"The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”
- Robin S. Sharma
The first time I heard a berimbau chills ran through me from head to toe. A sense
of overwhelming emotion rose into my chest. For some inexplicable reason my eyes welled up with tears. It was a call that reverberated in the fibers of my body. The high-toned trill of the Brazilian instrument struck a chord in me that I can hardly describe. This moment shaped the next decade of my life.
There is an awareness in our bodies that goes much deeper than our conscious mind. It is something wild, instinctual, and all too often forcefully repressed by the indoctrination we go through in our society. Moments like these are often dismissed or disregarded. This disconnection from our body’s awareness is to our own detriment.
When Capoeira found me I was at a major turning point. Just having emerged from three of the worst years of my life, I told a friend I wanted to do something impossible.
“There’s this crazy Brazilian martial art,” he said. “You gotta come check it out. That shit looks impossible.”
We got into the small studio just before the demonstration started. People were gathered around in folding chairs facing a half-circle open space on the other end of the room. The capoeiristas (Capoeira players) had taken instruments and were getting ready to play their game.
Capoeira is not the point here. Though if you’ve never seen it I suggest you check it out. What is the point is that I dedicated myself to this art and to my body with a fierce devotion that I had never had before. Each day I religiously stretched, trained, immersed myself in the music and cadence of the art. With an uncanny fluidity the circumstances of my life started to just fall into place. Kind of like magic. Actually, exactly like magic.
I found myself living in a state of perpetual flow. In awareness of everything that was going on around me without being caught up or hindered by the rigid fears or expectations that had previously made the world seem like such a threatening place. Like Capoeira, it all became a game, a dance, a flow.
But as things go this wasn’t meant to last indefinitely. I lost sight of my discipline and my joy of playing when I went on to formally study Capoeira as an academic in graduate school. Within a short amount of time my perception shifted back from the joyful expression of life in the present: to the worried anticipation of what it would be in the future, in the social context in which I lived, in the desperation that soaked my environment with people struggling to publish or perish.
My world shifted from one experienced through the expressiveness and rejoicing of my body to the strictly cerebral striving of my intellect. And so my mind went into hyperdrive while my physical body slowly lost its flexibility, its stamina, its strength.
An affliction of our society is that we buy into the myth that our mind is more valuable than our body. We become complacent in how we connect with our body unless it is to fulfill some social expectation of beauty, for the most part, or unless our health demands that we pay attention to it.
However, there are many traditions that would teach us about the wisdom of the body. It has an inherent capacity to move through trauma in ways that the conscious mind never could, regardless of the intricacy involved in psycho-therapeutic acrobatics. Meditation teacher Reggie Ray speaks about the body as a gateway for a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the physical and spiritual worlds. His approach of Somatic Descent practice addresses the ways that the unconscious is present and embedded in different parts of our bodies. Likewise, the 5Rhythms dance practice founded by Gabrielle Roth is a powerful way for men and women to connect with their bodies and through them transform and release much of their embedded fear, sorrow, and suffering. Yoga has been this for millions of people around the globe. For me it is martial arts, and more recently, animal flow fitness routines.
When that mental rigidity took center stage in my life the balance of things was thrown off. In less than a year I sustained a knee injury that would severely limit my ability to continue practicing the art that I loved so much. I took years to ever get back to a similar place of flow with my physical body. It is only recently that I have started listening to that voice again, the silent one that whispers through my tissues, that speaks in my joints, that steadies my muscles. It is a voice that calls me to drop all of the inner dialogs that ask me to be more, want more, demand more. A voice that in the flexing and releasing of this amazing gift of a body suggests to me that I have everything I need and then some because I am walking, dancing, making love, fighting, fucking, eating, sleeping, typing. I am breathing. All of these things are part of the beauty of being. I need nothing more. All things are secondary to this. So I find time to connect with this miraculous masterpiece of muscle and sinew, and retrain myself to listen as it responds to a sound, a voice, a scent on the breeze.
We forget as cerebral beings that the wisdom of the body is much older than that of the mind. When we connect to it we have the uncanny ability to know where we need to be and when. We witness the world through different eyes, older eyes, ancestral eyes. There is a mysterious communion waiting to happen between you and the animal world just beneath your skin. It is a gateway to your own depths and the wilderness within you.
Connect with it. Sit with it. Run with it. Climb with it. Dance with it. There is much that it will teach you if you take up this apprenticeship with the only real training ground that is ever truly yours.
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching