radical wholeness with chloe conger
In this culture, we live trapped in the invisible prison of our heads. Everywhere we look, in the very conventions of our language, we see the elevation of reason and ideas over intuition and direct experience; of the head over the body. In this agreed-upon “reality,” this way of living, lost in thought, seems normal. We treat our bodies like pesky animals, or sex-objects, burdens, or work-machines to be tuned-up and refueled. Our faces are manipulating masks. We ruminate endlessly about problems, real and imagined, and avoid really feeling into the core of our being. Thoughts, stories, ideas and media substitute for real aliveness.
This isn’t nature, this is culture, and it is suffering. We are lost in a world fashioned of our own projections, caught in endless doing, self-exiled from our natural state of effortless being. This sense of disconnection from our own sacred human bodies, from our own wholeness, is the root of our sense of disconnection from the whole world. Fractured self, fractured world.
The path back to wholeness begins with this breath, this body, this moment. In Buddhism, the first foundation of mindfulness is the body. Simply coming back again and again to the sensations of the body and breath, I am surprised and delighted at the ever-changing symphony of experience that is happening all the time right under my nose, while I am lost in some day-dream or nightmare. Dedicated practices of mindfulness and meditation help restore us to wholeness, to vibrant connection with all that is.
But what about when we get up from the cushion and go out into the world? What happens when we speak and relate? How can we stay in that state of connectedness, of integration? I have trouble bridging that mysterious experience of aliveness into social interaction and personal expression. The habitual patterns of seeking control and approval, of creating a pleasing self, reassert themselves. I find myself on automatic, acting out the familiar arrogance and anxiety of the separate self.
I read an interview with a teacher, Philip Shepherd, that illuminated this predicament so poignantly for me, that I attended a workshop with him called Radical Wholeness, which I am now in training to lead. Through breath, movement, expression, and many ingenious experiential exercises, we learned to inhabit our bodies, our bellies, the very roots of our being. We remembered our wholeness, feeling the centers of the belly, heart and head connected, harmonious.
I was astonished to discover the profound and powerful intelligence in the belly. Like the rest of the culture, I defined intelligence as abstract reasoning. Philip defines it simply as sensitivity. It could be sensitivity to musical tones, rhythm, human emotions, patterns in nature, mathematical relationships, the different notes of flavor in food, or the trend of an evolving system. There are so many kinds of sensitivities. And for those hyper sensitive people like me- that feeling of being overstimulated happens when we can’t ground our experience. Hence Philip says intelligence is grounded sensitivity. We can ground feeling our feet, our connection to the earth and by coming alive in our lower chakras- specifically the root chakra at the perineum and the the second chakra in the low belly.
When I inhabit my belly, when I know and see and feel and move from there, I recognize states of awareness that used to take me at least a week of silent meditation retreat to reach. The experience in the belly is of already completeness, unity, infinity; and deep, unshakeable peace. What a relief to come home.
What really blew my mind and integrated this experience was learning to express myself from my wholeness. Philip was not satisfied with any pleasing surfaces and challenged each of us to let life flow freely through us, without managing the result. When my voice finally roared and rolled out of me from the very depth of my whole, integrated being it was a huge catharsis. The weight of 30 plus years of self-consciousness and white-knuckling the steering wheel were suddenly totally absent, and the sun-sized fire of aliveness that was underneath was blinding. Here is where language fails me. When I remember that experience, the discursive mind is struck dumb.
Suffice to say that this taste of authentic, fearless, embodied life-expression is precious to me, and I want more. I want to learn to live that way- fully present, listening, allowing the waves of life and experience to flow through me without resistance, without clinging, without getting distracted in thought, or making a story about it. I want to be free. Free of fear and manipulating, free of self-consciousness and controlling, free of the anxiety and pervading sense of perpetual lack that are part of the belief in the separate self.
Though we may express it in varied terms, it is what we all want, in our heart of hearts. Sure, the ego would love to have all pleasure and no pain, and have everybody love and approve of it. But something deeper is steering. Our souls want to grow, to be free, and to live and love fully. This is what we will ask ourselves on our deathbed; “Have I given and received love fully? Have I lived authentically? Have I been truly alive and truly myself?” I want to have no regrets. I want to come fully alive and give myself to that greater intelligence that I do not possess, but to which I belong.
*As I complete my teacher training I will be offering some of Philip’s exercises in my classes, including the Radical Aliveness Series I am offering at the Aspen Chapel that includes Yoga and Qigong. For more from my inimitable teacher, Philip Shepherd, got to www.PhilipShepherd.com to read and explore, attend a Radical Wholeness Workshop, and/or get his masterpiece on Body Intelligence and the Path of Awakening, “New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century.”
- Chloe Conger