Full title: The Awakening Body: Somatic Meditation for Discovering Our Deepest Life
I picked up The Awakening Body because of a conversation I had with a friend last week. He said that when he sits down to meditate, that his mind won’t shut off, and it ruins the experience for him. I gave him a technique about focusing on the space between thoughts, but decided that I needed something more concrete to give him. This book is perfect for anyone who feels like they can’t escape from his or her own mind.
The Awakening Body is a series of progressive meditations that take the practitioner out of “thinking” and into “experiencing”. It’s as easy as focusing on your own toes: “In contrast to contrived conventional approaches that emphasize entry into the meditative state through the intentional thinking of the conscious mind… Somatic Meditation develops a meditative consciousness that is accessed through the spontaneous feelings, sensations, visceral intuitions, and felt senses of the body itself. … Put in the language of Buddhism, the human body, as such, is already and always abiding in the meditative state, the domain of awakening- and we are just trying to gain entry into that.” loc 110, ebook.
The teachings themselves are Buddhist in origin but you don’t have to be a practicing Buddhist to receive benefit from them. If you have a body, you can successfully do these meditations. And the benefits from them could be enormous: “It is as if we are waking up, within our Soma (body consciousness), and we suddenly find ourselves in a new world. … We begin to see that what we formerly took to be our body was just a made-up version with little correspondence to anything real. We find in our body previously unimaginable vistas of spaciousness, experience arising that is ever surprising and fresh, an endless world of possibilities for ourselves and our lives.” loc 329, ebook.
This book includes a link to access the guided meditations online so that you can completely focus on the practice as it unfolds. I am just beginning to work with these, but I am encouraged by my progress so far. When I started, I couldn’t sense my big toes at all, which kind of freaked me out. Logically, I knew they was there, but I couldn’t feel them. Ray says that this isn’t uncommon: “When we arrive at the first instruction, “pay attention to your big toe on each foot,” at first, practitioners may not be able to do this because, they often report, they have no feeling not only of their toes, but often of their feet, their legs, or even the lower half of their body. … “Keep trying,” I tell them. For even directing our attention to the vicinity of where we think the toes should or might be is already transforming our neurological wiring.” loc 1215, ebook. That was a big wake up call for me. I’m so glad I picked this book up.
The last part of the book was the most challenging for me to understand because Ray begins to speak directly to those who have had experience with Somatic meditation. I read the words, but I can’t say that I grasped their meaning… yet. With time, perhaps I will. I recommend The Awakening Body to anyone who is looking for a slightly different technique to begin or improve his or her meditation practice. Beginners to advanced practitioners will find this book useful.
Some further books to explore if you are interested in using/sensing the body in meditation: Ecstatic Body Postures: An Alternate Reality Workbook or Meditations for Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.
Thank you to NetGalley and Shambhala Publications for a free digital copy of this book! And, thank you for reading!