This post is the third in a series focusing on my path to Christian Mindfulness. The series starts here.
Our homework for the first week of MBSR was to do a daily “body scan.” This was a guided meditation exercise in which I laid on the floor on my back. I listened to a thirty minute audio recording during which my instructor systematically guided me through my body, focusing my attention on different parts. She started with my feet and with a gently voice helped me observe any tension and/or sensation occurring there. She gave me visualization cues to help my feet relax. Then she moved on to my legs and through the rest of my body.
The process was relaxing and peaceful. I remember having a similar experience in my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) class in seminary decades ago. My CPE supervisor was active in meditation and he led us in a similar exercise each Friday afternoon. That pleasant memory reassured me that scanning my body was a healthy and life-giving form of prayer.
As a Christian I have experienced a love/hate relationship with my body. My Christian belief sees the goodness of God’s creating human bodies, including my own. I was taught and still believe that God chose to become a human being in Jesus Christ (John 1:14) and that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16). Yet my Christian heritage also has elements that negate or de-emphasize the body, seeing it as corrupt and evil. My sinful appetites (the lust of the flesh, I John 2:16) are centered in my body. I was taught that my body was not to be trusted, since it was weak and prone to sin.
Growing up, I learned to live mostly in my head. I was a bright child intellectually and grasp new ideas and concepts quickly. I received most of my affirmation from being a good student, which also focused my attention on the thoughts and ideas revolving in my head and less on my body. I was not much of an athlete, so my body did not receive much consideration growing up. I was a gangling naïve nerd that basically ignored my body.
That began to change when I began to train for my first marathon in 1999. As I ran I learned a lot about my body (what ached, what thrived) and became more familiar with it. Yet even my running seemed to be in my head. Running friends shared how running helped them calm their minds and relieved their stress. My running rarely did that.
As I continued to practice the body scan meditation, I discovered tension that rested in my shoulders, as if I were carrying the load of the world’s troubles. I often fell asleep, showing me how tired I was. I explored the knot or ache that sat in the bottom of my stomach and how often I ate for emotional reasons. My body was trying to tell me something, but I was so busy living in my thoughts that I rarely listen. Now I was learning to listen. My home work was starting to lead me home.
In what ways do you listen to your body?