Listening to my Body – all of it

    by Satyen Khashu

    In this essay Satyen Khashu shares his journey listening to his body through the practice of mindfulness – inhabiting the body completely to listen to it in daily life. He finds that there is no fixed formula, but with a regular practice, we can cultivate attention towards the body become more vigilant. Please note – this essay is a person account and not a medical advisory to anyone. 

    I have spent most of my awake life, ‘not listening’ to my body. Except for moments of extreme pain or pleasure, my attention never went to my body. My attention was always outside of my body. I was attending to the world outside. I was managing the world outside. -The world that I project. The world, which will also die, when my body dies.

    Kashmir – my body adapted to survive the situation 

    My body is a gift from of my ancestors in Kashmir, in India. It was raised in an environment, where it had to survive – harsh climate & violence and where it learnt that it should not confront anyone – buy peace in all situations. To survive my body depended mostly on the ‘freeze’ and ‘fawn’ responses to any pressures or threats – ‘flight’ and ‘flight’ was out of the question. 

    My body is ready to take on the toughest challenges, but finds it difficult to rest. My body is resilient- can survive anywhere in the world. But my body was also housed with fear & ‘avoidance’ of sorts. For years, I was not even aware that it existed. Now I am more aware that sometimes, fear and avoidance run my body. The avoidance is unique. My body seeks connection and then avoids it. Its steps back, when a connection arrives. 

    I am now understanding that fear & avoidance together have created a ‘wasteful dance of effort’ in my life. – This does not show up in my appearances or work, but as a lot of doing & un-doing, a need for perfection and not feeling comfortable to receive support. 

    There are many other beautiful things that I have found about my body while listening to it – one of them is that as I am getting better and attuned to my body, even a small external act like a Namaste ( folding hands together) that is done towards a person in front of me, I can notice that it has a bigger impact on – my body system. It just puts my body in a mode of deep ease and well being and I breathe differently and I also feel more of my body.

    Pause – Making a connection with the body

    I want to start by asking you a question – How does your body feel right now?  Take a minute to inhabit your body completely. Like you take time to bathe it or take time to clothe it or take time to beautify its appearance. You don’t need to ‘do’ anything. Just be with it completely from head to toe – here and now. Set aside all your devises, or thoughts – bring attention to your body and do a ‘check in’ and ask yourself – What is the quality of your body right now ? How would you describe it ? Don’t be in a hurry to say – its normal or its alright or its okay. Take time to connect with your body, notice a quality of being of your body. There is no right or wrong answers here– It is your body; you are the one that can really describe how it is? So, what do you notice. Make a note of it.

    As I am doing this ‘check in’ with you. – my entire body feel so spacious, not rushed and light, except my calf muscles, they are tight. If you do this and look at all your body parts, it become a simple body scan and as you do this, you get a sense of how the body is and you will naturally see the shifts in the quality of being of your body. Knowing that your body is tight, spacious, tensed, soft, hopeful, playful, tired, hungry of touch, hungry, sad, helps you connect with it with a knowing that it is like that right now. 

    For me a pause is the first step of Listening to my body. Making a connection with it here and now. Bringing attention, without any judgement to it. Noticing its quality. Initially you will come back with qualities like normal, okay, alright, but as you practice and notice your body regularly – your vocabulary will get more intimate, so will the connection and attunement and the relationship with your body.

    Hunger, Thirst & Rest

    The journey of Listening to my body, began many years back, when I met this man in a village who shared – ‘When it is hungry feed it, when it is thirsty, quench its thirst and when it is tired, give it rest’ It was a simple mantra. I did a check in with myself for a month and found that I was not able to even listen to these three needs of my body over 75% of the time. So If I was not listening to the system that ran my existence in this world, what was I busy listening to ?   

    You can do this check for yourself. What / Who are you listening to and ‘attending to’ on an average day? At that time, I also recognized – the glory of my body that it is working beautifully when I am not listening to it most of the time. What an amazing gift. 

    I rarely ever ‘felt’ hunger because in my life style was of timetable and to provide for the future- food would arrive before my body allowed me to feel hunger. (In most people lives, we live on a time-table and we don’t get the opportunity to feel anything.) In rare occasions when I had an upset stomach– I starved myself to rest my stomach and during those times, I could listen to my hunger.

    When it came to thirst, I was habituated to drink water while eating food. So, I did not have specific needs for water separately. In summers, my body desired for lemon juice or water. As a child, I drank a lot of water after play and my mother would not let me saying – “don’t drink so much water – you will not eat food”. In the last few years, I have started enjoying drinking water – especially sometimes, when it comes from an Matka (earthen pot). I like how little quantities of the water from an earthen pot quenches a big thirst for me – while when I drink water that is chilled, I drink a lot more quantity and yet the thirst is not quenched.

    Please Rest.

    No matter, how tired I am, I need someone else to tell me to rest. I have a need to be ‘seen’ doing work by people around me. I discovered something while being with my mother who is 73. Even now, I don’t see her sit still for a long time. She is constantly on the move. Even when she is watching TV, she sits on the edge of the chair or Diwan and not completely rested. 

    So for a couple of weeks, I just paid attention to the ‘field’ between me and her. I shut all distractions and noticed what was happens in my body as I was being around her. And I found that when she is unsettled and keeps moving around, I can too feel that resonance inside my body. I did this little experiment for a 5 to 6 times and every time, it was the same result. Emotionally, it showed up as anger or sometimes disgust but viscerally – unsettling- “please settle, so that I can feel settled and safe – stop moving – was a voice of my body system.  

    Initially, this was a subject of heated discussion – but now it is a beautiful conversation. We are able to look at both sides – One – acknowledging that she had very little time to sit and settle down all her life. Losing her father suddenly, marriage, children, job and many things, a lot of struggle to make ends meet and also that – one cannot expect a young child to learn to settle itself, when it was attuned to a caregiver who was rarely settled or sometimes away for ‘other’ duties of life. What makes me happy is that now, my mother is able to look at this point of view and not take it personally and listen to what I need to share with her as her son. That un-interrupted listening by my mother – in itself feels enough for my body system to settled and feel alright.

    Approach & Avoidance 

    With my mindfulness practice, I was able to cultivate many areas of my life which my body was in avoidance to – like deeper connection with people beyond the work we were doing. And the nice thing was that we were told to approach, what we avoided with small meaningful steps, with being present and what did not feel comfortable – to step back.

    I could rarely be myself without any roles or work. I always needed to have something to do. I was more of a Human Doing and yes of a Human Being. Just having my body, sitting joyfully was a task. Most of my conversations were about work. Like I was hiding a major chunk of myself from most people in the world. Not showing up, who I really am. And I did notice this in the way I over prepared things. Practiced, rehearsed stuff till I become really good at a task and even brilliant at many things.

    Although there were many people around me and I was part of many communities, but bodily, I had a felt sense – that there is no one standing beside me. No one watching my back. And it true, because I was not showing all of myself- so how could I expect people to watch my back.

    I was also afraid to confront people. Pick up fights. My body was not equipped to stand for itself on its own, so I developed great language skills to save myself or protect myself of situations. Now this is much different. I feel comfortable to confront, fight or show up a little more when the situation demands and I do a bodily check in for this. Like really seeing how comfortably my body feels approaching this and then taking a while acknowledging that discomfort. Very often from this ‘Pause’ of taking time to allow / be with the discomfort, I have also found a comfort or options to move ahead, but which is very different from auto-pilot of just moving ahead – When elders have given me courage, when I needed compassion.  Most of my connections were based on education and work. I could strike a connection with anyone in this world as long as there was some work, some challenging stuff that had to be done.  But if you told me sit and speak about myself, I would find it very difficult to go inside myself and share. I was also quite poor at building deeper connection with people, because I did not know what I really wanted from people, because I did not know what I wanted from myself and for myself. This got better as I build a better connection with myself, tuning into my body and really looking at its basic needs like just learning the alphabet in a language and recognizing it – I need food. I need rest. I need some appreciation. I need some listening, I need someone to hold my head,  I need some holding or a hug. Its been a journey. As I learnt to tune into my body, I could re-understand the relational space. When I had a clearer understanding of my needs, it made space for me to understand the needs of others. Mindful pauses do that. Otherwise, everything was a big story and projection and me being all over the place – what I think they are, they want, they like, etc. As I build a better connection with myself, it led to taking steps to correct years of malalignment of what I thought, what I did and what fruits I reaped. Like really getting a deeper insight on – I can’t say no to people. 

    When I knew what I wanted, I was able to say no and when I was unclear about my own needs – I was blaming the other for not being able to say No. And I found – it was only when I did not know what was ‘My Yes’ was, I could not say No to people. This has been my personal experience.

    Also having understood that my body has lived on so much on survival mode ( not feeling much, not tuning in, acting on all my instincts, attracting people who want a shoulder and not a solution, and helping others, even when not asked) and now it does not need to do it, so what helped was setting a different set of values for myself to keep my body aligned – So that my heart, head and hands we being in sync. It started by with a simple step. Tuning into my body. Listen to it. And take small meaningful steps. Like Being honest with people. Taking special efforts from my side to connect with people in deeper ways and being okay with the discomfort. For all these unfamiliar steps, my body would react and it would leave me exhausted. I could see that as I was doing un-familiar things, my body was creating new space inside for a newer me.

    Familiar Faces – The biggest challenge for my body.

    One of my biggest milestones of understanding my body was its huge need to greet and connect every recognizable face. Whether I had any business to do with a person to no, I would stop and take time to a quiz myself initially from a distance – how do I know this person ? I know this person – where? How? College, locality, Job. The whole body was involved – because it would rest all other function to compute this. After I finished round one on my own, I would begin round two with the person. A couple of months back, I put myself to the test – I will not go and do this Drama – Hello – How do I know you ? , unless I have business with them now. So I did well. It was tough because my body orientation towards a recognizable face is very ‘go towards them’. As if I was getting some reward by going towards them. Maybe I was feeling rewarded in my system. It was my story, but it was wasteful activity, I did for years. 

    In those two weeks, I saved myself from this game with 8 familiar faces, who I had to really let go and not say hello to. It was tough. I have wasted a lot of time, meet recognizable faces just because my body orients towards recognizable faces. One event opened up another aspect of my body. The one that I mentioned right in the beginning of this essay- ‘Avoidance’. I was dropping my mother to the airport for a late night flight and I saw this face. It had a mask on it and all I could see were eyes lashes. I knew that I had seen these beautiful eye lashes many times in college – I could not resist following this person, nor did I feel the courage to go and say “Hey, How are you ?”  It felt very rewarding to play the game. Like I want to get the right answer without looking at the answer sheet. I waited a full twenty minutes till she took off her mask and it was her – S. For what purpose did my eye sight and visual memory built this ability to recognize faces and for what wasteful purpose, did I use this information all my life – when I have no business with these eye lashes anymore. I don’t know. But what happened next taught me so much about how my body approaches and avoids connection at the same time.

    So I see her taking out her mask and she is far away. I take help from one of the security personal at the airport to ask her to turn around. She turns around and I wave out to her. I say- S ? and then ST , her full name. She looks at me because and does not recognize me. Its has been over 25 years and not like we were friends. We just studied together. She is feeling un-certain and my body cannot tolerate this space of – uncertainty and as she begins to say … I think I know you … I cut her  and hand over my business card and tell her “You must be late for your flight, give me a call sometime”. I smile and turn around and I am hoping, she looks back to connect, but she does not. My body has spent a lot of time and energy to connect with someone, then disconnected immediately and pushed away someone that was taking time to connect with me. It was a big learning for me. Maybe the need to be with recognizable faces and faces that connect quickly with me meant the difference between safety and danger as a child – I don’t know yet and I don’t want to find out, but I am more aware of this and while connecting with people, I try to do my best to take care of my needs.

    I have learnt a lot by just being with my body- taking pauses and being vigilant about its reactions inside and outside. As my journey continues to listen in to my body and know it deeper, get familiar with how it functions, I am also building my own self relational intelligence, so that I can approach what I have been avoiding all my life – through small meaningful steps. I would like to share now three stories of now I listening to my body.

    Listening to my Body – 3 Stories 

    Italy – Let out what needs to release

    In 2009, I moved from Pune, India to Italy for work. I lived in small beautiful town called Modena. Prior to this, I have only moved cities within India (Srinagar to Pune, from Pune to Gurgaon and then back to Pune). I settled in very comfortably in Modena. People at office spoke in English, but mostly Italian. The very first sentence I learnt was “Parla Poco Inglese?” (do you speak a little English? ) and managed life with it initially. I begin to enjoy pizzas and red wine once a while, but stuck to rice and vegies and pollo (chicken in Italian). I drove to work from day one. Europe is right hand drive and at four-way crossings it felt unfamiliar because I was orienting the entire car from the opposite side. I was able to manage driving well for one year. I also drove well in the winters. Learnt how to put chains on the wheels and drive on snow.  Then there was an event that made me learn something deeper about my body. It is winter and I am driving alone and I take a turn near a park and I suddenly see 3 pairs of head lights approaching directly towards me.  My body has frozen. I am in shock. I don’t move. – I don’t abuse these guys. I don’t chant … Oh God… Oh God Save me etc. I don’t even have an internal dialogue (Are these guys crazy? or idiots stop. I don’t feel anxious) Instead – my body quicky helps me take the car to an inner lane.  As soon as a reach the safe spot, I notice that I was on the wrong side. I switch off the engine and I notice that I have broken into a sweat and my body is cold. As this happens, my right calf muscle starts to twitch and beat. This has happened many times during such situations. Especially when I am moving and something has happened suddenly like driving, in vigorous activity – sports. I notice that my left hand is reaching out to stop the twitching like always, but this time, I consciously allow my body to shake and twitch. I have been reading ‘Somatic Experiencing’ by Peter Levine and I put it test here. The twitch is becoming a little painful, I offer it a little touch, but the function of the touch is not to stop or support the twitching. It’s just being there. In a couple of minutes, the twitching energy becomes less vigorous and I let out a large yawn and then after a few more yawns, my body starts to breathe like it was before I saw the 3 pairs of headlights. It’s a release. This event paved a personal experiential learning for me to respect the body processes and to allow them. Like when I have mild fevers, I don’t take medication because I know it is the body process of reset or if I have a stomach upset, I prefer starving and resting the stomach rather working, feeding the stomach and also providing it medicines. Here I would like to point out that this is my personal experience and not a medical advisory. If you have any questions on this subject, do a check with your body, if you already listen to it and also consult your physician. 

    Italy – India – Allow yourself to Rest

    In 2013, I started feeling mild pain, aching or a pressure sensation at my lower abdomen. I was living in Italy. This discomfort would worsen with activity that required me to lift weights or push things.  In a couple of weeks, I noticed a slight bulge in my abdomen, when I coughed or when I was under any kind of stress. It was a Hernia. I visited the local doctor at the govt hospital in Modena. I was asked to meet a Surgeon in another small town around Modena. He examines me and says that the hernia is alright. We can wait but, we have to repair it and it needs surgery. He asks me to come back in 4-6 months. I am anyway moving back to India after a couple of months and I decide to do my surgery in India. 

    It is during this period; I notice whenever I felt stress of any kind the hernia would cause a pain me intense pain. Sometimes, it was understandable – because the cause of the stress was visible, like I was picking up heavy things. Or I was running around to get things done or holding too many threads of life and not willing to let go or I had a presentation and I was not ready.

    When I returned to India, I got the surgery done. It has been many years and now, I have a very special relationship with the Hernia. It has a mesh on it, but the Hernia area sometimes speaks – wakes up and tells me to relax, rest.  Many times, while driving, I have halted or while doing something – stopped and taken a break, because my hernia have given me a hint. I also understood that while I may not be conscious, but my body system is working because of what I have received, spoken, thought of, shared – so many times, when for no reason in my working memory, I see the Hernia area causing me pain, I understand how much background processing is happening – like the email that caused me disappointment or a phone call where a person did not want to do something and I pushed the agenda, all unsettled stuff is still running in the background, but I am not conscious of it it and the Hernia areas picks it up and tell me – just settled, just rest. Just Pause.

    India – Do what nourishes the Body- Sing – take people along 

    When I took to mindfulness practice regularly, I preferred mindful walking or mindful cooking and later mindful singing – instead of the sitting meditation, because it allowed me to bring mindfulness into my daily life. So I slow down doing every step to notice and enjoy every moment – so when I am walking, I notice how my one foot sets itself on the ground and at the same time the second foot is already making a movement to lift itself from the ground towards the next one or how while cooking mindfully, I am really taking time to notice how the ingredients are – each one of them – their texture, fragrance, their colours and how that is making me feel inside. 

    With mindfulness practice, I understood that singing nourishes me. I began writing my own songs and singing them. Starting with songs that were entertaining to songs that were deep and then mystical. And in this journey what helped me was to have a companion, because my body needed someone along, who would support and not judge.  So I bought a guitar and it taught me to play it. I was the writer, composer, singer and the audience also. The experience of just singing myself with a guitar that is strumming made it a fully embodied activity. I was moving, I was singing, I was sweating, I was being creative, writing new lines and songs – creation energy was being channelized. While I wrote these songs, I found my body feeling expansive, joyful and really expressive. In 2021, I also started writing and composing songs in Kashmiri and this felt so great- like I was reliving my moments in Kashmir – Kashmir, which I have not visited since 1989. And I also understood the deep connection of my body with my mother tongue. In moments, where I have felt alone, one line that I composed in my mother tongue – would bring in so much warmth and this warmth, allowed me to write the next line.

    When I wake up in the morning, I sometimes have so many ideas and answers to a lot of pending things. So if I get my body to start working on these things on a computer or a piece of paper, it becomes a never ending loop. I have learnt to engage the body with singing. This nourishes my creation energy and after singing or writing a new song, I feel more ‘in the body’ and settled to look at more cognitive tasks and then it becomes easier to make a to -do list and what is important, what is urgent and what I can push to a day, when it is needed.

    So singing is my start of the day. In 2024 and 2025, I will be recording more songs in my mother tongue with other artists and especially the children. And also create spaces, where people take everyone along. And I have started this experiment with a space called – Sa Re Ga Na – Joy of Singing Together in Pune. I facilitate this and anyone can participate. The Guideline is that – the singer has to take people along and teach people to sing the song- So it is not so much about performing, but taking people along. Till now, we have hosted many such sessions in homes in Pune. Recently at a big gathering, we also through this space experimented writing and composing songs three regional languages and my body felt so great that we were able to create space for 

    People to meet their voices, express and no one is left behind. My body has a deep memory of being left behind a few times and I don’t like this much. So the calling is very much inside the body. Naad, which means the essense of all sound in Music, also is a Kashmiri word – which translates into calling or message. I am listening to my body and my body is the lens through which I meet the present moment. And that is the first step to Listen to it. Being here and now.

    Author’s Bio:

    Satyen Khashu lives in Pune. He can be contacted at Satyen.khashu@gmail.com
    He is running a project called the Listening & Listening Circle Potential Project that aims at providing good listening experiences to people in Pune City. He also provides training, talks, and workshops on Listening.  Satyen also writes, composes and sings in Hindi & Kashmiri.
    Satyen has trained in Embodied Listening & NLP and has worked in India and Europe in Marketing, L&D & Sales.

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