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Staying with the question

I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language…  Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer.   Rilke

One of the things I like to do when I wrestle with a particular challenge is find the question that underlies the issue, and simply stay with it, and feel it, without trying to fetch an answer, just letting it come in its own sweet time.

Great questions are amazing doorways into new possibilities.  Asking a question is being willing to stand in a place of uncertainty, not knowing the answer.   And in that moment, a deeper kind of listening emerges.   It does not matter where the question comes from: a worry, a need, a sense of curiosity, or a longing.  It only matters that this question has come, that it seeks our attention, that it opens up a space of inquiry and invites us to connect with something that has eluded us till then.  The problem, often, is that we do not stay in that space very long.  It’s tempting to rush into the first answer.

I have been trying to build my capacity to stay with a question even as an answer comes in, continuing to ask and feel that question, rather than settle for any one answer.  I have stopped focusing on the conceptual content of the answer to pay more attention to the energy that gets liberated as a result of the openness we start to embody when we are connecting with life, with the willingness to receive something new, beyond what we already knew and thought.  Anyone who pays attention to what is happening in their body while meditating knows what I’m talking about.   Life…in all its many forms… has so much to offer when we are open to receive.

People often quote the biblical saying “ask and you shall receive” but I think the real power of that statement gets missed.  We often ask for something specific based on a prior idea of what we  think we want or need.  We rarely explore the power of asking a question for which we truly do not have an answer, to be willing to stand at our evolutionary edge with a question for which an answer has not yet come into existence, and to be willing to receive that answer vibrationally, pre-verbally, as sensations in the body.  Yes, words and concepts come as well but the deepest level of transformation happens at the vibrational level, in what we feel and experience in the body as we are listening.   When I stay with questions for a while, I often start feeling their limitations; I watch them evolve over time into deeper ones.  The more powerful questions are the ones that facilitate the greatest liberation of energy, the greatest inner shift or change.

Some questions have extraordinary power to open us up places that are constricted within ourselves, places where the mind has built tight containers of certainties to provide an illusionary sense of safety.   Questions can really open things up, when they are genuine questions, and we are willing to feel into them with our whole body.  They may be one of the most powerful evolutionary tools human beings have at their disposal.

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The ecstasy of shaking

I love to shake.  It nourishes my soul, gives me a ton of energy, and opens me up to deep levels of freedom, joy and ecstasy.   In the Spring of 2009, three events converged to inspire me to adopt shaking as a meditation practice.  I was first introduced to it in a warm-up meditation during a Yoga Ayurveda Massage training I attended at the Sanctuary in Thailand, at a time when I was trying to heal myself of the chronic fatigue that had plagued my life for nearly two years.  Shaking for 20 minutes left me feeling more alive than I had felt in months.  A week later, as I was preparing to leave Thailand for Bali, I heard of a Indonesian shaman who teaches people to shake as a way to heal themselves of serious illnesses. And as I arrived to Ubud in Bali, I stumbled upon Peter Levine’s book Healing Trauma in a local bookstore, and discovered that shaking is a spontaneous self-healing body response to trauma in animals as well as in human beings (when that response is not weeded out of us).   Intrigued, I bought Peter Levine’s book and headed for Mount Agung to study with Ratu Bagus for a few days.  I had a mixed experience there, but left expanded in a myriad of ways.  And in the course of a week-long stay during which I shook for nearly six hours each day, I experienced bouts of spontaneous laughter that lasted for hours, shed my sense of significance, felt incredibly energized, and reconnected with the joy of living.

Several friends asked me to put together a little primer to support them through their initial shaking explorations, and so this is my answer to that request.


There are many great reasons to shake, but in my opinion, the most important of them all is “because you feel drawn to do so”!  If shaking is for you, it will keep trying to get your attention, and you will feel a sense of curiosity and anticipation about trying it out.    If that is not how you feel, trust your body to tell you what else it would rather do in order to teach you how to connect with your life force, clear fears, gain strength and heal.  It could be that walking in nature, dancing, chi gong, or still meditation are much better practices for you in this phase of your journey.  Just pay attention to life’s invitations.  Shaking is a fire medicine, and those who are drawn to it, can receive a whole lot from practicing it, including:

Freeing One’s Energy or Life Force.   Shaking is a powerful way to release tensions and stagnant energy, increase circulation through the whole body, and liberate energy to flow freely and nourish each cell of the body.   It also offers an extraordinary opportunity to connect with and plug into the larger field of earth and cosmic energy.

Clearing Fear and Trauma.  We hold a lot of tensions in our body and shaking lets these tensions and excess heat dissolve, allowing us to recover our natural health and vitality.  Many somatic researchers have shown that fear immobilizes us, that it ‘freezes’ energy in our body.   Shaking does just the opposite.  It heats up our energy and thaws the effects of our fears, often back many generations.

Building Lasting Strength.  Shaking is a fire practice and it is great training for spiritual warriors.   It allows us to face and clear our fears and anxieties, to let go of stress generated through challenging circumstances.  It teaches us to become willing (i.e. receptive and open) but unwillingful (i.e. not ego-driven) leaders.  It is also a practice we can do anywhere, in yoga studios and urban ghettoes, in pristine nature as well as prisons.   You can take your shake wherever you go!

Accessing Greater Mind — Shaking offers a fantastic avenue for releasing our mind free of limiting beliefs and rigidities of all sorts.   Once we have shaken ourselves free of our fears and concepts, we find ourselves dwelling beyond the small mind.   When we shake…

“Structures of the mind release,
The reservoir of habits dissolves.
In an instant, lifetimes of patterns

~ Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (59)

Reclaiming Our Wild, Ecstatic Nature  Most of us have been taught to be afraid of our wildness.  As Bradford Keeney succinctly put it, we have been taught to be “experientally allergic to behavior that appears ‘out of control.’” Shaking allows us to reclaim our wildness.   I have found this to be especially true and liberating for women.

Developing Body and Energy Literacy.   Shaking offers an amazing sandbox in which to learn to feel more and more aspects of our dense body (muscles, bones, organs, skin).  As we sustain our attention on whatever physical sensation draws our attention, we generally start dropping through layers of perception and can eventually feel much subtler sensations… tingling, buzzing,  swirling motions taking place inside us.  As we shake through our density, we can start feeling our subtle body.

Learning to Let Go.   We live in a culture where we like to plan and be in control.   It is very hard for most of us to accept the fact that we are ultimately not in charge.    Shaking teaches us to let go of who we think we are and what we believe we are here to do, letting go of all our patterns, our fears, our guilt, our attachments, and discovering who we are beyond all that.

Learning to Receive… More…and More!   As we learn to relax and to open, we can allow each cell of our body to receive more and more life force from the ocean of energy in which we are always steeping… allowing the magnetic field of the earth to rise through our feet like the sap of a tree, allowing our hands and the crown of our head to draw in light like sunflowers in an open field. We learn to allow ourselves to experience more and more pleasure, as we discover how pleasurable it is to be drinking and tasting our breath, and delighting in the exhilarating experience of feeling our aliveness.

Learning to Follow.  When our constrictions and attachments loosen, and we let go of habitual or repetitive movement, we often start feeling as if the body actually knows how it wants to shake.   We discover that our head or hand wants to move this way, and now that way… and curious, we just let it happen.  The shaker is suddenly being shaken!   Shaking is an amazing opportunity to learn to follow the vast intelligence that permeates the universe (and our bodies), rather than willfully direct our energy in the way that we are conditioned to do.

Connecting with all of Life.   Shaking is ultimately a way of healing our internal fragmentation and dissolving our sense of separation.  It allows us to connect with all parts of ourselves, especially those that have gone numb.  As we allow the great intelligence that pervades our bodies and all of life, to start teaching us… we are taken into ever deeper connection with ourselves, others, nature, the elements, and the larger cosmos.  As we shed layers of false identity, we connect to the deepest and most unique part of who we are, our essence, our soul.  And as our sense of boundaries melts away, and enter the undifferentiated vastness of Spirit, we also start experiencing the most expanded and shared aspect of who we are.

There are many other ways to learn all these things, besides shaking.  Any practice that is done meditatively, with the intention to connect with one’s life force, while paying attention to inner sensations…  can teach us to follow, let go, connect etc.


The suggestions below are based on what personally helped me develop my own shaking practice.  I offer them as start-up possibilities to help you find your bearings so you can build enough confidence and experience to trust your own way, and connect with your inner teacher.  Please take all my suggestions lightly.  Feel free to ‘try them on’ but do not get stuck with them.  Trust your inner sense of which suggestions to keep or to drop.  Allow yourself to discover your own way.   Play and experiment.  Be curious.  If shaking is for you, you will know by the pull to return to it, even when your practice gets challenging (as it likely will be sometimes).   As constrictions loosen, the energy with which you are becoming increasingly intimate, will eventually become your greatest teacher.

Opening to Connection: The power of Intention and Attention

“The power that makes grass grow, fruit ripen, and guides the bird in flight is in us all.”  Anzia Yezierka

One could shake as a form of exercise with numerous positive effects, but what makes shaking (or any other meditation practice) transformative is both our intention to connect intimately with life, and the practice of directing our attention inward to notice how life shows up in our body and where it calls our attention through the sensations and feelings that arise.  I cannot emphasize enough that it is our intention and attention that enable us to activate and experience our life force’s great medicinal power.  Shaking is only the context in which we access it.  Many of the benefits I listed in the Why Shake section could actually be accessed through other practices with which you have resonance.

One of the things I love about shaking is that it can be done anywhere.   You can just trust your own sense of where you feel most drawn to shake.  I personally like places that are conducive to experiencing a feeling of reverence for the mystery of life, what some people may call a feeling of the sacred.  I personally find it easier to connect with life in a natural setting.  Facing an ocean or standing at the feet of a volcano is pretty powerful, but even shaking amidst a few trees or by a window looking at a piece of sky is wonderful.  In an indoor setting, evoking a sense of connectedness with life can require a little more creativity.  That will look very different depending on someone’s sensibility and cultural / spiritual background.  The key question is: What kind of spatial setting or objects (candles, plants, or a picture of your favorite place on earth) most helps you direct your attention inward and notice what is happening within you?

Getting started: finding the shake

What are some of the basic elements of a successful / effective shaking practice?  What I am looking for when I get started?

Shaking is a very instinctive movement which is within us all, but it is hard to describe it in words beyond saying that it is a fairly rapid back and forth movement.

  •   A certain minimum speed aside, there is basically no right way to ‘shake,though it helps to keep knees slightly bent.
  •  Tuning In.  A good place to start is to first tune into the sensations in your body as you prepare to shake. This is your ‘baseline’… your starting point.   What do you notice in your body?   What most draws your attention?  Can you feel the sole of your feet on the earth, the air coming in and out of your lungs?  Do you feel a tight or warm sensation somewhere, spaciousness in your chest, or heaviness in your heart?  Rest your attention on whatever your most notice.   Stand relaxed, breathe and feel your body until you feel an inner nudge to start shaking.  As you first tune into how you are feeling in each new shaking opportunity, notice how your body responds and feels called to shake… if it does.   If your body is asking for a walk or a dance rather than a shake… I suggest you honor that.   This practice is about listening to what your body needs and supporting it to be more free.
  • Exploring.   Shake for a while, and notice how that feels.  You may need to stop shaking and be still for a few seconds once in a while to register subtler sensations in your body that are hard to perceive when we move faster.   Notice especially which parts of you readily shake and which parts of you seem less willing.  Allow organic adjustments to take place, but without trying to force any change.  Notice how your body wants to shake in each moment, and let that evolve over time.  Notice differences in the way your body wants to shake if (1) you are stressed and filled with tension, or (2) if you are feeling joyous, relaxed and playful or (3) if you are feeling weak and tired, or (4) if you are feeling disconnected.
  •  Sustaining presence and attention.   As you shake, keep your attention focused on the sensations in the body.   And see what you notice.

As you learn to direct your focus inward, you will strengthen your ability to perceive what is happening and shifting within you.   If thoughts or visions arise, let them come.  It is also ok to follow them as long as you remain grounded in your body and your sensations, so your thoughts remain connected. There is a big difference between disconnected thinking (getting lost in thoughts), and embodied / connected thinking (bodily and mindfully observing and following your thoughts).

Keep checking in with yourself.   What am I noticing?  What am I feeling?  Where is my attention?   There are many effective ways to stay focused and present.   Many teachers recommend that you focus your attention on something like a mantra, a person, or a specific focus.   My personal practice is to not control the focus of my attention, but to let it consciously rest on whatever draws my attention as I believe that this is how my body (and the intelligence that permeates it) is letting me know where it needs my awareness in order to support me to heal and evolve.


As you explore shaking, you can use the following compass points to orient yourself in your practice, if you find them useful: (1) finding your ground (earth), (2) exploring your place in space (air), (3) entering the river of your own life force (water), and (4) connecting to your inner fire.  See further below for a longer discussion of each of those compass points.

Finding Your Ground: Your connection with the Earth

The Earth is the ground of our being.  Our human journey out of the womb retraces our species’ evolutionary journey out of the Earth’s oceans.  We all receive our nourishment from what grows in her soil.  When we die, our body returns to her.   And yet, many of us have spent most of our lives disconnected from our nature as offsprings of the Earth.

Shaking offers a powerful opportunity to feel our connection to our ancestral roots, the unbroken line of plant, aquatic and land beings from which we come, and which form the ground of our being. Shaking can reconnect us with the Earth by helping us to find our ground. The answer to our longing to belong has always been right beneath our feet.  Here are more suggestions about to explore your relationship with earth, while shaking.

Finding Your Place in Space:  Connecting with the cosmos

Once you feel strongly connected with the earth, let your palms and crown open to the energy of the universe, letting your arms and hands move in space like sunflowers looking for light.

Yogis have long known that different hand, arm and body postures (mudras) help direct or focus the flow of vital energy in different ways.   Explore how different arm and hand positions impact your body, mind and consciousness.

Here are a few mudras you can experiment with as you start shaking.  All of them are different ways of directing your body and energy.  In the beginning, this can be a useful way to support your body and mind to open up to many more possibilities than it is used to.  As you play, notice how different mudras shift your sensations… but especially notice when you suddenly feel yourself drawn to move into your own spontaneous mudras.  When you feel this happening, trust and follow your flow!

  • Open Palms looking up in front of your belly – receptive, energizing, feeling light.
  • Prana mudra – Open arms sideways, in the shape of a big cup: feeding on light, opening and receiving, surrendering, heart opening.
  • Closed fists – generating energy, gathering power and strength, and breaking through resistance.
  • Shiva Mudra –  arms straight ahead, with both hands clasped and the index fingers pointing forward.    A very focusing and grounding mudra when one is distracted.
  • Namaste –  Palms of the hand together at the heart.   Heart-opening.   Grounding of love.
  • Jai Mudra –   Palms of the hands together at the crown, in a prayer position.

Going with the flow: learning the difference between Directing and following

A shaking practice offers amazing opportunities to learn to follow the great intelligence and energy which permeates all of life and uniquely moves within each one of us.  And learning to follow its nudgings and promptings is very different from willfully directing our energy in the way that we are conditioned to do.

The easiest way I know to learn to follow is to focus the attention on the strongest sensation in the body (the one that most draws your attention).  It could be anything from a diffuse sense of spaciousness in the body, to heaviness in the legs, openness in the chest etc.  Keep your attention on that strongest sensation and follow how it shifts (if it does).   If a stronger sensation arises and draws your attention… follow it.   Keep following the strongest sensation in your body.

If you feel a nudge or an urge to flex your knees deeper or raise your arms higher, follow it.   Explore what happens when you don’t willfully ‘decide’ to move this or that way, but simply allow yourself to respond to your body’s promptings.

It can be helpful to go back and forth between willfully directing and willingly following until you become more and more familiar with the difference between these two ways of operating.   Eventually, you will become very clear about the difference between shaking yourself and being shaken.

Following is something that will start happening organically if you keep paying attention to what happens in your body as you shake, and you keep following your inner sense of how to shake.   Be patient…  all these discoveries will take place organically in their own time if you keep following your own body and energy.

Activating the inner fire

Shaking is one of the most rapid and effective ways I know to build and strengthen one’s energy and inner fire.   In the beginning, building that fire will usually require that you shake very vigorously… at least until the furnace is lit.  It’s a bit like having to swim vigorously to catch a big wave before you can effortlessly surf it.  You will over time notice that there are certain things you can do to help build your inner fire (though attention) and others things that will dampen it.  Explore what are good ‘kick-off’ motions and mudras for you!   Notice what you do that build your energy, and other things you do that dissipate it.  A sign that that you have effectively lit your inner fire is that your body starts heating up and you break a sweat.

This 4-element compass is offered as a suggestion, but if your own energy and wisdom prompts you to orient yourself differently, then abandon all here and follow what is nudging or pulling you.


Discomfort ~ While shaking will often induce experiences of joy, laughter and ecstasy, it can also bring up uncomfortable and even painful emotions and sensations at times as we shake constricted parts of our being open, and feel what is there.  When feeling pain or discomfort, explore the following:

  •  Simply direct your attention to the specific sensations you feel, allowing them to be there and change, without trying to control them in any way.   The body has its own organic way of unwinding tensions and disharmony.
  • Allow any sound or movement that naturally arises in response to these sensations and that deepen your ability to be present and connect with them (but watch the tendency to use sound or movement to push the sensations away rather than embrace and listen to them).
  •  be grateful for the ability to feel something which you needed to notice in order to move into a healthier state, and trust that your sustained attention will eventually move challenging sensations.  Above all be patient!


Tiredness is often not a function of how long you shake, but rather an effect of energetic constrictions or shifts taking place in the body.  If you feel tired, see if you can discern between your mind’s resistance to moving further, and your body’s wisdom about its need to quiet down and integrate what has already happened.   Shaking through resistance will often allow you to break through tiredness and feel very energized.  Shaking through exhaustion will just make you more and more tired and leave you feeling depleted.    The only way to know the difference between the two is to experiment… A LOT.

Above all, learn to trust your gut as to whether you need to shake through tiredness or pain, or take a break.  This is about building a deeper relationship to yourself, not distrusting your body.   If you find yourself resisting, allow that to be ok, and allow yourself the time to move through it in your own timing and rhythm, without forcing.   The body knows what is a healthy pace of transformation.


  • Connect to your senses!  This practice is about learning to feel, perceive and receive.  Remember to use all your senses!  Stay in your body when you shake.  If you have wandered off, just notice the feeling of your feet on the ground, let your awareness be drawn to the sensations that most call your attention.  As you practice tuning into these sensations more and more, you will start noticing that your perception organically evolves and allow you to increasingly perceive more and more subtle sensations and energy.
  •  Notice, notice, notice!   When you suddenly find yourself ‘trying too hard’ or feeling very accomplished or serious about your shaking practice, just direct your attention to that attitude.  Just watch it with tenderness and curiosity.  You need not “try to” relax or lighten up, or do anything about it.  This would be another form of striving and controlling!  You don’t actually have to ‘do’ anything to unwind and relax… it happens effortlessly when you notice your patterns.  You will slowly drop your sense of significance and seriousness as you notice and see them more clearly!  You will naturally start smiling more as you start feeling and enjoying the way a smile softens and opens you.
  •  Explore and Experiment.  See for yourself what happens if you shake this way or that way, if you try to control your shake, or you just surrender, if you flex your knees lightly or generously, if you shake gently or vigorously…  become a student of your own body and energy as it responds to different kind of stimulus and then notice what happens if you let go of trying to direct in any way, and just let yourself follow your attention wherever it is being drawn.


  •  How often and how long?   However long feels right to you.  People with serious illnesses shake for 6-8 hours a day in the ashram where I learned to shake in Eastern Bali!   As with any meditation practice, you can start by shaking for 20 to 30 minutes and for as long as you feel moved to do so.    This said, micro-practices (shaking for a minute or two whenever you feel disconnected, drained or tired, or need to clear your energy field) will always feel great.
  • Where?   It is probably best to start shaking in a place where you will not be distracted, and will be free to make sounds and allow yourself to shake as wildly or sensually as you feel moved.   A private space – whether indoors or outdoors — is very helpful to staying focused on yourself rather than worrying about what anyone else will think.  I personally love to shake in nature, as shaking is a powerful way of connecting with all the elements.   Once you are at home in the world of shaking, I would invite you to consider shaking anywhere that you feel moved to do so. We need courageous souls willing to show the world what freedom and ecstasy looks like.
  • Alone or with others?    I love shaking alone because it lets me go to very deep places within, but shaking with others is highly energizing, and there is no question that it builds a stronger energy field.  I have personally found that I break a sweat much quicker when I shake with others than when I shake alone.  The important thing, however, is to develop the ability to shake no matter what the circumstances are, rather than being dependent on a specific set of circumstances (including resonant community).
  •  Music or Silence?   Shaking to trance music or a fast drum is often the easiest way to get started.  A really fast and dynamic beat, and uplifting tune, is a powerful invitation into shaking (see recommended list in the appendix).  This said, there is great power and insights available through shaking in silence to either the “inner” or the “cosmic” music.   I highly recommend exploring the silent path once you are at home with shaking.



  • Shaking Medicine: The Healing Power of Ecstatic Movement, Bradford Keeney
  • Healing Trauma by Peter Levine.

Dvds and Videos

  •  “Let There Be Light.”   This is a 90 minute DVD available from Ratu Bagus’ Ashram in Bali.


I love to shake to trance music but I prefer melody driven trance or otherworldly vocals that are elevating, and support contemplative states.   I believe in the creative power of sound, so I try to pay attention to the lyrics I am ‘ingesting.’ Below are some of my favorite shaking tracks and music.   I am always on the look out for more tracks, so I would be very grateful to hear about your own favorite finds (

Favorite Shaking Albums

  • Parade of the Athletes – DJ Tiesto
  • In Search of Sunrise — DJ Tiesto (Vol. 1 & 3)
  • A Higher State of Euphoria
  • Tri-State, Above and Beyond
  • One and One is One (Joi)

Tracks I Love…

  • Olympic Flame, Parade of the Athletes, DJ Tiesto
  • Athena, Parade of the Athletes, DJ Tiesto
  • Touch me, by Rui Da Silva
  • Sail (Radio Edit), Armin Van Buren, Uplifting Trance Anthems
  • Adagio for Strings, Parade of the Athletes, DJ Tiesto
  • “Glow,” “Swing King,” and “Secret Effects,” by Phaxe (in Progressive Trance, Tales of Fall and French Plaisir)
  • P.U.M.A (Sunny Lax)
  • World on Fire, Above and Beyond
  • Connected, Paul Van Dyke
  • Slow It Down (Mathilda Mix)  – Mads Arp featuring Julie Harrington
  • Africa, Cirque du Soleil, Buddha Bar IX
  • Ameno (Intrance Mix), The Best in Trance, Vol. 3
  • Castles in the Sky, Ian Van Dahl
  • Good for Me, Above and Beyond Club Mix
  • Maximus, The Best in Trance, Vol. 2
  • Turn The Tide, The Best in Trance, Vol. 2
  • It began in Africa, Overdub
  • Tiesto, In Search of Sunrise, Volume 4
  • Saltwater, Chicane
  • No One on Earth
  • Sandstorm, by Tunnel Alliance
  • Silence, Delerium
  • Something (Armada Tribe Mix), Trance Nature
  • Silence, Delirium and Sarah McLachlan (Best of Delirium)
  • Warm Fuzzy, Alcyone



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Talking while meditating

When I was first invited to narrate out loud what came to awareness when directing my attention inward, I initially felt a lot of resistance about doing that.   How could I possibly talk without undermining my capacity to “stay listening within” and feel and perceive the kind of subtler sensations I was able to experiencing when I went quiet?  I was sure that talking would just ruin the ‘receptive’ quality of my meditative state, keeping me in the mental activity of “outputting” words, rather than allowing me to relax and deepen in a receptive mode, just sensing and feeling energy and sensations.  I thought it would keep me too externally focused to go deep within, thereby defeating the whole point of meditating as far as I could see.   I tried to explain my concerns.  My friend listened patiently and simply replied… “just please trust me on this one, and give me a chance to show you, so you can see for yourself!”

An Experiment

Being always up for an experiment, I gave it a try.  And what I discovered within the arc of my first few “talking meditations” were these three things:

(1)  The energetic power of speech.  I first discovered that I could not talk and stay connected to my sensations unless I radically slowed down my speech.   There needed to be a lot of spaciousness within and between my words, and regular pauses.   But when I slowed down my speaking sufficiently to be able to continue tracking and feeling sensations as I was speaking, I started feeling that my words were becoming an extension of the feelings and sensations I was experiencing.   It was as if my voice started ‘conducting’ the very energy I was feeling, instead of simply ‘reporting’ on it.   Over time, I learned to discern the very palpable differences between the ‘disconnected voice’ and the ‘embodied voice”… in myself and in others.   Listening to someone who is not connected to their body and speaks very fast (often with nervous energy) immediately translates into feelings of anxiety in my own body.   Listening to someone who is connecting to their body and essence as they are speaking feels like a vibrational massage.  It is often very relaxing and I can sometimes register feelings of pleasure in different parts of my body as I’m listening.

(2)  The focusing power of speech.  I also quickly noticed that the act of speaking kept my attention laser focused on the flow of sensations.   I hardly ever lost awareness of what was happening, which was not the case in silent meditation where ‘checking out’ (losing conscious awareness of what comes to awareness) was a great deal more frequent.   The act of talking somehow keeps the witness consciousness very alert at all time, and I find that this is true even when meditating with more than one person, where we are ‘sharing’ the talking time, with the consequence that each has a great deal less speaking time than when connecting one-on-one with someone who acts as a dedicated listener.   It takes a great level of skill to remain in pure ‘listening mode’ without ever checking out, but if the opportunity to speak is always available (even if one only uses it occasionally), awareness remains more easily focused and alert.   This alertness and ability to maintain focus allowed me to greatly deepen my level of perceptiveness compared to what it used to be as part of my silent practice.  And as I started noticing more, I also felt the need to develop a new language (metaphors, vocabulary) to be able to name what I was now able to feel and notice happening inside.

(3)  The synergistic power of speech. I also learned that because ‘paying attention’ is the essence of meditation, and a very transformative force, what describing out loud one’s inner experience does is to enlist more attention power than is the case when one meditates inwardly.   It literally gives visibility to one’s inner life in a way that is able to draw to it the attention of the other consciousnesses present.   When I facilitate group meditations, I always instruct people to trust where their attention goes and not ‘force’ their attention to be directed to what others are saying, unless it is spontaneously drawn there.   So, as we listen to each other, we trust that if our attention remains on our big toe, or the sense of pressure in our head, that is where it will best serve in that present moment.  And conversely, if our attention gets drawn away from some visual we were receiving because someone else is mentioning a throbbing sensation in their hand, and we find ourselves going to it… then we also trust that.  The key is to let our awareness move freely, while remaining actively aware of where it is going.   But wherever our consciousnesses ends up getting most strongly pulled moment to moment, it is clear to me that things tend to move much faster when two or more are gathered, than when we meditate alone, and I believe it has to do with the synergistic power of attention (which cannot be leveraged in the same way if we meditate inwardly and do not share what we are noticing).

What I have found over time is that this practice of talking while meditating has literally been rewiring my whole being by teaching me how to connect my speech (and my mind) to my sensations (and my body), two things which had lived very separate lives until then.

Embodied Talking and Speaking Slowly

I often refer to the practice of talking while meditating as “embodied talk.”   Recently, a very down-to-earth friend of mine suggested that I simply call this practice “speaking slowly,’ because, in his own words, if you speak slowly, all the rest follows.

I don’t actually think that this is accurate.  ‘Embodied talking’ is not about slowness per se, and it is quite possible for someone to speak very slowly without being at all embodied.   It all depends on where people’s consciousness is focused as they speak, whether they speak slowly or fast.  If their awareness is not consciously resting in their body, there is no embodiment involved.   Embodiment requires that a significant part of one’s consciousness be directed inward toward noticing one’s bodily sensations as we speak.  My observation (and direct experience) is that it is very hard for people who are mentally-driven to notice their body when they are trying to keep up with the super fast flow of their thoughts.  So much is going on in the mind in those moments that it takes all our attention.  One could speak more slowly and still be all focused on one’s thoughts.  It’s interesting to note that, because of the way we have been socialized in the West, the mere act of talking tends to disconnect many people from their body, which is why folks will often go totally silent if you ask them to tell you how they are feeling.  Going silent is what most people need to do in order to feel or notice what is going on internally.   Embodied talking is about learning to move beyond the polarity between ‘silent connectedness’ and ‘disconnected talk’ so we can connect our verbal expression and our sensations.  Slowness is typically necessary to undergo this shift, but it is not a sufficient condition.  We also need to direct our attention inward, in the body.  Moreover, just like a beginning driver needs to initially drive more slowly to notice all the things that he / she will later notice automatically…   learning to connect to one’s physical sensations and emotions usually requires speaking slowly at the beginning only.  As one becomes accustomed to track physical sensations and emotions as an ongoing part of life, one is eventually able to resume a normal pace of speech and activity.

The overarching inquiry here is… what is the simplest and most useful way for us to learn to connect what we say with what we feel?

“Meditating while Talking”

I was once told this story.  A novice monk rushes up to the Abbot at a Dominican monastery.  “Father I have a dilemma,” exclaims the novice monk breathlessly.   The Abbot beckons him to speak further.  “I’m wondering is it okay to smoke while meditating,” says the monk.  “Certainly not,” responds the Abbot tartly.  “Well then,” says the monk, “is it okay to meditate while smoking?”

Speaking is usually a big no-no in most approaches to meditation, but few would take issue with being more mindful while speaking.  Learning to pay attention within while talking is actually challenging.  It requires paying attention to where our awareness goes and how that feels in the body, while we are talking.   It requires that we develop bi-focal awareness, keeping part of one’s attention inward tracking and feeling what is drawing our attention somatically and inwardly while being externally engaged in conversations with other people, or eating, walking, playing, doing anything in the outer world.   And yet, learning to do that is a key stepping stone to restoring our relationship to life, and ending centuries of dualism between our minds and our bodies.  When our words work in partnership with, rather than separation from, our inner sensations, we reclaim our inner compass, which is what connects us to the whole of life, and brings us back into right relationship with it.

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