Take a moment.
What does your body feel like in this moment?
What is the first thing you notice?
What does your breath feel like?
I invite you to use your breath and that tactile sensation to connect to this present moment. To connect to the chair or bed you're sitting on.
To come fully into the room you're in.
To come fully IN to your body.
What do you notice now?
Throughout my eight years as a massage therapist. I've noticed one similarity in most of the clients I work with (including myself). We are constantly operating OUT of body. We are in our heads. We are operating in the past or in the future. We are operating within the stories we create. Our energy bodies are OUT of our physical bodies, maybe by a few inches or a few feet. I realized this first hand during an energy session with a local chiropractor a number of years ago, but nothing quite like my experience with tobacco in the jungles of Peru brought me fully and completely IN to my body.
The brain loves loops. A pattern starts and the brain eagerly goes into autopilot. At some point we get stressed, move into fight or flight response and our muscles contract - getting ready to take action or protect. This is incredibly useful during certain situations where finding safety is imperative but what about when that response gets triggered during a stressful day at work? during a hard conversation with a spouse? during a tough time in life when hard decisions need to be made? A death? A birth? Driving to work in traffic? The problem then lies in the fact that we are often stressed (in varying degrees) ALL the time, without even realizing it. The muscles contract and often just stay contracted all the time. A constant feedback loop to the brain. It sometimes isn't until I touch a client and begin a massage that they say:
"Wow, I've been holding my breath!"
"I didn't realize how my sore my neck, back or body was until you touched it."
"I can't or I have a hard time relaxing my body."
Then what do we do with all that build up of stress? What do we do to numb out or disassociate from ourselves? What do we eat or drink? What activities or patterns do we repeat in order to simply cope or survive? To NOT feel what it is to be IN this body? Because it's too uncomfortable, too painful and too overwhelming. And what about all the external stresses all of us in western society deal with on a regular basis due to all the over stimulation of our nervous systems: through social media, obsessive amounts of screen time, news, politics, fear based media, simply NOISE, and so much more. Constant stimulation. Our systems are constantly trying to regulate. Our systems and bodies are also trying to get our attention. Sometimes its a gentle whisper, sometimes a bang over the head.
Are we going to listen?
The humbling thing to admit is: this is me too. Yup, me the massage therapist. Me the Breathwork Facilitator. Me the human. Perhaps you've heard the quote by Richard Bach: "You teach best what you most need to learn."
Over these last two years of my life as I've gone through some major life changes and I've realized first hand how stress builds up and shows up in my system. How it drains my vitality and effects my body in an incredibly tactile way. Even when I don't "feel" stressed, how it's actually still running on autopilot in the background of my system. How pushing myself to be better, do better and know better was in fact even a stress.
In October of 2017 I went into the Amazon jungle of Peru to do a deep personal immersion and work with plant medicines. One of the plants I worked with was Tobacco. This is an incredibly healing and sacred plant for many indigenous cultures. The Shaman we were working with came from a lineage of healers who had a sacred connection with tobacco and started any plant medicine work with a tobacco cleanse.
Our full first morning in the jungle we skipped breakfast and went straight to the Maloca where the ceremony was to take place. The Shaman opened the space, started the ceremony and handed each of us a "World's Best Mom" mug full of a tea which had been made of tobacco leaves, a bit of Nescafe and sugar - which was supposed to help the taste. We were to drink the entire thing! Even in this moment I shudder and cringe to think of the taste and sensation in my body as I gulped it down. I remember feeling proud of myself - I did it! that wasn't so bad. My stomach was turning and my body was responding but it was doable. Then came the second mug full...
Needless to say my body went into a full body purge of EVERYTHING. I could feel things releasing that I had eaten years ago. Not only physical things, but I felt a purging of energies and emotions. I wept. I felt immense fear. My body shook and I went from hot to cold to hot. I had to place my hands under my tail bone to stay fully present and fully IN my body. My mantra was "Be here now". I just kept repeating it over and over. It would have been the perfect time to in fact leave my body - but I stayed. In a way I have never done before. I felt all the ugly, the uncomfortable, the lies and the truth of what I constantly did to myself, to my body, to my being, to my own heart - whether conscious or unconscious throughout my entire life. The ways I pushed myself, forced myself, neglected myself, rejected myself, contained myself and put myself last. I wanted to scream like I'd never screamed before. I felt such a rage and incredible deep grief all in one. What had I done to this sacred body? What was I doing to this temple that houses my spirit?
I could feel the connection/energy of the people and places which cultivated the foods I had eaten throughout my life. The hands through which it had passed. The sun or the rain that had effected that plant. The soil it had been in. The store in which I bought it or the restaurant. The energy of the hands which prepared it. It was overwhelming. And no, there where no psychedelics or additives involved in the ceremony - just tobacco. I felt the immensity of how everything in our environments affects our systems. Sound. Smell. Sight.
At the end of the ceremony the Shaman did an energetic healing with each of us individually then sent us back to our Tambo (the place where we slept). I felt incredibly weak and delirious but I still had contained this scream. As I left the Maloca I spoke with one of the assistants about this need to scream - she encouraged me to leave it with the jungle. I was blessed to be in a Tambo that was nestled deep in the jungle, away from most of the rest of the facility, about 1/4-1/2 a mile away. As I hiked back I felt the weight of my body, my feet on the earth and I screamed... I screamed until my voice was raspy. I felt the jungle listening and holding me. Then I wept like I'd never done before. This was no longer grief but immense joy and connection. I felt free. I felt there was no separation between me and the trees, the plants or even the air around me. Everything was connected. I felt immense love for this beautiful being that was me. It was absolutely incredible. I felt grounded but light as if a huge weight had been lifted. I began singing to the trees as tears began to flow.... this is what it was to feel whole, free and INbodied: an integrated spirit and physical form, connected to all that is in this world we know and beyond.
I am humbled and deeply thankful to Tobacco for this eye and body opening experience.
So where am I at now? Do I have some ideal diet or regimented life style? Do I constantly control my environment and the people I surround myself with? Do I always make the "right" choice?
But I make more aware and aligned choices. My body and spirit will longer "let" me be on autopilot.
The real medicine and journey started when I returned back to my life here in Washington. It was putting into practice what I had learned about my body and my being. It started with being more gentle with ME. Not pushing so hard. Not having such harsh expectations. Making aware and conscious choices instead of simply living in patterns and old routines. If an old pattern comes up and I reach for a numbing mechanism - first ask myself why? do I really want to? and if I go for it. I simply live it. Accept my humanness. Not beat myself up. I notice how my body physically feels throughout my day. I connect to my breath. I speak and listen to my heart more regularly. What is she desiring? What is she trying to share with me? Am I pushing? Am I holding? Am I here.. in this moment?
To me, this is what it is to be INbodied.
It's not about some perfect meditation practice or yoga regiment or workout routine or constantly being happy or eating a perfect diet or doing regular self care. But to simply be here now. Take one step at a time. One breath at a time - consciously and notice the difference. Act with awareness and compassion towards ones self and others. We are all doing the best we can, moment to moment. Day to day. We have a choice every day - how do you want live THIS moment? IN this body?
Just another human finding her way.
Terri Lynn Perry is a Dream Weaver, Facilitator of Sacred Spaces, Artist and Traveler living in Olympia, WA.