Did you hear about the time Descartes walked into a bar? The bartender asked if he wanted a beer, to which he replied, “I think not!” and POOF! he disappeared.
I found myself telling that joke on Valentine’s Day as I lead a workshop on Aware Touch for Couples. We were in the middle of a discussion on the difference between knowing yourself conceptually and enjoying embodied self-awareness. The four couples attending burst into laughter, and we all relaxed. I’m thrilled when people who came in nervous and wary find themselves enjoying each others’ company. This happens a lot when I teach, because whether it’s a writing class or bodywork training or touch workshop, it’s always about creating a safe space for our authentic selves to emerge.
I love the image of Descartes vanishing when he stops thinking, because that’s how we’ve learned to relate to our own selves. That’s what we do, we disappear from ourselves. We go mostly into our thoughts and imaginings, or into paying attention exclusively to the other person, or just shutting down and going though the motions.
Here’s an experiment for you, dear Reader:
First, I want you to think about your arm. Notice what pops into your awareness when you think about your arm.
Next, give yourself time to feel your arm. I don’t mean touch it with your other hand; I mean feel it from inside. Take your time to let your attention dwell in it and find out what kind of arm you have. What is its nature, its personality, or its desire?
There was a time in my life when this exercise would have totally confounded me. When I think about my arm, I get either images of the anatomy of it, or a self-critical rant: it’s too short, it’s too flabby; it’s too hairy, blah blah blah. The first time I tried switching to sensing my arm instead of thinking about it, I was in for a big surprise. My subjective experience of my arms had nothing to do with bones and muscles or with being too this or not enough that. My arms are full of life; they are directly attached to my heart, and they want to reach out and hold people.
Boy, was my mind being mean to my wonderful arms. What we think is NOT who we are. Or more precisely, what we think when we omit embodied self-awareness is a distorted and limited version of who we are. This version of you is not the one anyone wants to be touched by, and it’s not the version who really feels connected when touching someone else.
So we practiced sensing the difference between living in your head and living in your body, identifying when you’re in which mode, and what to do to come back if you realize you’re gone.
This particular group of people had “tricks” to come back when they realized they were gone. Breathing, moving, placing a hand over the heart or belly, music, a hug, nature…lots of practices work. What’s important is to track yourself throughout the day and come back in when you’re gone.
We did a guided exercise of having one person place their hands on the shoulders of their partner. I talked people through how to touch in a way this is receptive instead of manipulative, gentle yet deep. I guided them to stay present to themselves as they take in the other. After a while of that, I gave the touchers instructions that those sitting and being touched did not see. I told the touchers to think about their “to do” lists. After a moment of that, I asked the touchees what they were experiencing.
“He just left.”
“I feel abandoned.”
“I started thinking about other things.”
What a dramatic illustration of how crucial it is to stay inside yourself when you relate to another!
As an antidote, I instructed the touchers to land in their hearts as they touched. What a relief to their partners!
Two things to try at home:
One experiment is the “think about/feel” any part of your body exercise which I described above.
The other is to touch both ways (1. grounded in your body and 2. lost in your thoughts) to see if the other person can feel it.
I would love to know if just reading this blog is enough to have meaningful results. Please let me know what you experience!