Back to the Body–Attention, Being a Witness, and a Zen Shop Snapshot.

As I was running this morning, I felt myself drift off in a daydream, watching the leaves fall as though my own personal confetti–as though the day, the moment, was throwing its own celebration. I smiled as the leaves swished this way and that, down to the ground, sometimes catching one of my limbs as I ran. Oh, how silly I must look, I thought, laughing to myself as I run along in the park. And what’s really going on here, I thought, is not a party or celebration for the moment or the day. I have studied botany. I know why leaves fall, lose chlorophyl and drop to the ground. It is a dying process. Not a celebration. But I continued on, watching the Canada geese wobble down to the sea rocks, mostly in pairs. And when I ran closer to the gaggle, they dispersed, irritated by my rushing by, interrupting their stroll. As I got to the top of my rock, which overlooks the sea, I stood there, waiting for the familiar feeling–when my heart rate climbs as I stand still, rushing blood to my brain. I breathe in deep to flood more oxygen in, tongue tingling, knees shaking. Ah, the rush! I stretched my arms up over my head and lean back, bending my spine and offering my heart to the sky. It’s too much. I start laughing again, then crying, then I bend down without grace onto my knees. The electricity I felt go up my spine tickled in a way that made me itch, almost, as though I wanted to jump out of my skin.

This is too much, I thought. And decided to take a drive down to the gym, sit in the sauna room for a while. Breathe.

As I ran back home, toward my car, again the leaves giggling to the ground. Oh, stop that, Shannon! I thought. Always making nature into a poem and not the natural, scientific processes they are. But I just couldn’t help myself. Just as science, quarks, black holes, nucleotides, mathematical equations, etc. arouse me into carbonated joy, so does imagining a world around me alive, vibrant.

And why, exactly, do I personify the leaves? The clouds. My own bodily experiences? Why, for example, when I feel a rush rise through me, do I begin to see the world differently, connected intimately in a way I can’t imagine–both Other and Mine?

I remember reading in psychology class a long time ago about how infants have far richer sex lives than adults. This may sound horrible, or strange, but I think it was Freud who made this claim (not shocking, right? Freud was a bit stuck on the whole sex thing). Supposedly, an infant takes just as much pleasure from, say, his arm as he does his stomach–basically, every area of his body is sensitive to arousal. Then, as the infant grows and learns to differentiate himself from the Other, between what’s inside with what’s outside, the all-encompassing pleasure zones narrow down to the self, and then, eventually, to the sexual organs.

Freud wrote that:

The ego-feeling we are aware of now is thus only a shrunken vestige of a far more extensive feeling–a feeling that embraced the universe and expressed an inseparable connection of the ego with the external world.”

I love this quote because it somehow relates to how I feel when that rush floods my body. Afterward, I look out and feel a tenderness, stillness, toward all that I see. As though I can imagine each of the geese’s heartbeats, wabbling along, somehow mirrors my own heartbeat, and that of the sea, and of the trees, crumbling their dead cells into bark as their heartwood grows radially outward. The blood rushing in my ears is also the water, nutrients, rushing to the tops of leaves, or not, as the case may be in this season, when leaves die, fall.

I can remember as a child, sitting on the roof, looking out over the sunset. Where I’m from, the sunsets are brilliant in display and color because the dust in West Texas helps capture the reds, yellows, oranges. Particles I can’t even see bring out unimaginable beauty. I’d write in my journal and feel connected to whatever feeling it was inside me that said I WAS CONNECTED. As a kid, I called that connection my angels and God. But I also believe it is Spirit in general, or my higher self. Whatever stirs us, keeps up striving to climb whatever it is we’re climbing.

And as a child it was easier to feel that connection, perhaps because of the closeness time-wise from my infancy, before I had realized myself from the world. And perhaps that’s why children express a natural spirituality, imaginary friends, inquisitiveness, abundance of creativity, etc.

I love science just as much as I love the mystical. And, in fact, I believe both experiences, when loved deeply, bring about a similar reaction, a similar awe.

Carl Sagan, who I believe was a brilliant mind, was deeply spiritual in his own way. I quote:

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.


The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

This gives me chills. Especially the mention of the tingling in the spine.

Back to the body.

This all leads to me in the desire to explore the possibilities behind a sort of ecstatic experience. The sexual taken to a new level.

After running around the park, pondering the way in which I made my observations of the world around me, I drove to the gym and sat in the sauna room.

I started this ritual after a friend of mine and I were discussing the scary dissociative feeling that comes with anxiety. How, often, we find ourselves traveling day in, day out, in a sort of ghost-like existence. Anxiety, terror, post traumatic stress, can trigger the brain into going into a dissociative state. It’s an evolutionary adaptation, one that sort of shuts down the brain, a protective mechanism.

…Sometimes it just feels like someone else is in my body, and I’m off somewhere else, though I don’t know where. Lost, perhaps. In a forest. Counting things. Taking note of why I flee. Writing things in trees. Telling birds of my Otherlife…

I sat in the sauna, breathed in, out. Deeper until my body released beads, as the pine tree I found, earlier that day, released strings of sap down its trunk. I looked down. Oh, body! I said. You’re working. All the time. For me.

I stepped out of the sauna, watched women come and go out of the showers. All different shapes and sizes. Their bodies, too, working. Carrying them from this place to that. Steam rose off each of us. Someone touches them.

As a writer, we give witness to the mind, to thoughts, and to the body. But in order to write, we travel so often in the land of mind, forgetting our witnesses. Our dirt. The ground from which we spring.

When I got home, after taking a bath, I decided to explore the body even further. Where would it take me? What energies lie inside?

I breathed, moved hands over limbs, watched my mind travel, too. At once I was on a mountain, climbing. In my mind I was climbing the cliff, and my body was climbing itself, touching itself. My energies rose and fell, rose again. As pleasure took hold, I felt it go up my spine, similar to how I felt earlier on the rock by the sea. And still, in my mind I climbed a cliff.

What do I feel, thrill. What do I see? Wind, sparrows, rock formations my hands grip. Sweat, again. First on the small of my back and then down my stomach. My breath grows, blossoms with the purple mountain-flowers in my mind. I touch them with pleasure. They move back and forth. I focus on my climb, now. But a mountain lion appears, stares at me. I say “I’m feeling the energy of earth!” He says, “I am.” And I say, “I know.”

The sky lets up with more sparrows, flying past, swirling into the trees. I smell pine. My body greets more dirt. My knees scrape against rock. I push my body against the mountain and sing. No! Not yet! I think. I’m not at the top, yet. But my body gives itself to the side. To the moment.

I stop. The energy I felt built up then flooded my body to the tips of my fingers and toes.

I go to the window and want to eat the trees. Or have them embrace me.

Giving witness, I say, yes, I will write about this. And my body agrees. There are two people standing below my window, laughing. Piano music is being played down stairs.

It feels I’ve fallen from some great height, as Sagan wrote. And now I’m searching through my body and others and the natural world to make the strings connect again. But they won’t and I don’t need them to.

I recently read an essay by poet C. K. Williams about “Intentions.” He writes:

Because our capacity for blindness, for forgetfulness and for distortion is so limitless, we have to be reminded again and again of what is really in the world, or what is there before our eyes and what is within us–those double theaters offering us their tragedies and comedies–and we have to be recalled again and again to the difficult knowledge that not only are their two theaters, but that each of us is at once the tormented and exalted and valiant hero, the rapacious and licentious villain, and that each of us is in some undeniable sense responsible for all the identities of our fellows….Our shortcomings, our unfulfilled potentials, our desires acknowledged or agonizingly private, our ability to think like angels and to gibber like hyenas, the splendors of our ideals and the paucity of the means we have developed to implement these ideals–it is perhaps all of this that poetry must take into account now, and what is most astonishing, as always, is that poetry is not merely to offer evidence for all this, but to sing that evidence.

What is really in the world, before our eyes and within us.

What does this take? Attention, care, communication–not just in our minds, but with others and through our bodies.

To have attention is to be present. And, interestingly enough, to be most present is to risk the flights of imagination that we must not shut off. To be pulled through something quite unfamiliar or even frightening. A shadow-land of hurt or joy that is dug up through an energy, a trigger.

When I experience pleasure, or any strong physical reaction in my body, my mind lights up certain areas. Memories are made up or recalled and I can’t explain it, but I feel at once tragically aware of death and also aware of BEING HERE NOW. The energy that rises from sexual pleasure, up through my body to the top of my head (which sometimes happens spontaneously or through rigorous exercise) breaks open compartments inside of me that lie dormant.

Witness. To be a witness is to be aware, present.

The lost-forest can either be dissociative or active. And, once activated in the body, the mind follows.


Excuse me, a woman said as she entered the Zen shop.


Can you help me? I need a book for my son.

What’s he going through? Is it a present or…?

Oh, well, he’s having a hard time. He’s experiencing a breakdown of sorts. He’s in college.

Ah. Yes, I have experienced many of those. haha. Here, first thing that comes to mind is this book. Actually, my philosophy professor gave it to me one day after I had a conference with her and was having a mental breakdown myself.

Really? Did it help?


I just don’t know what to do. To be honest, I’m also a bit lost myself. Maybe I should read it. Did the book help you?

Yes. It’s a good read. The author explains how to find serenity when things seem to fall apart.

What else should I do?

Breathe. Do you like incense?

Hmm. I don’t know. Never tried it.

Here. Try this one. Sandalwood. Very earthy smell. Good for grounding. Our senses have a way of waking us up, bringing us back from our headspaces.

Good idea! Thank you!


I pull my hair. I feel it tingle on my scalp. I want to say something, but I don’t know what. My body expresses every moment something it needs. My spirit needs, too. As a writer, I NEED to write in order to feel used. Sounds strange, but I was talking to someone the other day about how, when the inspiration leaves me, I feel abandoned. But this brought about a realization. Never am I abandoned. Always I am connected. And when inspiration is silent, I just take care of my spirit-body. I am learning to be kind. I am learning to listen to others. To look around me.

Funny, perhaps, but I saw a pine tree today, sweating its own sap down its back and it said, I just am.

I breathed in its smell and said, Perhaps I just am, too.

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One Response to Back to the Body–Attention, Being a Witness, and a Zen Shop Snapshot.

  1. Pingback: Jack Spicer does NOT like Father’s Shoes « Little Wordlings

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