coming back to our bodies (with some ideas of how to do so)

In the last week I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the “Internet of Things.” “Smart homes” where lights, heat/air, door locks, and more are controlled by one’s smart phone are becoming increasingly common. At the Consumer Electronics Showcase in January a bulk of internet connected home appliances were revealed, inspiring behind the scenes talk about the security measures that will be needed as increasing numbers of our things become capable of gathering, storing, presenting, and recording information.

One reviewer of smart home technologies commented in a New York Times piece that his decision point on whether or not to add digital capabilities to an object is if he needs to stand in front of the object to use it. An internet enabled toaster, for him, is unnecessary because he needs to be in front of it to insert and eat the toast. An internet enabled oven, however, could be turned off and on remotely to aid in food prep when he isn’t home. Similarly, an internet enabled refrigerator would allow him to check the contents while at the store (with the internal camera) thereby helping him determine his list remotely. Other reviewers rave about diaper changing pads that record baby’s weight and stool consistency, tracking it and sending charts to your phone throughout the day. Internet enabled pet collars allow owners to talk with their pets from work as well as check their heart rate and body temperature. It all gets pretty weird, to me, after a while.

So much of our lives, it seems, are already lived outside of our bodies. We maintain our friendships via texting, commonly saying we’ve “talked” to someone when, in reality, we’ve actually typed messages back and forth. We play games in digital spaces, our eyes seeing and brains perceiving any manner of different locations and settings while our fingers/hands feel the same exact controller/keyboard every single time. We sit on our couches with screens in our hands and others on the walls, often being completely out of touch with the feel of the room we reside in. We apply filters to our pictures, blurring the features of our selves and surroundings which we’d like to distract attention from. We look at our phones to know the weather and to track our calories. We rely upon our wearable technologies to tell us how to feel about our night of sleep and how many steps we still need to take. 

There is a technology for everything and push notifications, alerts, and digital reminders attached to objects in such a way that we hardly have to think in order to use them. All the while it feels to me as though we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the message indicators built into our bodies and souls. I believe that it is time for us to do some work to reverse this trend. I believe it is time for us to get back into the skin we live in.

This is not easy. Not only have we allowed ourselves to be intolerant of boredom but we have also trained ourselves to seek entertainment and distraction from outside of ourselves. We have relied upon screens for much of this, foregoing practice at occupying ourselves with only our selves. We perform physical tasks with less awareness of our bodies than of the devices we hold. Our tablets are in the bathroom and bedroom with us, our cars come complete with audio and video systems stocked with never ending entertainment options, our earbuds deliver a stream of music and podcasts tailored to and by our preferences. We order, pay for, pick up, and consume our latte making no human contact and our purchases are delivered to our doors at all hours of the day and night, meaning we rarely venture out to touch and feel and look at that which we are placing in our carts or the humans who make the goods available to us. We scroll through social media or news sites while we eat, barely tasting our food let alone smelling or seeing it. 

I refer to this tendency to live outside of our bodies as disembodiment. I believe it contributes to much of our use of chemical aids to amp us up (caffeine and stimulants) and to calm us down (alcohol, marijuana, and depressants). When we haven’t practiced stimulating or soothing our physiological selves in and of ourselves it is easy to rely on something from outside of us to do it for us. Further, exposed to images of people that have been highly digitally edited, we hold our bodies to unrealistic expectations. As men we might compare ourselves to the hyper masculinized video game avatars that grace our screens each day. As women we unconsciously notice the lack of inner thigh or sagging skin on nearly every image of women we are presented with. Turning from our screens and to our own physical bodies, we expect conformity to standards that are impossible for the vast majority of humans to achieve. Disappointment, harsh self treatment, and sometimes real clinical disorders result making us less inclined than ever to want to invade our own actual skin.

What if we were to live at least a little bit of life from the central space of our very own bodies? How might it feel to reside consciously from the skin in which we live, tending to the message indicators and unique needs and preferences of our actual bodies? What if we checked in with our own levels of tiredness, alertness, receptivity, and focus rather than our inbox or queue in order to determine our next course of action?  It doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming to do so. It simply requires intentional forethought and dedicated action. 

It is the weekend, giving us a bit more opportunity to practice this kind of living. We might do so by adding consistent, simple, physical check-ins or we might get more fancy and add an embodied experience to our day. I’ll add some ideas below to help you get your creative juices flowing. As for me, I plan to embody my weekend fully and I hope the same for you. If you have creative ideas for doing so, please share them so we can all be inspired.

Speak to your senses. Eat food or drink something you have never eaten or drunk before. Ask others (or use a search engine if you must) for recommendations of restaurants from far away lands. Indian, African, Central/South American, Japanese, Chinese, Vegan, Raw, and more. Pay attention as you walk into the location. Smell the smells. Ask the server for suggestions and really listen. When the food arrives, take time to look at it and notice it. While eating feel the textures as well as tasting the tastes. If you are choosing the drinking route, tea is a fantastic embodied drink. Go to a tea house or good tea shop and look at the leaves/buds, smell them before and after brewing. Feel the steam. 

Create a mood. Tending to the sounds and sites within a space can profoundly change the feel of the room. Turn off overhead lights and place lamps at seated eye level. Sit on pillows and wrap up in blankets rather than sitting on the couch. Make a fire or light lots of candles. If you don’t have scented candles or an essential oil diffuser, place a small sauce pan on the stove with a bit of water and cinnamon, cloves, and even a slice or two of citrus and let it simmer or brew a pot of aromatic coffee or tea. If you love music, choose it with intention to create the feeling that matches the mood you are going for. Sit in the space and simply take it in. Notice how your body feels in a room you have tended to for comfort and peacefulness or alert wakefulness (whichever you were going for).

Make a fort. Be simple or elaborate in creating a small(ish) space to get cozy and away from the “real” world in. Toss a blanket over a table so that the edges of it reach down to the floor and add a few pillows, a lantern/flashlight/candle and you’re set. If you want to get more elaborate use chairs, blankets/sheets, and clamps from your garage. Leave all screens outside of the fort and, instead, bring paper books, journals, or a friend in and notice how it feels to be in a small/otherworldly space free of responsibilities and distractions.

Set a reminder. Set a reoccurring alarm on your device (or an actual alarm clock). When it sounds take a 3 minute breathing break. Stand up and feel the ground firmly under your feet. Rock back and forth and side to side gently, working to notice your center. From here take 10 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose (“smell the roses”) and exhaling through the mouth (“blow out the candles”). At the end of these breaths reach your arms up high above your head and stretch up lowering slowly down to a forward fold. Return to standing and thank your body for being present to you. Return to normal activities.

Take a (realistic, safe-enough) physical risk. This does not need to be a herculean task. You don’t need to summit a mountain. Instead, think of what is a growth inducing risk for you specifically. You might turn opera music up loudly and try to sing along from the depths of your diaphragm. Heading into a new and unknown restaurant, like suggested above, might be the risk for you. Spending time in a new geographic location in your town might suffice. Walking an extra half mile or running during part of your walk might be it. Taking a new class at the gym or pulling out your jump rope/hula hoop/free weights and giving them a whirl might fit. Hit balls at a batting range, go to your local trampoline spot, do karaoke, or more...just give your body the chance to have a new experience.

Get in some eye contact. Gazing at, and being gazed at, changes us. There is something about eye contact that profoundly affects us. When the gaze is loving and gracious it has the power to heal. When it is harsh and critical it hurts. Either find someone willing to play along and gaze into each other’s eyes for 3 to 5 minutes without talking or grab a mirror and do the same with your self. It sounds goofy but it has the power to refuel and heal. Work to look past the initial criticism or self conscious discomfort and settle into truly seeing into the eyes of a body that is human and worthy of love and respect.

If you are in need of touch, find a way to get some (in healthy, consensual ways). Most cities have massage therapists, manicurists/pedicurists, and even reflexology centers where touch is part of the offering. My personal favorite is reflexology which typically includes an hour of fully clothed, acupressure treatments, foot soaking, and full body asian style massage for a very affordable fee. Other options include partner acro yoga (google search acro yoga jam and the name of your city and you’ll likely find listings for meetings in the park…all levels welcome), contact improv dance, dance lessons at bars or studios, or facials. The need for touch, for those who are kinesthetically inclined, is real. Seek it out in ways that are healthy and satisfying!