On Being Physically Present in the Body


Oh my dear, "You're not even in your body," the lady at the metaphysical fair exclaims as she examines the kerlian photo of my aura. It's there plain to see - a distant deep blue glow standing well out from my physical manifestation. Hovering, barely attached. The jury is still out as to whether we'll be here today or someplace else. "Here" is feeling a tad threatening. Too many other people. Too many divergent energies. Too much to experience safely, so I'll keep the escape route open so I can check out at any time.

"Tell me something I don't already know." I say flippantly, I know that I'm not all there. Haven't been since childhood. Part of me is always standing off to the side watching, evaluating, assessing, but not participating. "I'm working with a Shaman." I tell her, not because it's any of her business, but as a way of disengaging and retreating to my reserved place of safety. In spite of all the metaphysical experiences I have had. In spite of all the confirmations and validations and serendipitous coincidences - a part of me still regards all "those folks" at the metaphysical fairs as being just a little bit loony, and myself along with them for buying into this "nutty, fruity, flaky stuff" (as Fred calls it). "Oh, but that will only make it worse." she gushes, now in genuine fear for my safety and sanity, and she's right.

The Shaman walks between the worlds, and for someone who is having trouble committing to be fully present in this one, undertaking the training to be a Shaman seems like exactly the opposite direction from the course I should be taking.

Being "Not Here" is an addiction like any other. The road to recovery is a long hard one with pitfalls and setbacks. But like any other, it is a journey that is all about taking the first step. The critical day was the day I woke up and suddenly realized that no one else was responsible for my happiness. Choosing to be here and choosing to be happy are really the same decision in an odd way. As long as I can revel in the sadness and tragic sweeping irony of my life, as if it is some baroque novel I am reading, it is acceptable, even desirable to be distant and aloof - to withdraw into that other place where life is safe. The minute you roll up your sleeves and pull on your muck boots and decide to wade in and start doing battle with the shadow and dredging out all the muck and slime that has accumulated - being detached is no longer a benefit.

I go on a Shamanic journey and my friend, Lion tells me there is nothing to learn about Being. Just BE. That's all there is to it. Why do I have such a hard time? I think that maybe I'm spending so much energy on worrying about how to be that I'm not actually taking the time to be. So here's the plan. Make art, meditate and journey. Quit worrying about whether I'm doing it right or wrong or what anyone else thinks. Just do it! Just be the thing!

If only it were that simple….

Soul Retrieval

Parts left along the way like luggage lost in various airports and never retrieved - I was scattered and spread so thin it's amazing there was anything left of me at all. When I opened the door and began to welcome back those disenfranchised fragments of soul, they came clamoring back… The frightened three year old at the festival of Odon, in Tokyo, face to face with the dead of a foreign and angry culture. The nine year old escaping the clutches of a pedophile and being chided for rudeness and forced to return to thank the nice man for the candy. The wild woman living alone on the tropical island, making art and creating a "Swiss Family Robinson" life that was so much more pleasant than the dysfunctional marriage and the insane church group that lurked in this horrid, murky place called reality. Getting that part to come back was kind of a hard sell. I had to offer enticements about the freedom to make art and fun studio toys and trips to magical places.

Learning to BE

Learning to BE… I realize that this is exactly what Eckhart Tolle was talking about in "The Power of Now", but I don't want to go sit on a park bench in abject misery and poverty knowing nothing and doing nothing for two years until, at the brink of starvation I have a revelation about being HERE NOW. I have a life, a house, a wonderful husband, great kids, a job. Tolle's way is such a Zen way of reaching enlightenment. But I'm sure that's not my way. I have to find another path. The problem with Tolle's path is that I would have to less HERE than I am now for a long time until I learn to be HERE. That sort of defeats the purpose of trying to learn to be here.

This is what the western Way of the Hearth is about. Finding joy in simple day to day occurrences that are part of home and hearth. Closer to the Earth, rather than farther from it. The problem is that I have let myself be tossed back and forth between the Zen and the Western way. They have the same goal, but the paths are really quite incompatible. I think that's a lot of the problem in the spiritual world at the moment. We are all trying so hard to all inclusive that we forget to be discerning about whose advice we follow. It's not that the advice of a teacher from another path is bad, it just doesn't fit with where we are or what we're doing. It would be like trying to install Windows 2000 software using instructions written for a Linux system. Both systems work, but if you mix them up you just have a confused computer. That's the problem, I have a confused computer.

The solution is to choose a single path and focus on it. It's not being narrow minded, but instructions from other courses of study can just be a diversion when followed without careful sifting. In spite of the presupposition of my Humanities training - not all fields of study can be successfully melded without major reassessment.


Power lies in being fully present in whichever world you choose to be in at any given time. The Apostle Paul said, "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," but this really isn't true. Being absent from the body does not necessarily mean being present in the Shamanic realm or anywhere else for that matter. To wield power you must be fully present in the world you're in, whatever world that is. It is possible to be distant and detached in a Shamanic journey, just as one is distant and detached in physical manifestation. The Shaman walks between the worlds, but must be fully present in that navigation.

How does ecstasy tie into this equation? One must give oneself wholly to ecstasy or trance. To hold a portion in reserve for safety is the same has holding a portion of your consciousness in reserve in the physical world. Always the watcher…

Physical Keys

I used to fall down a lot. One moment I'd be walking along and the next I'd be lying on the ground in a heap, not really sure how I made that ungraceful transition. When I examined all these events in total honesty, I realized that I had been gone for quite a while before I fell in almost every case. My body was simply carrying on motor functions on its own without my direct input. Sort of like the time my father hit an iguana while driving through the rain forest. Even though he had hit it quite solidly, it kept running off into the undergrowth on the roadside. A friend, who happened to be a biologist was with him at the time and my Dad hit the brakes and asked him, "Should I go put it out of its misery. I hate to leave a creature suffering." The biologist told him, "Don't worry. It's quite dead. It will just take a while for its body to realize it."

One day I stumbled onto a simple trick of adjusting my posture and felt myself in very different places depending on how I stood. I lean forward to confront life and I am HERE. I lean back and it is easy to check out, drift away into that safe place where the dirt of life cannot touch me. I was on to something, but I wasn't quite there yet.

I attended a workshop on creating content for artist's books. It was a wonderful weekend of creative exercises and impromptu performances and meditation and discussion with a great group of likeminded women. By the end of the weekend we each had come up with a pivotal issue in our lives that needed to be explored and turned into content for an artist's book. My core issue was learning to be present in my body. I was gung ho and ready to work, so I embarked on a course of meditation and writing to develop the content for my little book. Within a few weeks I realized it wasn't just one book, it would need to be a set of small books covering different topics. Within a few months it had grown to something more like a set of Encyclopedias. The more I contemplated and studied and worked, the more daunting the topic became and the more complex the answers seemed.

Fred and I planned a two week long motorcycle trip with friends. Since I would be riding on the back of the bike for long hours each day, I thought, "What a wonderful time to devote lots of meditation and thought to this problem of being present!" I set my intention for the trip to be the contemplation of "Being Present in my Body" and off we rode on motorcycles loaded with camping and camera gear. I spent the first two days of the ride contemplating the concept of presence and thinking about being present and how I would be able to tell if I was and so on. The second night out; seven hundred and fifty miles from home camping beside a river in Idaho, I didn't see a pothole in the road in the dark and I fell, badly spraining my ankle. By the time the guys had helped me back to camp, my ankle was so swollen you couldn't even see my ankle bone. As mentioned earlier, I've done a lot of falling and ankle spraining, so I know a bad sprain when I feel one and this one was BAD. Last time I had sprained my ankle this badly, I spent six weeks on crutches. I crawled off into the tent, feeling very miserable and sorry for myself. All I could think of was that I wouldn't even be able to get back on the bike in the morning, let alone ride all day. I thought, "They'll have to throw me over the bike like a saddle bag and haul me into town and send me home on the bus. I've just ruined the trip for everyone."

By morning, through a combination of Shamanic Journey and Reiki, I was at least improved enough to be able to get on the bike. The decision was made to camp for a few days at a campground beside the Snake River, which was only about twenty miles away and make short day trips from there to give me some time to recuperate and keep my ankle elevated. Through a combination of Reiki, soaking in the icy water of the Snake River and a tube of Traumeel that Maggie had in her backpack, my ankle improved at an amazing rate. We planned our trip home as a series of short hops from campground to campground. It turned out that everyone in the group enjoyed the slower pace more than the long hauls that had gotten us to northern Idaho from Denver in two days on the trip up, so that worked out well. By the time we were halfway through Wyoming, I was hobbling around camp pretty well.

One morning, we were camped in a mountain canyon alongside a roaring creek. It had rained during the night and the light was just magical. The wild flowers were in full bloom and the morning was absolutely glorious. I grabbed my camera and determined to get out and get a few pictures. As I walked along the trail, I discovered that if I placed my feet very carefully with each step, I could walk without pain and without limping. Since I knew I wouldn't be able to walk far, this hike wasn't about "a destination". I would take a few careful steps, then stop to look around and drink in what I could see…. The raindrops sparkling in the morning sun on the tips of the leaves, a little cloud of gnats circling in a sunbeam over the trail, the dappled sunlight striking a cluster of horsetail ferns at the creek side. Suddenly I realized that I was totally present in my body. Every movement was conscious and aware. I was totally focused on my surroundings and the physicality of my body acting in those surroundings. If I didn't pay attention, I'd misstep and my ankle would hurt, so I was walking in complete concentration, then stopping to take in my surroundings so I wouldn't miss anything of the glory of the morning.

Then I had to stop and laugh. It would take someone totally trapped in their head to make such a complex intellectual exercise out of being present. It was all so totally and completely simple. Lion had been right all along.

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