By Peter Appel
When I was a child, I loved to move and play with other kids. Especially, I liked games and sports with action and excitement. You know, the feeling when you’re running and someone is chasing you and you don’t know if you’re going to make it or not.
And the feeling of energy rushing up your spine… Wow!
But somehow, somewhere, my connection to my body got weaker. When I was in my early teens, I started to read more and more books. Gradually I retreated into a world of thoughts and theories.
During my late adolescence and my studying years, I almost completely lost the joy of movement. Physically using my body became tedious and uncomfortable.
For many years, I lived outside my body. I was a stranger in my own physical life, trying to figure out the world with my thoughts – endless streams of thoughts…
During these years, I was very successful at work, but never really satisfied with my own accomplishments. Nothing felt good enough. I could never take a break or celebrate.
There was a strange force in my life, continuously pushing me further and further, harder and harder…
On a personal level, this was very unsatisfying. I struggled with myself, and with my relationships. And when I became a father, I struggled with my kids.
Gradually, my situation became unsustainable, and I desperately started to look for a solution. The problem, as I understood it, was inside myself. Maybe the solution also could be found there?
I turned to meditation and silent retreats to find out.
My first retreat was a 14 days yoga and meditation retreat in Southern Sweden. It was very pushy with a lot of stiff rules and regulations, which really triggered me. But it also opened new doors in my life and new things started to happen.
I can still clearly remember my first meditation experience. The meditation teacher skipped the formal sitting and let everyone choose their own position. I sat on the floor, leaning against a wall.
And then he talked. With a gentle tone, he slowly guided us into our senses, memories, and dreams.
And suddenly, I was somewhere I’ve never been before.
In a new place, but in me.
It was dreamy. Or watery. Like riding a soft, slow wave. Deeply relaxing, but still somehow clear. And very much here and now…
I wanted to return to that place. I felt that place was me.
It was love at first sight, and I was passionate. So I started a regular meditation practice. For a period, I rose at 4 AM every morning to meditate. In the beginning, it was very much uphill. I tried and tried to find my way back to that magic place, but mostly without success.
I wanted to dig deeper and continued with my meditation retreats. Curiously, I explored different traditions and techniques, yoga, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Theravada, I was everywhere…
Oh, all these long retreats! How my back complained sitting for days in a row, but simultaneously, slowing down and facing myself gave me valuable insights.
Back home, I kept up my meditation practice. I meditated in the morning and in the evening. It became easier and easier to not try to do meditation, but let it happen.
And it was very inspiring to see practical results both at home and at work.
I was able to stay calmer. I could relax on the go.
Yes, it was actually possible to rest while I was doing things. I didn’t know about that.
And wow, how my relation to my kids changed!
When I started my business, I dived into it with all my energy. After a lengthy customer meeting, I was so tired, my cheeks were red, sometimes they even turned lilac.
But now I could relax into the situation, I could observe what happened. I could see how other people turned red. Without wasting my energy, I could be present, sharp and focused.
My new life was fine. It worked out very well.
At least at first.
After some time, I realized I was cheating myself.
No real change had actually happened. I used meditation as a method to go on as before. Even worse, I would say!
Meditation became a way to relax my brain in the morning and in the evening. It gave me more clarity and energy.
But what did I do with it?
I spent it on work! I got more and more obsessed with my business. And in the long run, I got even more stressed out.
Do you see the picture? The more relaxed and focused I became, the more I could work. The “dark force” had turned a little softer, but it was pushing me just as before. Personally, I was marching on the spot.
This was a bitter insight.
But I didn’t throw in the towel yet, I kept my routine and kept going to retreats.
One early spring, after two retreats, one very tough, the other very soft and loving, I had an important insight. I realized that the rules of life – as I had thought it – were not set in stone. They were written by myself, even though they, of course, were dictated by my upbringing and my culture.
I also understood that I could rewrite them if I wanted to. And if I changed the rules, my life would change too.
And so it did.
Joyfully, I started to observe myself. It was really fun to discover all the hidden laws that actually had governed my life.
And to write new ones.
I understood that I very much had been run by obligations. Thoughts and ideas about what I should do had been my ten commandments.
I was governed by responsibilities, rules imposed on me by other people.
No wonder I was irritated. No wonder I was angry with this constant feeling of being forced to do things I didn’t want to do!
And the worst thing:
It was me!
I was doing it to myself. I had accepted rules from other people and voluntarily imposed them on myself. I had become my own prison guard!
During these days, I started to go deeper into Buddhist philosophy. These evergreen insights into the nature of mind really helped me understand how my own thoughts kept me imprisoned, limited my life and gave me practically no place to be.
Gradually, I could feel more space, more air to breathe. What a wonderful feeling!
One day on the meditation cushion, I realized that when I’m busy, it seems like the things I’m chasing are real and there for me to grab. If I just run hard enough, I can get them – and keep them forever.
But when I slowed down, I could see there were no takeaways, nothing substantial to carry home. Everything was in constant change. Gradually, everything was changing, but when I was sprinting, I couldn’t see it.
Actually, when I was at full speed, I didn’t see the real world. I could only see the glossy pictures.
– Aha, I thought, this is the illusion! This is how we’re tricked by sights and appearances, no more real than mirages in the desert. This is what keep us running! This is Maya, as the old Indians called it, the veil that covers reality!
But somehow, it was kind of scary to think like this. And I couldn’t help asking myself:
What’s the meaning of life if there’s nothing to accomplish or gain?
This was a hard one.
After some time, I came to the conclusion that the problem was not in the answer, but in the question. My question was based on my old ways of relating to the world.
I realized I had to frame it differently. Like: What’s most important in life, if it’s in constant change and movement?
Now, it became easier to find an answer.
– If so, the most important must be my intention and how to skillfully navigate my life according to that intention.
And actually, looking at life in this way made it really amazing!
Life was no more about great moments and boring in-betweens. Not about grabbing things and bringing them home.
Instead, it became a fascinating journey, a constant creation in ups and downs, with myself as a witness and co-creator.
I liked it!
It was much more interesting than my old life. And when I caught a wave, it was so fun to go with the flow and ride the current!
In books and songs, things must be told in a specific order to create a story, something readers or listeners can relate to and follow.
But in life, many things happen simultaneously, often in a seemingly chaotic order. We humans are not good at multitasking, but life is!
During the first years of my journey, I connected with the world through my thoughts and theories, and I wanted to keep it like that.
My body disagreed!
Slowly I got it, I couldn’t meditate with my head only. It wasn’t only about relaxing the brain. Of course, the brain is an important part of the body, but however much it would like to, it’s not the whole thing.
I started to do more and more physical yoga, even though I initially met a strong inner resistance. There was something in me that didn’t want to be touched. But gradually I broke through and started to enjoy movement again.
And so it happened. Passion overwhelmed me!
Over the years, I went to numerous courses and workshops and engaged in four different yoga teacher trainings.
It was just wonderful to meet all teachers and co-students from all over the world. Everyone on their own personal journey. Everyone with insights of their own that they generously wanted to share.
But somehow, somewhere, I felt my yoga practice became too predictive and repetitive. It was like repeating the same movements over and over again took away the freshness of my practice. I simply felt the yoga mat was too limited. I wanted to move more – and less!
I dived into the deep and slow worlds of Feldenkrais, Hanna Somatics, and Craniosacral Therapy, three great Western somatic methods. How liberating to meet my body and myself in completely new ways! But it was not only about exploring new methods. My new insights also renewed my yoga practice and once again made it alive and creative!
I continued my inner excavations on my own. I went deeper and deeper into myself and found the inner rhythms and waves of my body. I learned how to create joy and happiness in myself through small, soft movements. And I learned how to rest and relax in the constant river of sensations in my body. In the flow of my own life force.
But I also wanted to move more.
It happened by accident, actually. I went through a tough separation and got totally knocked out. I couldn’t sleep, I lost my appetite, I suffered from dizziness and sudden heart rushes.
When I went to my usual places of comfort, it just got worse. My old friends, yoga, and, meditation, had no help to offer. They just intensified my feelings of separation and loss. At times, it became totally unbearable.
When nothing else worked, I started to dance!
I put on some music and started to move in my kitchen. Gradually, I let the rhythms overflow me. To my surprise, my body took control and started to move by itself into places I’ve never been before.
During these years, and later, dance became my great lifesaver. It took me out of my head and connected me with the raw happiness of my body.
Dance became a new kind of meditation. A moving meditation. A joyful, happy, sometimes even crazy, meditation.
I could feel that my body is always happy. It’s not switching back and forth like my head. The body’s natural state is happiness. Always. As long as it’s alive.
And so, once again, not without passion, I dived into the world of meditative, therapeutic, free and ecstatic dance!
I wasn’t part of a movement. I was movement.
Ah, all these immense moments of joy my practice offered me.
And even more!
How moving and dancing opened my senses and my sensitivity. Life became so much more intense in all respects, both in joy and sorrow.
There’s something very liberating in seeing life as movement.
You don’t have to be perfect. You can’t. It’s impossible. Perfection is just a thought, a frozen moment, gone and dissolved in the instant you start to move.
Of course, it’s possible to improve. Actually, the more you move, the better you get. But the focus is not on getting better or getting perfect.
It’s the joy of living and learning!
I found this was true about all kinds of learning. When I started to move my body, my mind also opened up in a totally new way. All areas of life become interesting and fascinating.
But while I was enjoying my new insights, I could see our culture was heading in a different direction.
That is, moving – and learning – less and less. And from my viewpoint, this was true both on a collective and an individual level.
On the outside, it looks like we’re advancing. Every year we get some new tech gadgets, financial instruments or weapon systems that outperform the old. Every now and then, a new fitness routine is introduced or an athlete sets a new world record.
But when you look deeper nothing fundamental is changing.
We’re just repeating the same old mistakes. Year after year, we reinvent and duplicate the same disastrous conflicts between individuals, groups, nations and the environment. And today, our children and teenagers, on an average, move less than inmates.
There’s no coincidence that change is often referred to as a movement. There’s no coincidence that life in itself is movement.
So what happens when we stop moving?
From my experience, we get lost in our heads. We lose ourselves in an enchanting dream of thoughts and theories. We disappear in a bubble, out of touch with ourselves and life on earth.
So why do we make such a strange choice? We’re not stupid, right? There’s always a good reason, isn’t it?
As I see it, there’s an ancient fear, or repression, of the body in our culture. Nearly all major religions and philosophical schools all over the globe have one struggle in common:
The human body.
The body is not to be trusted, it’s something suspicious, something to suppress and dominate. For many, it is even something dirty and filthy.
These old, negative attitudes are still very prevalent in our society. Today, they appear in somewhat softer forms in beauty, fashion, idealized body images and other types of body shaming. But they’re still very much alive.
No wonder we rather hide than show ourselves in all our strength and power!
On a subconscious level, we’re all extremely aware of how our bodies should look and behave. And we’re all singing along in the choir of self-criticism and self-rejection.
It’s something we’re so used to, we think it’s normal.
Except, it’s not!
Look at our children how they enjoy moving. Look at the smiles on their faces. Hear their happy laughter.
Why and when did we lose it?
Yes, I know there is a lot of fear and resistance to overcome before we once again can join them. Actually, there’s layer after layer of rejection ingrained in our system. But from my experience, it’s totally doable.
And the best thing:
You – and only you – can give yourself permission to feel it, to move it, to release it.
Do it now – as long as it’s still legal!
Peter Appel is a yoga teacher in four different traditions, a dancer, and a somatic explorer. He’s also a writer and entrepreneur and host of the Body Mind Love project.