Lots of folks in the Northern Hemisphere will be taking this Saturday to celebrate turning a particular corner in the year. Based on the position of the sun to our tilted earth, February 2nd marks the halfway point between the very darkest territory of winter and luscious, riotous spring. My gardener friends will tell you it’s when the early seeds first start to stir down there under our New Hampshire snow. Lots of cultures say that on this day, ground-dwelling critters come above ground to take the year’s first peek. Feb. 2 signals that perfect pinpoint moment that comes with the whisper: *you’re awake* That certainly means one thing, for the seeds and shrews. What about a rather more complex set of characters: us?
Here’s where Danny Rubin enters the stage. Mr. Rubin is the screenwriter who gave us that strange, funny, utterly clear picture of what it’s like to Wake Up as a human. It’s a movie that takes place almost entirely on February 2nd, and it’s called Groundhog Day. This is a story about a regular guy who unwittingly stumbles through the rich, frightening, often baffling and utterly magnificent process of human awakening. In this movie, our regular guy main character, Phil Connors, slogs through the slush of his everyday existence, grumbling, sarcastic, superior, frustrated, and way down deep, looking for something truly real. Phil is stuck, really stuck slogging through life as an everyday jerk, day after day after day. He’s stuck and he knows it; he’s struggling to manufacture happiness, to be better, to destroy himself, to get the girl. He tries everything. Nothing works.
And then, one fateful February 2 (remember, international Wake Up day), Phil decides to stop. Instead of struggling so hard to get something, he decides to pick his head up, peak out of the hole he’s been buried in, and just take an honest, clear look. In that moment, everything changes for him.
Practicing body scan meditation, wherein one is systematically developing sensitivity to body sensations, is pretty much like swallowing the movie Groundhog Day whole. It’s like letting that story run its’ teaching through your system, day by day, moment by stumbling, joyous, embarrassing, enraging, blissful, tender moment. Maybe when you think of “taking an honest look” it sounds like a moral or psychological exercise. And it probably will be in some ways. Nevertheless, adding the dimension of body sensations to your data set is like nothing else I can think of. It changes the view from an interesting 2-dimensional line drawing to an all-out 3D technicolor blast.
Take an example such as one our friend Phil Connors lived out. What is superiority like? You may be able to catch onto your own thoughts telling you what a hero you’ve turned into, and what a bunch of dopes the rest of the world is. Noticing thoughts as a practice, you’re bound to see that kind of thought pattern alone as delusional and leading to some crappy behaviors. Wonderful, you’re awake to something new! But wait! You’ve been cultivating awareness of body sensations with the Body Scan. Notice what happens as a result of this trained access to your own body sensations? Now you’ve got the real 3D version of Ain’t I the Greatest? Look carefully, and you’ll find the kind of body tension that repeated enough over time will lead to chronic muscle pain. You’ll find a kind of stiff face mask that’s hiding a much more authentic look and feel that’s likely inferiority or fearfulness. You might find some high stomach nausea, and/or breath that’s stuck up high in your chest. Bottom line: you feel like crap. Now, not only do you have a moral or psychological basis for waking up from being a jerk, but most importantly, your own body is telling you: Being a jerk feels just awful, really ill. The best news is that, awakening to this fact, you just stop doing it. You’re done poisoning yourself. Being willing to feel all that makes it stop, in fairly short order. This is crazy, powerful teaching, right out of your own physical experience.
This is the reason why yoga, T’ai Chi, feeling your breath all turn out to be doorways into whole person wellness and good-hearted interaction in the world. It’s why waking up results in feeling alive and utterly well. Wake up to your body and you wake up to your life, as it has been, as it is and how it can be, now that you’re awake. Welcome to the daylight, groundhog.
(For initial instructions on learning the body scan, go here. Then, find a mindfulness teacher in your area and learn more about how to do it. )