A ” Nuit Blanche” is the typically elegant French way of describing the night when sleep won’t come, when the wandering mind begins its uncontrollable rumination and the distinction between reality and fictional catastrophes becoming blurred. A wonderful antidote is to tiptoe outside, to gently begin to notice the sensation of cold damp grass on bare skin, the vastness of the dark sky and the gentle rustlings of the creatures of the night going about their mysterious business.
I am spending the winter immersed in the outdoors – in part necessitated by my line of work, but importantly also because during much of my leisure time, I choose to be physically active and in touch with the elements that frequently batter and buffet our small Southern English Island.
I often wonder why I choose to drag myself from the warmth and comfort of a blazing hearth into the world of slate grey skys, wintry drizzle and biting wind that often seems to define my local environment at this time of year.
I run. At the moment I run alot. I run for all the usually cited reasons but above all, I run – or walk, swim, cycle, surf in our inhospitable turbulent sea, ski where nobody else goes, seek the icy blast of wind on exposed ocean shores, for a reason that goes beyond the typical list of why we should exercise. I do all these things because they help me to feel alive.
As a generation we were bought up to know with our minds – taught to embibe and process knowledge as a baby suckles milk. We weren’t taught to feel – and particular to feel our own bodies – infact most of us are barely in our bodies alot of the time. We are the disembodied.
This disembodiement is largely as a result of living a life dissociated from our enviroment and increasingly from each other too – with thermostatically controlled heated buildings, remote communication, a constant feed of knowledge, speed, pressure and momentum to be producitve. It’s not the world we have evolved to live in and the bodies’ natural response to this “threat” is often to close down both emotional and physical senses in order to facilitate a quick and efficient escape from the percieved danger without having to deal with any emotional responses or bodily feelings. Of course that’s useful when escaping from a predator in the African Savannah – but when this response is constantly triggered and doesn’t switch itself off by the required physical burnout of hormones, we are potentially in trouble.
The result of this is that for alot of us there’s a kind of emotional numbness and sterility that accompanies life which isn’t pleasant – and it takes fairly hefty physical stimulation to actually feel “in” your body.
If you doubt this try a body scan meditation (1). This involves sweeping awareness over the body slowly, focusing bit by bit on each area. It can be an interesting experience largely because we are ususally completely unaware of how a particular part of the body actually feels at any given moment – unless of course there’s a problem somewhere in which case it usually signals loud and clear.
Experiencing our body in this way brings with it a huge sense of stability – a groundedness and connection to the outside which is stable, which bypasses the mind with its omnipresent chatter. If we listen hard enough we can begin to feel that the body has a kind of natural intelligence that knows how to handle pain and pleasure, energies and impulses. It knows how to hold them and to let them go. We can also begin to celebrate the wonderfulness of being alive. it’s incredible that we spend so much time and money trying to look a certain way but we neglect to notice everyday that our body is a marvel – a wonderful creation to be grateful for and to care of with kindness. Even when we are old or ill ,whilst we are still breathing we can notice and give thanks for that
Mindfulness mediation is often recommended for those seeking inner calm and equanimity – but sometimes meditation is not a good medicine for the disembodied person. For many people living in the modern world, maybe a more useful approach would be to actually begin to feel the sensations of their body – to gain steadiness from real embodiment – to put body into its natural environment within a context that it participates in – even if, or perhaps especially if it’s challenging. That’s what being outside does for me.