By Lisa Meuser.
It’s no secret – most of us humans are, to some degree, “control freaks.”
“Can we stop obsessing over the need to control everything around us?” I don’t know, but honestly I’m not sure we need to. That is, if we can learn how to be in relationship with this very normal human attribute. Studying the way we try to exert control or be in charge – as well as how we subtly or covertly resist throughout our days – can help us experience an increased sense of well-being because we are then in a mindset of engaging with, rather than of feeling overpowered by. Sound good so far? I think we can all use a bit more well-being these days.
What if it didn’t have to be so hard?
What if relinquishing control weren’t as complicated as we think it is?
There are all sorts of psychosomatic reasons why we unconsciously try to be in control, and my clients and I explore that territory intimately on a 1:1 basis or in group settings. But let’s break it down to something more universal: we all resist, control, and try so hard to be in charge because, fundamentally, (1) it’s become a habit and (2) no one ever taught us that there is another path we can take. Whilst being in control may feel good in some ways, it’s ultimately exhausting. And so, growing weary and ill under the weight of all this trying, we swing to the other side, desperately trying to not be in control. In other words, we struggle to surrender. But all that trying, even in the opposite direction, not only continues to be exhausting but can keep us stuck even more deeply.
We live in a fast paced culture which doesn’t give much attention to the mechanics of our interior world, so how we live in our bodies often evades us. We don’t realize, for example, how much muscular tension we’re holding, how tight we’re gripping within our body, and how much effort is being exerted even whilst doing simple tasks. What if we regularly took time throughout the day to reconnect with ourselves and notice, in our simple everyday happenings, ways in which we could experience relief? What if releasing tension and stress were simply a matter of curious exploring.
Let’s explore. Not to fix, but to connect. Not to control, but to discover.
Get comfortable because we’re going on an experiential journey, and I find that it’s useful to be comfortable while going on such an exploration. So plop into your favorite chair or couch. Grab a cup of tea and a blanket. Get cozy. (And for my Australian mates, turn on the fan!)
Pause right here. Yes, here. Here with the object on which you’re sitting, and you. Let’s start here. And let’s take a moment to ponder what’s here already.
Connect to the absolute simplest of happenings that is right here, right now. Your butt on the object you’re sitting/lying upon. Your back, resting against the bed / the chair / space. Your body is making contact in lots of ways. Feel the contact. Do nothing with it. Just notice the sensations of connection that are already happening
Most of us take for granted that our bodies are always making contact with solidity, but we are! I mean, have any of you ever walked on air? Or sat a few feet off the ground? Or slept hovering over your bed? Have you ever wondered, as you got out of bed in the morning, “I wonder if there will be something under me when I roll out of bed!” Of course not. We don’t question it, we don’t give it a second thought. We know that, due to this thing called “gravity,” we will always land on the floor when we get out of bed. The same goes for when we sit down. We don’t need to think about it. We just plop down and there’s the chair… holding us. Ditto for our beds at night. We don’t figure out how to lie down, we just do. We live under the influence and impact of gravity for pretty much every moment of our lives, and we can curiously study this so as to bring ourselves into present moment awareness.
We take the energetic experience of gravity for granted. But what if we didn’t?
What if, instead of unconsciously sitting, walking, and lying down, we consciously connected with these experiences? I remember what happened when I started to notice the presence of gravity, and it was pretty cool.
Maybe you’ll discover something totally different, but what I discovered was a space of holding that was coming not from within me, but from around me. The force of gravity literally holds us, and we can explore that in a direct experience kind of way.
Whether we want to be or not, we’re all subject to this energetic presence of gravity. If we choose to, we can consciously connect to this gravitational experience, and in doing so we can become more intimate with ourselves and be more present in our experience. We can also come to know how we resist in both our present moment experience and in our physiology.
Let’s start with our present moment and our physiology. While you read, include the rest of your body.
Let’s continue our experiential journey. Bring your attention back to the chair, the bed, the ground – wherever you’re positioned. These solid objects that we’re sitting/standing/lying upon are holding us. If you’re sitting in a chair or on a bed, it might be curious to notice that these objects have literally been created to hold our bodies. And yet, how often do we lie tight and tense in bed at night, or hold ourselves rigid whilst sitting in our chairs? Sure, I know posture is important, but holding our muscles tight and tense is not posture. It’s rigidity that comes from being disconnected from our actual direct experience that a chair is holding our body. We’ve practically forgotten that we don’t actually need to be tight and tense all the time.
Take a moment to breathe, and let the chair hold your body. Yes, that’s it: hand yourself over to this object which is already holding you, which has been designed to hold you, and which does hold you, no matter whether you’re rigid or soft. So, why not soften a little? Just for the fun of it… Breathe, and feel. Feel, and breathe. Keep it simple. There’s nothing to figure out, no problem to solve, and nowhere to go. Feel the sitting already happening, and the breathing already underway.
Invite the body and breath to catch up with each other.
To assist you in this – because sometimes we actually have to be taught how to not hold our bodies tight – keep your attention on your breath. Don’t alter it, just include it in your field of noticing. Notice and feel how the breath moves the body. Notice how the breath moves the body upwards (as if against gravity) upon inhalation, and how the body falls downwards with the exhalation. Stay with this cycle for awhile. Breathe in, body up (and often outward). Breathe out, body down (often with an inward sensation).
Now, as you feel your exhalation, really let gravity have you. That’s right. Hand your holdings, your tightenings, your efforts over to gravity as you exhale. You may try some sighing or audible exhalation to help yourself really feel this. With each exhalation let the body release, fall, empty, and soften.
Breathe in, breathe out. Notice what you experience. That’s it.
Are you bored a bit? That might be the case, because there is nothing to solve here and the ego mind loves having problems to solve. But keep your attention leaning towards curiosity, and let’s continue.
There may be nothing to solve here but there is loads to be curious about, and even more to discover.
Turn your attention now to your jaw, your cheeks, and your mouth. Are your lips pursed together? Is your jaw hinged shut? Or is your mouth open, your jaw unhinged, and your cheek bones soft? I don’t know about you, but personally (and for must humans that I talk to) I hold an awful lot of tension in my jaw. The thing is, however, I didn’t know this until I knew it. So don’t be too fast to respond to these questions. Take five minutes and breathe, and feel, and explore into the experience of your facial muscles. For you thinkers out there: thinking is useless for this experiment. You’ll need to shelf it for a few minutes, and hand attention over to the body to feel.
As you just sit and breathe, invite the lips to part, the mouth to open, the jaw to soften, and the cheek bones to release. Keep breathing, particularly noticing the exhalations. When most people start to explore their jaw and head regions in this way, they are quite blown away by how much unnecessary holding has been going towards nothing useful at all. There are no useful reasons why we need to be efforting, holding, gripping our facial muscles in this way most of the time, but we continue to do so out of habit. Please try it– you have nothing to lose, except perhaps any headaches or jaw issues you might suffer from.
Thank goodness for conscious awareness.
By utilizing your ability to be aware of your experience, that which was invisible can now become known. Holdings and exertions that ran the experience of you can now start to loosen. By continuing to consciously explore your body throughout the day, you’ll be able shift these stressful laden habits into new habits that will facilitate ease and bring increased well-being into your life.
It may seem simple, and that’s because it is. But it’s not always easy. Just like with all new practices, the more you change one thing, the more you’ll notice a slew of other things that you never realized were connected. (Pssst! Those tight muscles are connected to the need to be in control, in charge, and/or in some version of ego identity.) One of the hardest parts of being more intimate with your body will be the incessant thoughts that try to convince you that spinning out of control is a more useful way to spend your time. (Pssst! Don’t believe everything you think!)
A possible outcome of this increased consciousness of your body is that, in the process, you may develop a more friendly and intimate relationship with yourself and the present moment. This means less “spinning out” and living from your hamster-wheel thoughts, and more living in the direct experience of now.
Now drop down lower into other areas of your body. In fact, while you’re at it, you might as well find out what’s going on with your body from head to toes. Why not engage in a full body scan? You will deepen your awareness of yourself, bit by bit, discovering all sorts of things that you hadn’t previously noticed.
Just below the head is another favorite place where people (including myself) unnecessarily or habitually hold tension: the shoulders. A year or so ago I’d randomly started to find my shoulders inching up to my ears. Bringing conscious attention to this habit allowed it to release, and as that happened I experienced fewer neck and shoulder aches, and less stress overall.
Move your attention away from your shoulders now and let it curiously explore other areas of your body. Are you clenching your hands? Your stomach? Your back? Your inner thighs? Your toes? All day long we unintentionally and habitually grasp, and hold, and exert. We just do this stuff, out of habit, thinking we have to. And sometimes we do. But whilst just sitting and breathing in a chair? We don’t have to tighten and hold so much during those times. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have to hold less and less once we realize that we can hold less and less.
Whilst exploring, continue to notice that there is always this field gravity here, in every second. You are either subtly or overtly fighting against it, or surrendering to it. (This applies to walking, sitting, standing, or lying down.) In every moment, you can notice how gravity is here. You can play with this experientially, and feel the dramatic relief of curiously exploring the body, rather than being caught in a hamster-wheel of obsessive thoughts.
Notice and commune with the simple.
Most people think that our experiences, or these states of being, are coming from the mind. We’re used to having most of our attention on our mental activities/thoughts. But there are corresponding sensations in the body, so keep dropping your attention below the level of the hamster-wheel mind, and come to the direct experiences of your body.
As you continue to play with your own experience of yourself – and by the way, how cool is that!!? – keep being curious. What is holding now that wasn’t a moment ago, or vice versa? How is a sense of unnecessary exertion, trying, grasping, or holding happening in this moment? The mind loves to complicate things, so keep coming back to simple.
Be curious, and ask yourself questions. “What is holding now that doesn’t need to be?” “What else can I let go of?” “What would it feel like to release this habitual holding in this moment?” “Can I surrender the holding of my muscles into gravity, into the chair, into space, in this moment?” “What is it like to feel the breath move through my body?” Keep being available to simple noticings.
It may also be useful to curiously play with questions such as “What am I releasing the tension into? Where does it go?” “What (or who) seems to “catch” or hold gravity itself?” Ask these questions not to get definitive answers, but to find out what arises.
As you’re experimenting, notice that this is all happening in relationship. There is never just you and yourself. There is always a sense of a “you” who is relating to a sense of something else. You’re never really on your own, even if it seems that way. There is always attention, tending to something. Get intimate with what that is like to know that.
Most often we gravitate (no pun intended) toward thoughts as if we were solipsistic creatures. But we’re so much more than that, and we live in a universe that is so much wider and deeper than that. We can explore the depth and width of the universe by remembering to consciously connect to this presence of gravity that is already here. We’re habituated to hold and tighten our bodies, to try to control almost all the time, but we don’t have to. We can experience a kind and gentle relationship with our very being and with our universe.
Remember- this gravitational presence is always here. We trust it every day of our lives. Why not lean into- ground into- this trust, with your whole self, and experience ease and spaciousness in the process?
Keep playing and let me know how it goes!
What have you been habitually holding all these years without knowing it? What is it like to release these habits?
P.S. Sometimes we need a little support.
I have loads of audio rests that guide through this process. Send me an email if you’d like to receive them!