“Maybe you are searching among the branches, for what only appears in the roots.”
I love melting into the present moment. Here is where I deeply feel everything.
I take in the world through all of my senses and savor what I experience. And when I’m very present, without being drawn into thoughts about the past or future, it’s so fresh, and there’s a deep, undeniable sense of peace.
But it hasn’t always been like this. Before I knew differently, all I did was think—think, think, think. I worried…analyzed…dissected…looked at things from different angles.
I played out scenarios about what might and might not happen and doubted everything.
I endlessly evaluated, compared, and tried to understand why. It seemed to never stop.
I was like one big walking head with barely a body attached.
I didn’t know exactly what wasn’t working, but I felt tense and anxious most of the time. I wasn’t at ease in my life, and it didn’t feel good.
I was aware that I was suffering, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I tried psychotherapy—years of it—but didn’t get to the core of the problem. I even became a psychotherapist to help others…and still I suffered.
Thankfully, I wasn’t doomed to suffer forever. Things began to shift when I started on a spiritual path.
Studying My Inner Experience
Instead of trying to fix my problems and life story, I was directed to notice whatever was happening in my present moment experience. And this changed everything.
Looking inward, it was easy to see thoughts, as they were flooding me most of the time. But there was something else that I had missed completely.
I was amazed to realize how afraid I was and how much fear was living in my body.
I learned that all emotions are made up of two elements: a story running through our minds that’s fueled by the feeling—and physical sensations in the body. That was the key I had missed!
I was so much in my head worrying about the future and doubting myself that I didn’t realize how much tension and contraction was in my body—until I started becoming aware of it. No wonder something felt off!
There was a time when I would stop whenever I felt fear, close my eyes, ignore the thoughts, and simply feel the sensations in my body. Many times during the day, I sat on my couch feeling physical tension, contracted chest and jaw muscles, and shallow breathing.
I didn’t have a goal to get rid of or change these sensations—I just made the space for them to be present. Sometimes they would lessen, and sometimes not, but it didn’t matter.
It was relieving to finally get to the core of these uncomfortable feelings and let the sensations be. After rejecting my body for so long, it felt like I was being incredibly kind to myself.
And it wasn’t just fear that I felt. There was the array of emotions we all feel—anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration. Every time I was triggered, I stopped and welcomed the sensations appearing in the body.
And I began to realize something miraculous. When I didn’t pay attention to the stories my mind was telling me, the problems I thought I had all but disappeared. I felt surprisingly peaceful when I was simply present with the sensations as they are, so why go into all the drama? I became totally disinterested in it.
It wasn’t immediate, but over time, I felt less stressed. I didn’t worry so much about making the right decision or trying to figure everything out. I was lighter, happier, more present, and more loving toward others.
One morning I woke up and, much to my amazement, I realized that I hadn’t been anxious for quite some time.
Now, years later, I have a loving relationship with whatever appears in my body, and this relationship has served me well.
The Residue in Our Bodies
The body contains the residue of all our learning—all experiences, traumas, fears, and conditioning.
Whereas our minds work overtime avoiding, explaining, and distracting, our bodies are simple—they react to the stimuli around us. They have been present our entire lives absorbing the effects of our experiences.
In their natural state, our bodies are open vessels free of tension. That’s why infants move with such freedom and flexibility.
Stress takes its toll as we experience physical, mental, and emotional demands in life. We become scared and untrusting, and the body begins to close down. These bodily contractions are like a defensive shield, armoring us as we meet the challenges we face in the world.
Bringing our attention back into the body gets to the root of the problem. Here is where we connect with ourselves, heal separation, and discover our essential wholeness. This is what’s right here and available when we turn our attention within.
How to Be Aware of the Body
How do we become aware of what’s happening in our bodies? Here are three practices that help you build a kind and loving relationship with your present moment experience in the body.
Try them out, and you’ll say goodbye to being harsh, rejecting, and hard on yourself…and hello to peaceful living.
Practice 1: Conscious Breathing
One of the wonders of life in this human body is the regularity of our breathing. And we can use the breathing as a tool at any time to focus our attention inward and turn away from our busy minds.
The instruction is very simple: be conscious of what happens when you breathe. Simply bring your attention to the direct experience of breathing—the sensations of the inhale and the sensations of the exhale—and be curious.
You might notice you feel more relaxed as you pay attention to your breathing, and the breath itself might shift in some way—or not. Simply continue to be aware of all the sensations. Almost immediately, you’ll naturally breathe more slowly and deeply, which soothes the nervous system.
A conscious breath is available to you any time you feel stressed or stuck. It’s a reset, a wakeup call, and a gateway into being at peace with yourself.
Practice 2: Welcoming Sensations
When you welcome sensations, you stop and simply notice the sensations that are present and allow them to be. You meet any sensation with an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and love—with no story, no commentary, and no need to figure it out.
Rather than panicking with what you notice or going into a story about how hard it is to feel it, you’re simply aware of it. You’re the welcoming presence that invites the sensations into the light of conscious awareness. This is what I practiced on my couch many years ago and still do often throughout the day.
Sitting here, breathing and allowing things to be as they are, you’re likely to feel an uncanny sense of ease.
When do you welcome sensations?
- When you’re triggered,
- When you feel anxious or ill-at-ease,
- Any time at all.
Practice 3: Mindful Movement
If you live with your attention lost in your mind, it helps tremendously to invite your attention into the body as much as possible. Mindful movement practices help.
Yoga, tai chi, and slow walking bring awareness to the body and encourage presence by synchronizing movement with breathing. They invite your attention into the here-and-now by ignoring mind chatter and focusing on being with the moment as it is.
Movement practices also teach us about being present in daily life. Moving into a yoga posture is ultimately no different from washing dishes, folding laundry, or taking a walk in nature.
Coming Home to Ourselves
When we’re completely in our heads, we’re pulled into the drama of our problems. We feel fragmented, anxious, and alienated from ourselves.
That’s how I was living years ago without even realizing it. And maybe that’s how you’re living, too.
By turning away from thoughts and being aware of what’s appearing in the body, we begin to come home to ourselves. Here we discover spaciousness, grounding, and connection with all of life.