“Listen to your body”, Yoga Teachers Say.

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Does your body speak in a recognisable language, one that you are fluent in, or will listening to it require you to retrieve skills not used since your childhood, when you leant your mother tongue? Are silences and pauses part of your body’s language?

Do you understand what is at stake here: stepping out of old paradigms of knowing into the surging-forth of unrelenting, inconceivable interconnectedness?

Embodiment is picking up the scent of a hidden, ancient and well-trodden path, tasting the fear of making the journey alone, trusting that the path will intersect with others’.

What would your body say if it could? What fresh tenderness, what ancient ache, would call for your attention? How would it give voice to long-held suspicions – with relief, accompanied by glorious outpourings of emotion?

What inconvenience would we be presented with if we attuned our inner ears to the requests of embodiment?

i cannot thrive in town …
i need to know you exist at night, not just in the waking hours …
i am tired, so tired; i am exhausted beyond comprehension …
… actually, you know, i am not hungry just now …

In body-based methodologies, such as yoga has primarily become in the west, certain bodies are listened to in preference to others. It is a truism in every area of life to say that if you are white, male, able-bodied, heterosexual, yours is a body that shouts in relation to a black, female body. Even a scorned and societally unacceptable body – the man stinking of piss on the bus, the young woman lingering on the corner with a shifty eye and a palpable desperation as she awaits delivery of the substance her body has come to need, the toddler braced against the buggy as he screams – all of these whose physicality assaults our sense of rightness and niceness are listened to far more than the buzz of the bee as he passes by your ear on the wind, the hiss of the wind itself, the speck of life that is the ant crossing the vast plain of our foot. We sign the online petitions wanting to ban neonicotinoids; we travel to exotic countries and exclaim over the native flora and fauna, letting the novelty of the beauty there wash us clean – we care, for sure. We care about our world, and we care about our selves. Entire schooling systems have sprung to life attempting to give children the access to nature that researchers now say impedes our development as human beings; grief at the immeasurable loss and senseless destruction of Earth is now recognised by psychotherapists as a real phenomenon experienced by many.

And yet: what do we do when actually confronted with the wild voice of the other? We all have lines in the sand we’re not willing, or able, yet, to cross. My partner – OK, I’ll listen to him. The ache of my womb for a few hours a month, telling me, perhaps, that I need to rest and slow down. My best friend, calling to tell me about the dissatisfaction of her work/life balance. These, I can, nowadays, almost hear without fitting those voices into my own grand narrative. I can listen to them as they are, and let them be.

Mowing the lawn yesterday, trying to strike a balance between avoiding wholesale destruction of insect ecosystems and getting the job done, I felt my body ease into the state of awareness in which the boundaries between me/not me become porous. The world enters me, and I expand; the world receives me, and I rest in its embrace as a child with her mother. Flashes of memory came to me as I stood there on the lawn, the mingled scents of lilac and wisteria washing over my skin as palpably as a warm bath – sparrowhawk inexplicably lying dead on my doorstep, fox almost hurtling into me in her headlong flight from the hunt, glowworms lying like alien jewels on a midsummer night.

If we listened with our animal senses to the world around us, would we be lost? Or would we mirror ourselves back with sharp clarity?

I was recently part of an online conversation which initially looped and skirted, and then settled on a thorny subject that many of the participants found challenging. Positions were staked, often in relation to others’ perceived opinions; ground was gained and then lost as voices were added and then fell away; as contributors mustered command of language to express themselves with lucidity and clarity. Posts became heated and inflammatory and were TYPED IN CAPITAL LETTERS. One lone voice needled and attempted to draw out some thought-through honesty on others’ parts. The debate was over before it really began, as the admin of the group deleted the conversation when it strayed into uncharted and difficult-to-navigate territory. For some weeks now I have been bothered by the silencing of the one voice, and unable to pinpoint just why it jars so badly. This has nothing to do with politeness, decorum, or arcane online debating rules, or even what the voice was trying to articulate. It has to with the choice to open up to what is happening in every given moment: the surging of life, painful and joyous and continually breaking us open so that we might understand and participate fully in the mystery of life. It has to do with choosing relationship over the taking and hoarding of power. It has to do with choice, awareness taking precedence over conditioning.

If we habitually tune out some voices and prioritise others in the world around us, what do we hear? Nothing that will challenge our comfortable thoughtforms. Confirmation bias. We need voices to question and challenge and jolt us out of our comfortable, numb existences – particularly those of us who make a commitment to the supposedly spiritual life. We need, in fact, to make a spiritual practice of listening to something that we don’t really want to hear. Your new baby, your scorned ex. The ant colony inhabiting your lawn.

There are very compelling and complex reasons not to listen, often born of our vulnerability, our sensitivity, our need to fit in with a group and to feel ourselves accepted and part of something greater than ourselves. And I get it. Some voices are easier to hear than others. Some tell us that we’re kind, thoughtful, good people, and we want to hear that song. Some tell us we’re mean and thoughtless and will never amount to much and it’s easier to ignore them. We’re mean and thoughtless and arrogant and destructive individuals, or families, or communities, or cultures. Some particularly tricksy voices tell us neither, but murmur that nothing is black and white. Still, I contend that if we choose to silence another’s voice, then we will never be able to really hear the whisperings of the body. If, for whatever reason, we don’t open ourselves up to the uncomfortable truths the body offers us (the nagging pain of the sacroiliac joint as we try to “square the hips” in virabhadrasana I, the dull dragging of gravity on a womb emptying herself, flesh recoiling in sympathy that feels like pain as I walk past my newly-strimmed hedge), then we are similarly deafened to the uncomfortable truths of another being. The skill gained in one provides an entry point into the other. They are in fact one and the same thing: the depth to which we can allow the wild voice of the other is the depth to which we are willing to dive within ourselves. Our individual internal power structures replicate those that we impose upon our world; if we are committed to dismantling one for the good of all beings, we are called to engage with its mirror.

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