sense and sensation
“Sometimes what you need is to stop making sense” the boxing instructor orated, “and instead lean into sensation.” It was a small room lined with heavy black punching bags. It was my last warm, humid summer in Philadelphia — I was literally crying out my own sweat. This was ages ago, but that one line stuck with me and has crossed my mind many times since.
What I need most days is mental space. Have you ever wanted that too — the need for the mind to stop overthinking for just one second? I have excessive thoughts rattling around in my brain all the time.
So what I love about working out is how it rewires my mind to completely, blissfully, focus on sensation and process. I wrote about running last year and described it as the feeling of moving through temporary feelings. The act of growing closer and nearer to fluidity. Recently I’ve been going to yoga consistently and every time the studio goes dark I am teetering on the edge of sleep, consciousness completely floating. For one perfect moment in time, all the tension in my body is completely dissolved. My mind feels like a long, clear pool. A clean channel with no blockages. I often wish I could bottle up that magical feeling, carry it with me everywhere.
Our minds and bodies are connected in a very intimate way. More than we care to admit. Lately I’ve been learning about how the body manifests mental burden as physical symptoms, reading about it extensively through the lens of East Asian holistic medicine. When you’re stressed or anxious, you can often feel a deep, constricted tightness in your chest. When you’re tired, your back caves inward, your neck collapses to the spine. Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests that the body can hold onto heat in all the wrong places, remain ice cold and slumberous in others. This imbalance perpetuates tiny echoes throughout all parts of your life.
I’ve been getting incrementally better at noticing these signs, understanding what I need and regulating myself. A big unlock for me was finally realizing that I must feel my emotions and sensations properly in order to think, and not the other way around. Small progress: I used to habitually hold my breath whenever I felt the slightest bit of fear. Now 8/10 times I attempt to relax into it. Shrug my shoulders back and down. Breathing deeply is a way to yield to sensation, knowing that it truly is the only way to process intense feelings and let them subside.
Rumi: There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen. I’ve been trying my hardest to listen to myself more — to ask myself what I need, both mentally and physically. It feels like the most powerful realizations in life arise from cultivating this specific kind of self-knowledge. I call it developing an internal intuition: knowing when to feel and when to think; when to brace and when to thaw. Maybe most importantly: when to hold on and when to let go.
PS: Related to movement as medicine, I’ve been thinking about writing about East Asian ancient healing practices (the interaction of the mind, body, and soul) — would anyone be interested or have any suggestions for topics for me to explore?
Quotes of the Week
I have never felt myself to be aging: on the contrary, I have always had the strange sensation as time passes that I am getting not older but younger. My body feels as though it has innocence as its destination. — Rachel Cusk
I will not be "famous," "great." I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped. The thing is to free one's self: to let it find its dimensions, not be impeded. — Virginia Woolf
(agh I love that one so so much)
French Song of the Week
Welcome Ghosts by Simon Sarris:
Ever-rigid systematizing damages the softest fringes of society the most, the tender growth and the deepest roots. The young are more confined to pre-defined destinies. The old are simply confined. A mounting complexity erodes. I wonder: What were the tradeoffs we wanted to make? Are they really the ones we have made? Can we see them clearly, these ghosts just out of view?
103 bits of advice I wish I had known by Kevin Kelly (thank you, M)
The optimal balance for exploring new things vs exploiting them once found is: 1/3. Spend 1/3 of your time on exploring and 2/3 time on deepening. It is harder to devote time to exploring as you age because it seems unproductive, but aim for 1/3.