As we engage our somatic crisis, whatever it may be, we realize that embodied meditation is a very different and far more fruitful way to practice than the disembodied path we have been following. But this leaves us wondering just how to carry out our meditation in an embodied manner and inhabit our body in practice. Most fundamentally, meditating with the body involves paying attention to the body in a direct and non-conceptual way. This calls for very focused work and requires regularity, steadiness, and an ongoing commitment. In fact, I would say that once we "catch on" to what meditating with the body is all about, we enter a path that will unfold as long as there is life. At the same time, the experiential impact of the work is immediately felt, so there is confirmation of the rightness of what we are doing and as an evolving natural trust in the process that is beginning to unfold.
Meditating with the body involves learning, through a variety of practices, how to reside fully within our bodies. What we are doing is not quite learning a technique, not quite learning how to "do" something. Rather, we are readjusting the focal length, the direction, and the domain of our consciousness. Thus, we gradually arrive at an awareness that is actually in our bodies rather than in our heads. It's not something you actually learn to do; it's a way of learing how to be differently.
Forming the core of the training is a corpus of perhaps fifty "somatic protocols" that are arranged in several main groups. One set of practices has to do with learning how to begin developing a pattern of relaxation within the body. Another focuses on cultivating a relationship with the earth underneath. A third attends to discovering awareness of the interior of the body. A fourth concerns locating internal tension and learning how to release it. A fifth group involves cultivating a sense of the inner space or silence of the body. A sixth is oriented toward bring prana, or "inner breath," down to the cellular level. And so on. The practices lead people through a rich and multifaceted process of relaxation, developing presence within the body, opening interior awareness, reading the information the body gives forth, learning how to let the body come more and more to life, and finally surrendering to the body as the guide of one's life. All these aspects are treated in detail in the following pages. A brief summary of the protocols is given in the appendix.
As one enters the process of body work, it becomes critical to learn how to see in a new way. As an illustration, I would cite an example provided by Malidoma Some. Malidoma had been away from his village for a long time. At the age of three, he had been kidnapped and brought up in a Catholic boarding school. When he escaped and returned to his home nearly twenty years later, he wanted to get the light going on night. In the West African village where he was born, though the people didn't have electricity, they had ways of creating light at night if they wanted to. Still, at night they might say, "Let's turn the lights off so that we can see." When Malidoma wanted more light, he was told, "No, if we light the lamps, we won't be able to see." As the village elders explained it, you can't see anything real in the daylight. The only thing you see in the daylight is what you want to see. When you turn the lights off in the night, you see what wants to be seen, which is a whole different story.
It is very much the same way with our body. We need to turn off the light of what we think, or our diurnal consciousness. We need to descend into the night, the darkness that is our own body. When we do so, we discover that it is not neutral or dead, nor is it a space that is just simply there for our consumption and our use. Within the deep shadows of the body, within its darkness, we begin to discover a world that exists in its own right, quite apart from anything we may consciously think, expect, or want. We begin to find that the body has its own wants--in a sense, it wants to be seen on its own terms and within its own frame of reference. This can be a rather surprising discovery for many of us who, as modern people, are so very alienated from the body. We can't imagine the idea that the body might be a living force, a source of intelligence, wisdom, even something we might experience as possessing intention. We cannot conceive of the body as a subject. And yet, to carry out the body work, this is exactly what we need to do ...