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  • Writer's pictureLaura Kavanagh

Coming home to our senses

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

So I had an altercation on the beach this morning. With a dog owner who didn’t take kindly to being reminded he was in a wildlife conservation area. No dogs allowed.

Yes I was that person. But no, I’m not here to rave about dogs on the beach nor seek support for my concerned citizen routine.

I was actually just fascinated by the cascade of physical, mental and emotional events that followed the confrontation.

My heart was beating in my throat, breath roiling in my belly and there was a dead, wooden feeling in my chest. My right foot and lower leg went a bit numb (ghosts of an old lower back injury).

In my mind I was plotting revenge and rehearsing retorts one minute, then feeling despair for my lack of compassion and patience the next. Revenge and despair were served up with an emotional side salad of fear and vulnerability. Why did he get my name? What was he planning? What if he finds out where I live? Did I do the wrong thing? Am I a bad person? Does he think I don’t belong here?

It was a pretty quick and slippery slope from hey mate, did you know you can’t have dogs here to questioning the validity of my existence. Wow.

I noticed some of this still playing out some time later so I knew I had to do something. I sat down to check in with myself. It was only at that point I was able to notice the physical signs I described above.

As I registered the sensations, a swirling mix of fearful, vengeful and defensive thoughts kept interjecting. I noted the sense of pressure created by going rigid in the centre of my body, forcing breath and blood and motion to be exaggerated in my throat, belly and low back. I felt like a balloon being squeezed in the middle - either end bulging and about to burst!

So what to do. Luckily I have some resources for just such a moment. I experimented with a few gentle movements, changing the shape of myself subtly and noting which shapes led to a redistribution of breath and mobility. Mostly, I was allowing myself to soften out of the defensive superhero stance I’d lit up into. As my posture changed, thoughts and emotions followed suit. Righteousness and anxiety gave way to curiosity. I wondered what had been going on for the man on the beach this morning. How was he feeling now?

But mostly there was a sense of awe for how my experience changed as I observed myself. Just checking in with my senses had interrupted the mental spiral I was headed down. Softening my body had softened my thoughts.

Here was a direct experience of the body-mind. Not mind in body. For these two worlds are not separate. Rather they flow naturally in and out and through one another seamlessly. Whilst they cannot be divided, the balance of their influence can be disturbed.

Over identification with mind tends to emphasise separation, judgement, "bad-othering" as Tara Brach calls it. When mind dominates, we live predominantly in the past or future - worried about what was or anxious for what's to come.

When mind is grounded in the body however, we reside more fully in the present. We therefore notice the transience of things. As this sensation gives way to that, gives way to this, we are again in the flow of life.

The Irish poet John O’Donahue urges us to recognise our senses as sacred thresholds.

‘May your senses gather you and bring you home’ he implores.

Earlier in my life, I did not have this resource of my body and it’s subtle senses to come home to. Confrontations like this would just accumulate and compound in me until I was numb all over. Unable to sense or feel and thus somehow always on the outside of things. Detached from myself and thus the world. Not belonging.

I know that this is a common experience. I know that recent years have pushed many of us back out of sensing and feeling and into the numbness of survival mode. It’s one of the big reasons why I do and love the the work that I do. I figure the more we come home to our senses, the more belonging we are able to experience, the more peaceful and joyful our world becomes.

So I wave a peace flag at the fellow from this morning. I appreciate you were just trying to get a moment of peace and nature this morning to soothe your soul. And I am sorry for getting in the way of that.

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