Mind the GAP, week 3
“Living in the present brings us to the third step of GAP. Presence is a sense of basic existence, mindfully and awarely being who you are right here and right now. When you experience the quality of presence, you are simply here, at this moment, being present – in yourself and to yourself. Ideally, this is an experience of utter simplicity. At the same time, it raises a central question: Who is the one who is being present? Who is being mindful, being aware? Who is doing or having these experiences? Who are you?” - David L Rome, Your Body Knows the Answer
I mentioned last week my greatest trial in this challenge is that when I feel things I tend to really dive in – or fall in, sometimes I can’t tell which. And when you are too close, when you are re-experiencing something, it’s no longer going to be helpful. It’s like they say about saving a drowning person – throw them a rope, don’t jump in with them. So I’ve really been trying to work on that as I go through the felt sense exercises, and it has helped me notice it in my daily life as well. I have a potentially dangerous habit of identifying with people rather than empathizing. And I guess I come by it honestly, since I do it with my own emotions and sensations. It’s a very interesting discovery, and it’s prompted lots of thought.
There are exercises in this book around cultivating the felt sense for the purpose of self-empathy, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my daily posts about my experience dried up around this point. Self-empathy is REALLY hard for me. As we’ve seen, I tend to over identify with my own emotions and past experiences, and thereby have no useful insight about them. I just experience the suckage again and again! Truthfully, I don’t know that I knew there was another way to do it. What a relief! And David speaks about self-empathy similarly to Thich Nhat Hahn, which I find very comforting and helpful. They both speak of standing far enough from the pain to see it clearly, and then to gather it to you like a mother comforting her child. You can hold it, soothe it, and not feel like it’s gnawing your guts out. It’s a lovely image, and I hope I can make it useful!
And as this challenge progresses it is developing all the signs of becoming a full existential crisis! As the above quote describes, I am now wandering around in myself saying, “Are you me? Who is me? Am I in here? Who the hell is in charge here?” Now I don’t really feel the crushing expectation of finding an answer, at least right away, since every great thinker since we developed thumbs has struggled with this very question. But I’ll share with you a little bit of what presence has provided me so far.
I find that pain, whether centered in the mind or in the body, is strangely outside of the present moment. When we are truly in the right now, somehow it’s not so bad. It seems to me it’s the cumulative effect of pain that wears us down. And it’s the story we put on it – usually that it’s bad and shouldn’t be happening. No matter how bad something hurts, I find if I can take a breath and find the ‘right this very second’ place, it’s as though I can take a step back from the hurt and capture for just a moment the essence of the me that isn’t hurting.
Apart from physical pain, emotional pain like anger, sadness, anxiety, depression lives outside of my present moment as well. I heard a quote once that said roughly – “If you are depressed you are looking backward, if you’re anxious you’re looking forward, if you’re at peace you’re in the present moment.” And you know, it might just be right. I’m really beginning to seek the present as a place of rest and solace, where my mind quiets and the burdens drop away for a time. Sometimes I can only sustain it for the length of a breath, and sometimes I can stay with it for quite a while. I guess the practice creates the space to be there more often and with less effort, and in that regard it’s just like Pilates.
We practice Pilates again and again so that the body learns to move naturally and pain free without our constant conscious supervision. It becomes unconscious competence we can rely on. And the awareness and focus of Pilates has always felt to me like a sanctuary for the mind. So I am enjoying bringing the power of the mind more deeply into the life of the body!