I jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon about six years ago.
I attempt to live mindfully. I call my yoga classes, “Mindful Movement.” This blog is about incorporating mindfulness into everyday life. As you can see, I’m a pretty big fan of mindfulness.
So you can understand why I caught my breath when I read (and re-read) this line halfway into Jay Fields’ book, Teaching People, Not Poses:
“The problem with mindfulness is that it’s full of mind.”
I had the uncomfortable feeling everything following this line would directly apply to me.
She proceeded to convincingly lay out a number of ways mindfulness is full of mind and to make a distinction between a mind-full practice of yoga and an embodied practice of yoga.
Commenting on what it means to be embodied she says, “The experience of embodied presence feels soft and expansive to me, whereas mindful presence feels a bit numb and tunnel-like.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and creator of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), describes mindfulness as Falling Awake. He also calls it “The hardest work in the world.”
Most of us would agree that consistently showing up for our lives is no easy task, but it is a rewarding one. This is likely why the practice of mindfulness is becoming more and more mainstream.
As I reflected on my personal experience of feeling mindful versus embodied, I began to see Fields’ point. In my most “aware” and “mindful” moments I sometimes felt a sense of disconnect. While I seemed to be completely present with whomever I was with or wherever I was, my experience sometimes felt incomplete. Contrasting this with my experience of feeling “embodied,” I realized that when I felt embodied life felt like it was happening in 3D.
Everything felt alive, moved in slow-motion, and was incredibly fascinating.
Until running across that line in Fields’ book, I hadn’t considered there might be a problem with my mindfulness, and I hadn’t considered embodiment to be a separate process. The more I contemplated it, the more I questioned whether they were really separate processes. Couldn’t one lead to the other?
While musing over this concept I was presented with an opportunity to interview Julian Walker on his book Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind. With a title like that I figured he knew a thing or two about being mindful and being embodied. I questioned him on whether he felt “mindfulness” and “embodiment” could coexist and/or contribute to each other.
He responded in part, “If our mindfulness does not include embodiment, then we feel like a floating head! Ungrounded, disempowered, out of touch. If our embodiment does not include mindfulness we can be reactive, impulsive or negatively self-indulgent.”
His comments seemed to echo what Fields describes when she says, “I can do my entire yoga practice mindfully, and not at all feel connected to myself as an integrated bodymind.”
They are both expressing the need for integration, for unison, for a yoking of the body and the mind. One without the other leaves us feeling half-present, missing something, and not entirely alive.
Sitting with this concept for some time, I started to realize the question was more important than the answer. Being willing to ask and explore the question; “What is the state of my body-mind union?” This requires us to step back from what we think we know and step onto the unsteady, shifty ground of what is.
Plenty of people will tell you what it is or isn’t, but only you know when you’ve struck that balance and when your whole being is in sync.
Before reading Fields’ book where she dared to present mindfulness in a not-so-flattering light, I wasn’t asking myself this question. I was walking around trying to be mindful and wondering why it sometimes helped me feel present and sometimes made me feel less present. Asking the question forced me out of my comfort zone and into an undefined space of uncertainty and discovery.
From this unsure realm I could test my experiences with an attitude of exploration instead of looking for facts to defend my position. As I explored, I discovered that I jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon because it was a doorway from pain to presence.
As I entered the home of my body mindfully, I began to get to know this fascinating house called, Me. This process of stepping inside my own skin, of becoming embodied, required allowing my mind to coexist with my body instead of rejecting one or the other.
When I allow for an integrated mindbody experience something incredible happens. I feel at home, I feel awake, and I feel alive. In these moments “the hardest work in the world” doesn’t feel so hard at all. It feels delicious, grounded, and free, with nowhere to be but here.
This article was originally published on elephant journal.