to the pain, amplifying it, calculating why it’s there and thinking of ways to make it stop.
But what about right now? What are your lungs doing to your ribs? What is the path of your blood pulse down your calf and around your ankle? Does your breath feel tired? Do your shoulders feel angry? What spacious, fleshy rooms might expand in the muscles of your jaw?
Our bodies are here. Always. Carpet under toes. Cool air blowing across temples. Fluid pumping around domed skulls and laddered spines. We can listen with our bodies the way an animal listens. We can look at the world with our peripheral vision. We can feel the sweet, complicated dance of everything outside with everything inside, of my heart with your heart. It’s possible if we are still and quiet enough. And if still and quiet is also made safe.
If I continue with this training, I’ll learn more about making a safe environment from my words and hands and heart. This particular approach was researched and developed to serve those with histories of trauma, those whose body stories may rise up screaming or bawling or full of violent fists. There are so many ways to address our stories, finding and unwinding them from our tissues may not be the best way for everyone, but it may be the only way for some.
A day and a half spent moving inward, lingering and exploring there, proved to me once again how presence can be difficult to find, let alone stay in. But when I’m in it, even for a short time, it’s like a winter’s worth of heavy clouds lift up and disappear. My jaw softens. My mouth fills with awe.