Edited version from A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine
If we are living in our body, aware of what is occurring in the field of sensation, then we are in touch with the basic reality of existence as it is received in the present.
When awareness is open in the body, we tend not to get so lost in our head; we don’t get so confused by the flux of mental conditions and states of mind. Staying at the level of sensation in the body allows us to see everything much more clearly within the field of awareness. It’s the perfect backdrop. It’s a non-verbal level of awareness which is available all of the time.
Actually, the sensations in the body can be used in the same way a mantra is used. We can live in in these sensations to such an extent that we are always aware of the body, of the life force that animates us. And anything that interrupts this awareness is clearly seen as a separate phenomenon. Unfortunately, many of us are so dull to our body that we hardly ever experience this level of awareness unless we experience the grossest sort of emotion, like fear or anger.
The body holds the mind just as the mind holds the body. Deep feelings of loss and pain are recorded in the tissues of the body, as well as in the mind.
The body can become a very sensitive diagnostic tool. It can signal what is happening to us. It can even detect the experience of others as we pick up, on the feelings level, the mental states of those around us.
To cultivate this awareness, bring awareness to the level of sensation and , throughout the day, note the sensations that are received while maintaining some recognition of body postures. Simply knowing what posture we are in, noticing when we shift our weight to stand, knowing when we are standing or sitting, knowing where our hands are, being aware of the position of our head, aware whether our eyes are open or closed, has a powerful, wakening quality. It brings our experience directly into present reality. It sounds so simple, but we are probably not conscious to our body reality, even a dozen times a day.
As we come more fully into the body, into an awareness of what is being felt, we awaken enough to our inner responses to conditions to recognise what is needed. We check back to this finely tuned diagnostic mechanism to see what is called for, how balance can best be maintained. We learn to read ourselves by feeling and listening deeply to how we are responding to what is coming our way. We follow the subtle messages received, feeling when we are out of harmony or heading in that direction.
We can be guided to a clear way of acting in the world, towards more honesty and straightforwardness, by noticing how the body subtly responds – how it isolates or opens, how it tenses or relaxes during certain activities. Through this attunement, a deep, abiding virtue develops naturally, an inner sense of what is appropriate and necessary to attain harmony in any given moment. This is a morality quite beyond precepts and commandments, a natural way of action, a harmonious participation in the present.