Jill Bolte Taylor writes in her book My Stroke of Insight, "Most of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, but we are actually feeling creatures that think."
A simple example of this happened on Sunday morning as my husband and I reclined on our bed having one of those thorny philosophy discussions that used to end in a fight or tears. For the most part we have transcended a certain degree of emotion that would prematurely end such discussions years ago. But, I can still experience these conversations as simultaneously illuminating, frustrating and difficult.
On that particular Sunday morning I played with the following: Whenever I found a certain heat in my ears or internal quickening in my chest, I took a deep and conscious breath. And I let myself really feel the sensations that accompanied my body breathing. I let my belly soften and especially allowed my pelvic floor to relax so that I could feel the presence of my breath in the depth of my torso. In Iyengar yoga we work to align and relax our 'diaphragms.' By this we mean the pelvic, thoracic, vocal and cranial 'diaphragms.' It is a wonderful way of experiencing the breath more fully in the body. It also helps facilitate feelings of both internal spaciousness and inner stability. But this is a fluid stability. It is a process, the stabilization of consciousness as a breathing/being process. There is nothing held or static about it. Even the stillness flows. Then the mind becomes expansive and able to hold, take in, or allow different points of view, perspectives, or even internal and external resistance without feelings of fragmentation. Thoughts move in, thoughts move out, the breath moves in, the breath moves out.
As it were—we were discussing the very sentence of Taylor’s mentioned above. And the bigger question of self/no self, change/changelessness that humans have been grappling with for thousands of years.
For me the idea that we are feeling creatures that think is helpful and meaningful. And I can also see that one can easily flip this sentiment and my husband did. But Jill's statement was functionally helpful for me because I noticed, several times during our conversation, this "feeling myself breathing." It was so simple, effective and relaxing because it allowed his ideas, his questions, and his opposition to be a part of our dance. I could hear him—but in order to really hear him I needed to feel myself breathing. Or at least it felt like that. Now one could say—you thought about feeling your breath…then you felt your breath. True—whatever way you look at it—the process of feeling my body taking one conscious breath helped integrate the feelings present in my own organism with those of the organism next to me. And, perhaps even more importantly, allowed for the thinking and feeling to harmonize—or at least to coexist.
The "feeling of the breath'' made the thinking clearer. Remembering to feel the breath was thinking functioning in the service of clarity. The ongoing process of breathing is an ongoing process of clearing, so that there is always space for what feels like an opposing point of view.
That day we arrived at a sort of paradox. Maybe the very changing nature of everything is changelessness itself. Maybe what really matters is how all of this functions in our lives. Like looking closely at the ways we treat each other rather than rigidly adhering to some philosophical perspective, metaphysics, or religious doctrine that pits us against each other around that which we can never definitively know. That is when the feeling/thinking aspects of our manifestation can result in behaviors that are increasingly harmful to ourselves, each other, and even the planet as a whole.
So why do we practice yoga? I feel that yoga practice helps me integrate my feeling animal with my thinking animal. It allows me to dance with each of them—sometimes with one more than the other and vise versa. It gives me a place to play with how all of this contemplation functions. Is it functional or just theoretical? Is it felt or just imagined? Can I integrate all the different aspects of my humanness in such a way that I am able to function with kindness in the world, and give something of myself that is both examined and authentic?
One of the reasons I am so interested in Play as a Way in practice is that when I see other animals, including human animals, at play, I see something strikingly authentic, liberated, and even ephemeral. Something mysterious is expressing itself. It is joyful—but also powerful. And I know this feeling in my cells, and I trust it. I think all of us, no matter how old we are, can benefit tremendously from the power of play. We can play with a new idea, try on a different point of view. Breathe with it, move with it, sit with it. And know that it, like the breath, isn't some fixed, permanent and unchanging thing. We need not be afraid to play, or think, differently. Play may indeed be a way to help integrate our feeling and thinking natures.
What could have been a troubling conversation that Sunday morning actually brought us closer. And for my part, playing with feeling the body breathing and the breath flowing in the midst of the conversation allowed for the thinking and the feeling to flow together—and between the two of us.
We breathe, we fell, we think, we play, we love.