Your Body Is Your Guru

Your Body Is Your Guru

Your Body Is Your Guru

What is the body? That shadow of a shadow of your love, that somehow contains the entire universe”  – Rumi

Your body is amazing. Not the six-pack or thigh-gap type of amazing. Across millions of years of evolution and through billions of tiny experiments your body has developed an exquisite wisdom. This wisdom is constantly speaking to you. It’s like having a 24/7 therapist or guru. When you smell off milk, your guru says ‘don’t drink it, it will make you ill.’ You didn’t need a sell by date to tell you that. When you have had a bad night’s sleep because you brought your phone in bed with you and you feel cranky and its hard to focus the next day, you don’t need a sleep app to tell you that. As famous trauma therapist Bessel Van Der Kolk says, your body knows the score. You can access this wisdom by tuning into your body in a certain way. In this article, I will teach you the basic formula for accessing the wisdom of your body.

Why do I even need to write this article, I hear your mind ask? If my body is my guru, then why don’t I just book in a session with myself?

The problem is this: in the 21st Century, there are deeply entrenched societal forces trying to either separate us from the wisdom of our bodies, or worse, actually manipulating the wisdom of our bodies to make profit. These forces condition us to a) misinterpret our body’s signals as ‘problems that need to be fixed’; b) look for truth and wisdom predominantly outside of our bodies; c) value the intellect over all other forms of knowing; d) override our body’s wisdom and allow our feelings to be manipulated by technology.

Let’s look at this anti-body conditioning.

When a baby cries, the parent has to interpret what this cry means. Because the baby has no words to express itself, interpreting these signals is a dance between two embodied features seeking a mutual resonance. When they find that resonance, all is well. Indeed, the cry emerging from the baby’s body-wisdom is so clear and powerful that it forces the parent to keep dancing until the problem is understood and solved.

But the baby gradually emerges from her pure embodied state into a web of cultural meaning. She learns not to trust her body, and that her parents or her teachers or her society knows best. She will sit in a classroom as the teachers work on developing the intelligence of her mind, with an occasional break for PE. She emerges into what Francis Weller calls a ‘flat-line culture’ where only the narrowest band of emotions is deemed acceptable. She learns that what is good for her body is what ‘the latest research’ or the ‘experts’ say, instead of trusting in what her body is constantly trying to tell her. It’s becoming increasingly hard for her to even notice what is going on in her body, because abstract algorithms are endlessly seducing her attention away from her body and into disembodied realities created by powerful people who are deeply disconnected from the wisdom of their own bodies, but who know how to manipulate the feelings of millions of people. In these virtual realities in which she finds herself, the idea of ‘truth’ is splintering into a million shards of glass.

In this disembodied, post-truth era, in an age of mass confusion and manipulation, we need more than ever to recover and protect the truth and wisdom of bodies.

Here is an example of the wisdom of the body emerging in a session I recently had with a client. She said she needed some help because she was feeling paralysed and purpose-less. During the session, I guided her to tune into her body, and she noticed a lump in her throat. When we listened together to this lump, tears glided down her face. I then noticed her eye-lids were quivering. So we listened together to that quivering energy behind her eye-lids. Suddenly a memory of a significant dream emerged that she had not been able to remember before. In this dream, the client was standing in the Ocean. The Ocean was rising up and slowly submerging her. Standing in the Ocean, she had to choose whether she wanted to live or die. She chose to live. As she recalled this dream, the tears continued to glide.

All of this information was encoded in her body — in the lump in her throat, in the quivering behind her eyes.

Your body is a storehouse of wisdom. Your body is your guru.

Let me tell you about the moment I remembered the wisdom of my own body. When I was 21, I won a scholarship to do a Masters Degree in International Politics at Aberystwyth University. They had an amazing programme there and on campus they had one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen, the National Library of Wales.

National Libraries have pretty much a copy of almost every book you could imagine. So, I loved spending days in this peaceful space finding obscure books and obscure ideas and weaving them together into my own thinking and writing. People liked my ideas, and my supervisor was encouraging me to do a PHD. This all sounded very cosy. Peaceful days hanging out with dusty books and obscure ideas.

But one day, I got a jolt.

I was walking by the sea-front at sunset with the most exquisite views surrounding me, and my head was so full of ideas that I wasn’t paying attention to anything. This was my own accidental version of the Joshua Bell experiment. In a single instant, the discord between the view around me and my head full of ideas jolted me like a super-charged cattle prod, and I experienced something like a panic attack. I went straight back to my flat, flooded with fear, with this fundamental question searing through my nervous system.

What is real? 

Tucker Nichols I eventually came to this conclusion: the only thing that I can trust in this moment is my body. The body is real. The body is grounded in truth. The body is a storehouse of wisdom. (ps. I didn’t think in these exact words then. Just hoping to sound clever in hindsight).

This jolt changed my life-course. I determined that I would never become an academic, and instead I would devote myself to working with people (not dusty ideas) and learning more about the truth that resides in the body. On that journey I have studied a whole range of practices associated with the body (my favourite is probably Focusing), and have had the honour to practice end evolve some of these techniques with the beautiful, brave clients I have served. And that one basic principle — of there being a wisdom residing in our bodies that we can access by listening in the right way — has stood the test of time and feels more true to me today than ever before.

In our post-truth age, the question what is real? demands to be answered. Although there are lots of different answers that are valid in their own way, the answer that I have found most helpful is this: the body is real. Where ideas are abstractions forced upon reality, the body speaks directly and in a language that is accessible to every human being on the planet.

So here is how I recommend you tune into your own body’s wisdom:

  1. Tune into your body’s sensations: if you haven’t done any mindfulness before, then you need to know the simple distinction between sensations and thoughts. Sensations are the raw experience of our body before we describe them in thought. You can learn to listen to the sensations of your body rather than the thoughts in your head. Even this most basic practice can be life-transforming. Many people get stuck in their heads and find this difficult. I discovered in my own practice a hack for this: notice the sensations behind the thoughts. We often imagine that our thoughts are in our head. If you find yourself struggling to tune into your body’s sensations because the thoughts are raging in your head, then see if you can actually notice and allow the energy behind these thoughts, the energy that is circulating around your head. Just follow this energy as it flows. Don’t try to stop it, or divert its course. Just follow its flow. Trust the flow of energy in your body. Leave yourself alone.
  2. Find a place in your body that wants to ‘speak’: once you have grounded your attention in your body, see if there is a place in your body that wants to speak. This is often a place where you feel some kind of tension. Don’t overthink this. Remember, this is your body’s wisdom, not your thinking mind. If you notice the mind coming in with judgments just notice these thoughts and let them float away like golden leaves on an autumnal breeze.
  3. Listen to the tension: when you have settled on a place in your body that you want to listen to, first give it a space to be there just as it is. Let go of any wish to fix or change anything about this experience in your body. Just let it be exactly as it is. It can really help — especially with big, raw feelings — to put a hand on this part of your body and let the feeling know its ok for it to be there, as though you were approaching a scared child.
  4. Go with the flow of the body: in my experience, whenever you wholeheartedly do step 3, the energy behind the sensation will transform. Sometimes it might just feel a bit less tense. Sometimes it might transmute into a totally different sensation. Sometimes it might transmute into an image or a memory or an epiphany. The key here is to trust the body’s wisdom and to go with the flow. Sometimes this trapped energy in the body just needed a space to be, and then it gets released. Listening to the body in this way can be compared to opening the door of a cage and letting trapped birds fly free. At other times, there may be some deeper intelligence coming from the body that you need to listen to. Go with the flow of the body’s energy. Follow it like a tracker on the Savannah following footsteps looking for clues.
  5. Write down your reflections or share: as soon as you have finished listening to your body in this way, write down your reflections. If you have a supportive friend or therapist bring these reflections to them.

There is one caveat to this practice: there will be times when the wisdom of your body is difficult to work with on your own, particularly if you have experienced a lot of trauma. In these cases, look for someone skilled like a somatic therapist, or a focusing practitioner. If money is a worry, you don’t need to pay. There are focusing partnerships to be found.

May your body serve you as your most trusted guru.

Wildfires: a review of 2020

Wildfires: a review of 2020

Wildfires: a review of 2020

Thank you for being here now. Below I will share some of the best books, podcasts and songs I discovered and enjoyed on repeat in 2020. But first, would you join me for a moment of reflection?

Let’s cast our minds back to January 2020. 

Do you remember that photo? Flying from one screen to another, this image gripped our hearts and set the tone for the year. A baby kangaroo burned to death against a barbed-wire fence. Over one billion animals died in those bushfires.

Wildfires spread through California, the Amazon, and even the Arctic, leaving a charred reminder of the fragility of life on Planet Earth. The Wikipedia entry for ‘Wildfires’ reads: “Earth is an intrinsically flammable planet.

And then May 2020, the footage of George Floyd’s murder emerges, and wildfires rage through people’s hearts. I remember at this time working with a number of clients who were really struggling to process the intense emotions, the rage, the grief they felt. As we reeled from one fire to another, it felt like we were reaching a tipping point, the fire of all fires.

For Carl Jung, the ancient tradition of Alchemy provided the most accurate model for psychological transformation. In this tradition, fire is an energy of purification, and calcinatio is a vital stage of transformation that involves burning impurities down into a white ash. From the ashes, we will find what is true, what is incorruptible in our spirit. It is often the King (or Father Figure) that needs to be burned. 

As governments around the world began to respond to Covid-19 with increasing restrictions on our freedom (Kate Orson described the lockdown measures as a ‘house arrest’), we have all been called to look at our own relationship to ‘the King’. This is not about questioning the reality of Covid-19. This is about looking directly into the perfect reflection — the 2020 inner vision — that this year has gifted us. How do you relate to authority? Do you tend to hand over your power and let someone else take the lead? Or do you criticise all authority, and end up feeling powerless, adrift? When I was a teenager, I fought a long and hard battle against authority of all types — my dad, school, the police. But I soon began to feel the pain I was causing the people around me, and the pain I was causing myself, and it did not feel good. Since then, I have — very slowly — been learning to trust my own inner authority. 

Fire needs air to burn. And Covid-19 has spread rapidly through the air: not just virus-carrying droplets borne by the air, but also a pandemic accelerated by air-travel and our increasingly interconnected planet. To be born in the 21st-century is to be borne by the air. We spend ever more time in disembodied states, staring at screens, seeking to escape the mundane and often painful reality of this embodied, earthly existence. Much of what we call ‘progress’ is driven by a desire to escape from the suffering inherent in life. We can find some obvious clues in the Silicon Valley elite: Google recently spent almost $50 billion on an immortality project. A desire to escape from suffering can be deeply compassionate. But as the Buddha recognised, a greater suffering is created when we attempt to deny the dukkha innate in a human life.

In the alchemical tradition,sublimatio is the major transformational process based on the air element, a process that releases the spirit hidden in matter. You might recognise in here the word ‘sublimate’, which in psychology refers to the transformation of socially unacceptable impulses into more socially acceptable forms. 

In his book Anatomy Of The Psyche, Edward Edinger summarises perfectly the challenges of being too ‘air-borne’: “The higher we go the grander and more comprehensive is our perspective, but also the more remote we become from actual life and the less able we will be to have an effect on what we perceive. We become magnificent but impotent spectators.

The internet has given us a comprehensive perspective on events in the world. Billions of people are instantly affected by an image of a burned joey — even from the opposite side of the world. But this virtual connection to everything can leave us feeling like impotent spectators. 

For 2021, my wish is that we bring balance to this year of fire and air, by remembering the power found in the other two elements — Earth and Water. I particularly feel a calling back to Earth for 2021. In alchemy, the process for transforming air into something solid, into earth, is called coagulatio. When our skin is wounded, the blood flows until coagulation causes the blood to harden into a clot, a necessary step in healing. Coagulation doesn’t work if we keep picking the scab. Sometimes we need to stop interfering with our wounds, and instead find healing by letting Nature work through us. So here is to a new beginning, a return to Earth, a continual letting go of the part of us that wants to pick the scab, and an ever deepening appreciation of all that is good about nature, and all that is good about our precious, earthly human bodies.

So this is my Spotify playlist for 2020.

Highlight is the song by the Bensons, which I watched one night just before going to bed and felt my whole body vibrating with the joy, the grief, the passion, and the truth coming through this creation. Here is the video.

My top 5 podcasts from 2020:

  1. I recently discovered Margaret Wheatley’s work. She is a very wise woman, and has beautiful things to say about leadership in these times. FYI, we all need to step into leadership roles in this time, no matter what our age, position or job title.
  2. Naval Ravikant is not for everyone, and is a bit less left-leaning than most people I listen to, but he also is a deep thinker about business, meditation, self-improvement and anyone I have shared this podcast with so far this year has been bowled over.
  3. I found this story about Jo Malone randomly on a long drive (she built a world-famous brand selling deluxe candles). It’s such a beautiful story about how a woman with a fierce and creative spirit rose from a humble, challenging start.
  4. Jimmy Wales is the founder of Wikipedia, and a man I really admire as he has completely bucked the Silicon Valley trend of tech companies greedily taking over the world whilst losing touch with any values. This is a great show about how he experimented to get the values right.
  5. It wouldn’t be a top 5 without at least one Ram Dass talk. Ram Dass is my favourite spiritual teacher by a long way. He died just over a year ago. In this talk, he talks about the path to awakening and how to work with deep challenges.

My Top 5 books from 2020:

  1. Rob Burbea — Seeing That Frees. Definitely the book that has had the biggest impact on me this year. Rob is a rare gem of a Buddhist meditation teacher, who died this year. This book contains some perspectives on meditation that you don’t find anywhere else. Highly recommend for anyone who already has a bit of meditation experience under the belt.
  2. Kamal Ravikant — Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It. This is a simple but impactful from the brother of Naval (mentioned above). The title says it all.
  3. Natalie Goldberg — Writing Down The Bones.I had a period during lockdown number one of reading books about writing, and this one is by far the best. Really enjoyable to read, and it feels like your writing improves by osmosis.
  4. Mark Silverman — Only 10s. This book contains a really simple methodology for managing overwhelm and prioritising the ever expanding to-do-list. I have experimented with a number of systems over the years. They usually don’t last. This one has stuck.
  5. John Higgs — The KLF. Such an enjoyable mind-bending story about the iconic rave band who burned a million pounds.

And finally, my Playlist For 2020 called Wildfires. Enjoy!



The Manifesto of Encouragement by Danielle Laporte

The Manifesto of Encouragement by Danielle Laporte

The Manifesto of Encouragement by Danielle Laporte

The Manifesto of Encouragement

~ Danielle LaPorte via Mary Standing Otter

Right now there are Buddhist monks in a temple in the Himalayas endlessly reciting mantras for the cessation of your suffering and for the flourishing of your happiness.

Someone you haven’t met yet is already dreaming of adoring you.

Someone is writing a book that you will read in the next two years that will change how you look at life.

Nuns in the Alps are in endless vigil, praying for the Holy Spirit to alight the hearts of all of God’s children.

A farmer is looking at his organic crops and whispering, “nourish them.”

Someone wants to kiss you, to hold you, to make tea for you.

Someone is willing to lend you money, wants to know what your favorite food is, and treat you to a movie.

Someone in your orbit has something immensely valuable to give you — for free.

Something is being invented this year that will change how your generation lives, communicates, heals and passes on.

The next great song is being rehearsed.

Thousands of people are in yoga classes right now intentionally sending light out from their heart chakras and wrapping it around the earth.

Millions of children are assuming that everything is amazing and will always be that way.

Someone is in profound pain, and a few months from now, they’ll be thriving like never before. From where they are, they just can’t see it .

Someone who is craving to be partnered, to be acknowledged, to arrive, will get precisely what they want — and even more. And because that gift will be so fantastical in it’s reach and sweetness, it will quite magically alter their memory of angsty longing and render it all “So worth the wait.”

Someone has recently cracked open their joyous, genuine nature because they did the hard work of hauling years of oppression off of their psyche — this luminous juju is floating in the ether, and is accessible to you.

Someone just this second wished for world peace, in earnest.

Some civil servant is making sure that you get your mail, and your garbage is picked up, that the trains are running on time, and that you are generally safe.

Someone is dedicating their days to protecting your civil liberties and clean drinking water.

Someone is regaining their sanity.

Someone is coming back from the dead.

Someone is genuinely forgiving the seemingly unforgivable.

Someone is curing the incurable.

You. Me. Some. One. Now.