Inhabiting the soft animal of my body

Inhabiting the soft animal of my body |


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

– from the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

For most of my adult life I’ve felt like a detached head bobbing around on the hot air of my thoughts. I never considered my body to be the real me. I thought our bodies were merely our transportation on earth, the cumbersome things that housed the divine sparks of who we really were. Bodies are bloody inconvenient. They need fuel. They age. They can’t be trusted. Like most women in the western world I still wished parts of my body were bigger or smaller but the truth is I valued my thoughts and feelings so much more than anything that was happening below my neck. I lived in my head, full stop.

Thankfully, things have been changing since I got back to London. 2013 began with the realisation that the previous year had taken its toll and the black dog had come to stay. Determined to get the support I needed to heal I went back on antidepressants — which are not for everyone but with my history with depression they are lifesavers —, joined a gym, and found a new therapist. The tablets brought me back up to normal (whatever the hell that is), the exercise taught me to appreciate the mechanics of my body, and my sessions with Wendy have helped me continue unravelling my self, a process I find so incredibly rewarding.

When I got to the beginning of this year, I was in a pretty good place. I’d taken a break from dating to focus solely on my work for a while, and was doing okay emotionally, all things considered. It was while in this pulled together place I found the next piece of the puzzle. Flicking through The Lotus and the Lily one morning, I read:

“You are an embodied soul. That means what your soul experiences, your body experiences.”

Underlining it with my orange pen, I read it again. There was a bell ringing in my head. I copied the quote into my journal, and then carried on writing:

I spend so much time fretting about being a soul “trapped” in a body, when, actually, my soul permeates every part of my body. I am an embodied soul. My soul and my body are not separate! If I consider that every single cell in my body contains my soul — that it’s not just perched in my head or my heart, or floating around outside of me — but actually IN me, inside every part of me, it makes me look at my body differently. It’s not “just the car I drive around in.”

Maybe this sounds obvious to you, but, friends, it was the first time I really got it (cue the irony) deep in my bones. From the tips of my toes and the in-growing hairs on my shins, to the wobbly flesh on my hips and the freckles on my nose, every single part of me contains my soul. After a lifetime of dismissing my body that was the day the dam broke and my head and body got stitched back together. I honestly don’t know why it had never occurred to me before.

It’s important to note here that going to the gym didn’t magically get easier after this realisation — as if! — but I’ve definitely been experiencing my body in a much more holistic way. I’m taking more time over it: getting a leg wax instead of shaving, slathering on more lotion, drinking more smoothies, and eating far more consciously. I’ve been wearing dresses instead of jeans and painting my toe nails brighter colours. I find I’m more forgiving of my body and moving through the world with more awareness than usual. Where I’d usually be so quick to complain I’m finding more tenderness and gratitude. More patience for my fallible human form.

Most interesting of all, my meditation practice has been evolving, taking me from being in my head to naturally wanting to inhabit more of my body. I find the easiest way to get centred is to feel into the different parts of my body and then visualise breathing colour into each chakra in turn. Whether or not you believe these energy points actually exist, the idea of them helps me get inside my body fast. As an over-thinky person it helps to have something to focus my thoughts on, and visualising colour and energy is surprisingly effective.

I recorded a version of my body grounding meditation for Day One of The Sacred Alone, which you can try by clicking on the audio below. It’s a great way to get back into the moment without needing any bells or whistles. You just sit down, close your eyes and feel into each part of your body. I do this most mornings before I let my meditation take me where it wants to go.

I’m happy to report that my body and I feel like a team these days. I still have mornings when I look in the mirror exasperated at the changes in my face, but on the whole I’m inhabiting all parts of my being and learning to see my self as a whole: body, mind and spirit intertwined. At some point I may even stop referring to “my body” as separate and simply call it me.

Only took me 41 years to get here ;-)

The mid-summer session of The Sacred Alone starts on Monday! This gentle 14 day course definitely feels like the new direction for me and my work. It’s an invitation to take 20 minutes each day to connect to the quiet knowing space in your heart, the place that offers refuge, wisdom and calm. Registration is happening over here — come join us! x

“I absolutely loved the course. I think that is because of YOU as a person first and foremost. The content is secondary. As usual your gentle, loving, fun self shone through. I thought there was a perfect amount of journalling… enough prompts to get me writing but not too much that I felt I had to answer or do. I ended up really valuing the journalling. I didn’t actually write a lot but the content that came out of me was very meaningful. I LOVED your meditations…your voice is lovely. I love having the Facebook aspect of the course and can’t imagine the course without this piece. I so enjoy connecting and sharing with others. In summary the course rocked, you rock and I can’t wait to take another course with you. You are an inspiring, down-to-earth, lovely being. Thank you for being who you are!” ~ Stephanie (check out her blog posts here + here)

17 responses
  1. Katie

    This is so truly gorgeous Susannah, and I love the quote from The Lotus and the Lily. It’s great to hear you are becoming one with your body – the soul and the body are certainly interconnected and made of the same stuff.

    I highly recommend the meditation and the Sacred Alone course too – I took part in it in May and it was such a beautiful gift to myself. X

  2. Bella

    Now that you got it, work it girl. Every ounce of your soul is beautiful. And your Sacred Alone? What a journey, what a profound set of tools you gave me for my own evolution. I am feeling you on all of this. Big love. xo

  3. Angela

    This is on my mind so much, because I’m exactly the same way. On Saturday, I bought my first pair of shorts in something like sixteen years – I bought two pairs, actually. I felt so self-conscious for various reasons, that I just covered up completely.

    I’m going to wear the shorts, in an effort to feel comfortable in them again. I bought my first pair of sandals in years, as well, and am wearing those every day. I still need to work on dresses and skirts – I used to love long skirts, even though I’m short, because I was still covered. I’m trying not to keep wishing that I could get those years back, and to just enjoy my body and my life *now*.

    I was going to say more, but I started this comment hours ago and walked away.

  4. Jet harrington

    This is a true hug – an embrace: your embodied soul reaching out to my embodied soul. What a beautiful, fresh way to see it, to feel it. Oh, thank you, Susannah.

  5. Jo

    Yes. Here’s to the bone and the muscle and the blood and the dancing and the acheing and the running and the pounding heart. It won’t be ‘me’ forever but while it is I adore it.

  6. Nic

    I need to get back in tune with my body. We are out of sync, big time. I am stressed and overtired and eating all of the crap. I need to look after myself. Going to listen to the new mediation and then perhaps work my way back through the whole Sacred Alone collection – it was such a help. Thank you for sharing! x

  7. Susan

    What an absolutely beautiful post. I was so touched by this and can fully relate. Thank you Susannah x

  8. Lydia Kimble-Wright

    Your meditations left me wanting more…. Your voice, your sincerity and your passion create in you a great meditation teacher. I am convinced that there will be more to come. Blessings and Namaste, Lydia

  9. elle north

    This poem speaks so gently to me, every time I read it, it seems to resonate with me in a different and soft way. Like feathers, like cotton balls. I love the magic that you evoke here about the body. Feeling my body, my *self*, is one of the reasons why I love meditation so much. It reminds me that I’m here.

  10. Elisabeth

    Beautiful, much needed words of healing, Susannah! Thank you! I have a terrible relationship with my body, completely forgetting that it has survived cancer and carried my children. Thre are times when I feel that my body and soul are one , which is when I feel I light up from the inside. I want more of those moments!
    I am an embodied soul – I’ll take that with me today.

  11. Rachel

    Susannah, your thoughts echo mine at the moment, thank you for bringing such clarity to what was drifting in my sub-conscious. I so often feel weightless in my body from neck-down and so heavy in my head! I was inspired to make a purchase I have been considering – Clarissa Pinkola Este’s “The Joyous Body” on audiobook – I love listening to her soothing voice and deep-running river of stories. Today I am going to paint my toenails so I remember my body goes all the way down to the ground! Arohanui x

  12. Monique Message

    Susannah, its funny how when you take sometime out you start to see similar themes around you. i have just watched a great Ted Talk on body language. How your body language can help you be a more dynamic person in the world. If you get a chance to watch it. I think the speak is called Amy Cuddups..but if you look at what is trending right now you’d find it.
    thanks again for your great blogs.

  13. Kelley Clink

    Susannah, this really resonated with me. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and wisdom, and thanks for turning me on to Mary Oliver!

  14. Lisa McLoughlin

    I am so pleased that I have found you.

    This is the first time I have had the space to sit and read your blogs and newsletters ( subscribed a short while ago).

    I feel so connected and resonant to your writing and know I will now make plenty of space to read your grounding words..

    Thank you for being here and creating such a nourishing business.x

  15. Maggie

    Oh my goodness, this post is pure wonderfulness. And I am experiencing just the same kind of revelations (taken me a good 33 years) while being faced with a major health challenge. Susannah, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you, thank you for so eloquently writing what I have also struggled with, for giving me a beautiful ‘light up’ moment as I read and was transfixed by the quotes. I completely understand you, and I feel beautifully understood. This post is going to be printed and read softly, quietly again. Much love from cold, wintery Canberra, Australia. Xxx

  16. Barbara Sinclair

    Love, love, love this, Susannah! We may all “know” this rationally, but until we feel it in our bones and truly embody it, it means nothing. Thanks for the reminder. xo, Barbara

    P.S. When my partner passed away suddenly three years ago at age 49, my naturopath gave me a bottle of Infinite Love, to help heal my hurting heart. I love the smell of this oil more than any other scent. Some day I’ll tell you a funny story about it… :)

  17. Phoe

    This. Yes, this. I think it’s an Aquarian trait to be mind bound so often. Remembering that my body is also me has been a hard thing to learn. Thank you.

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