Straddling the end of winter and the beginning of spring, March has always been a hectic month--a month of reckoning as it were--when last year's issues must be faced head on. Income tax returns must be filed, and spring cleaning (both inside and out) tend to become a logistical nightmare. This March, I had a personal difficulty to work through as well and for a while it seemed as though the world was an unending series of burdens. It was then that I tried a strategy that I had read about in Wayne Dyer's book, "Your Sacred Self " (1996): in times of turbulence, walk out of your body!
I began by imagining that I had walked out of my body and that I was looking at myself as though I were another being. This took some practice because the tendency of the mind was to stay within the ego and I had to keep reminding my mind that I was outside looking in, not inside looking out. After a while, the exercise became more fluid and I was able to maintain this "observer" position with greater ease.
I began with a side view of my body, imagining myself as I would appear to someone who was watching me from the side. I went from head to feet-- acknowledging the angle of head, hair, shoulders, slant of body and even the way my legs were crossed at the ankles. Then I went through the whole process again this time adding the colors of my hair, shirt, pants, socks and slippers. And then in my mind's eye, I walked backward a step or two, pretending that I was seeing "me" for the first time. What did I see?
"A being who is overwhelmed emotionally."
What did I sense about this being?
"She need not fret so much; she is perhaps a bit overdramatic about her situation, but it is not the end of the world. After all, this too will pass."
The remarkable thing was that as an outsider, I received immediate confirmation that all suffering was temporary. From an observer's point of view, the person suffering was not the self. Just seeing "me" as another being allowed me to feel the temporariness of the situation. I then placed myself (as observer) in a different location--up on the ceiling and I imagined my body as it would appear to someone floating above. Then I went through the same process, digesting my being from that angle.
The more I played this game with myself, the more I was released from whatever worries I had in the first place. The overwhelming conviction was that I was larger than what stood before me and that all this fretting and worry would pass. Outside my body, I could feel a sense of limitless possibility that seemed impossible to sustain inside (the body). It seemed as though I had been suddenly released into an open field. The expanse of the spirit was everywhere, especially when I broke through the ceiling and roof and took a wild and fantastic circle around the skies.
Children do this everyday and we have a lot to learn from them: they use the imaginal to tame the real. If we examine the practice itself, we can see that there are several reasons why walking out of your body can be a sound strategy for diffusing stress.
1. Placing yourself in a third-party observer point of view makes allowance for the distance that is so crucial to an accurate assessment of any situation. How often have we remembered a past wrong in the light of distance and time and recognized the folly of our grievance? Our judgment is often dimmed by an experience that is too raw and close to us. Walking out of our body allows us to tame that rawness.
2. If experience is recorded as cellular memories in our bodies, then getting a distant, less distorted perspective is not only important, but critical to our survival as intact and holistic beings. Fred Allan Wolf in "Mind Into Matter" (2001) refers to our bodies as "living scripts": "at the level of the body, the observed and the observer are the same thing." Would you prefer an observation that burns everything to the ground or one that hatches an escape route through the ceiling? Would you prefer a script that leaves you a victim, paralyzed by fear or one that allows you to take the reins in your hands and gives you a shot at turning the situation around? My almost 5 grandson understands this totally; he is a master inventor of escape routes and his favorite stories have always been those where the hero found a way out, a wormhole though the keyhole.
3. Walking out of our body allows us to raise our threshold to stress. Stressful events are an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. While removal of stressors is often impossible, raising our threshold to what is bearable for us is more than a viable possibility. Raising our threshold is like breaking though a barrier--what was once unthinkable becomes plausible. What once caused pain and furor becomes not only understandable, but accepted as part of our evolutionary process. The advantage we have to seeing our burden as a necessary part of a larger dynamic is that we have grown large enough to accommodate it within our system. We have grown because we can now metabolize it; we are ready now to transform it (the pain) into something greater than itself, something creative and inspiring. This is only possible when we can take the pain outside us and place it within a larger and evolutionary context.
Instead of succumbing to the sweet song of victimization (who does not enjoy the "poor me" chant?), a more effective strategy when confronted by stress, is to walk out of your body because that immediately places your pain in perspective.