It’s not as obvious if you live in the city, but it’s clear if you live in the country (better yet in wilderness): when we are outdoors, our bodies respond by opening into levels of awareness we didn’t even know we had.
Humans have known this about ourselves for a long time, but we tend to forget that we know: being in nature profoundly affects our relationship to ourselves, and to the world around us. Our perceptions expand, our priorities alter, our breathing begins to relax and grow deeper, and our spirits have more room to move. After a long walk in the woods we are different somehow. We are in our bodies with all of our ordinary senses open, but somehow magnified. This is the effect of opening not just the eyes and ears and nose (and mouth) in your head, but opening to “the whole environment,” an enhanced sensory awareness felt as a full-body aliveness from head to toe, from within the skin and beyond.
This is the awakening of the body’s electromagnetic field, which is the first step in engaging the insightful sensing-knowing upon which Whole Heart Connection is based. Being outdoors, especially being in natural surroundings, coaxes us directly into a way of being in our bodies that we tend to lose when we are indoors – but that is a habit, not a necessity.
As you explore this practice (and hopefully for the rest of your lives!), spend more time outdoors, in as natural or wild surroundings as you can find in your area. Notice specifically your “indoor body” before you leave the house. Notice where you sense your own edges, the nature of your thought process, your degree of inner spaciousness, and your body-relationship to the contents of your home (including the other people).
Notice how you may shift the moment you step outdoors, and stand under the sky. For some people, the difference is noticeable and dramatic right in that instant. (I once spent an entire day going in and out of my house, just to feel the difference between Indoor and Outdoor Body!) For others, it may take some time to shift from Indoor Body to Outdoor Body, especially if we are not used to being outdoors for no reason other than to be outdoors.
People whose outdoor time normally consists only of going from the house to the car, or the apartment to the subway, and then walking across the parking lot to get to the store or down the block to get to the office, may not at first notice any difference at all. This is because when the focus of our lives is exclusively indoor, we tend to keep the pattern of Indoor Body even when walking a few blocks to get to the bus stop. We stand at the bus stop still in Indoor Mode, thinking indoor thoughts, without taking any time at all just to be aware of our surroundings enough to allow our bodies to shift into the age-old pattern of our heritage as People of the Land.
Don’t be discouraged if – as you take extra time while exploring this practice to be outdoors for no other reason than to be outdoors – it takes some time for your body to take you up on the opportunity to shift into Outdoor Mode. Awakening the Outdoor Body is a practice which takes many years to cultivate fully. Even if you are someone who spends a lot of time outdoors and you are very familiar with the expanded sense of engaged awareness of which I speak, there is always much, much more that is possible – and all of it will contribute to your Whole Heart Connection skills.
Ideally, during the focus of this practice, pay extra attention to: 1) how your body shifts and how your awareness shifts in the first five minutes of being outdoors, and 2) how your body and awareness shift after you’ve been outdoors for 20 minutes or more. Don’t try to analyze it too much. In the words of Wendy Palmer, author of The Intuitive Body, “Let the observer disappear into sensation.” Just be aware of the sensations; allow them time and space to become familiar to you.
This familiarity with the body sensations and open-ended awareness of the Outdoor Body becomes very important when it’s time to step back inside. It is possible, and in fact to some degree it is necessary in the practice of Whole Heart Connection, to keep your Outdoor Body even when indoors.
When I was 19 years old, I knew I wanted to become an organic vegetable farmer when I saw a local grower walk into the Credit Union and bring the whole outdoors in with him. He was not tamping down his edges; he was not letting himself go tame and dull just because he was indoors. He walked into the Credit Union like part of the sky, part of the earth; he made the whole building and everyone in it look stiff and phony compared to his quietly breathing spacious aliveness. I met him and asked if I could be his apprentice, because I knew that whatever he was doing, I wanted to do that too – I wanted to be able to be outdoors even when indoors.
When I met Master Li Jun Feng (Qi Gong master) at a conference in Austin, TX a few years back, I had a similar experience. Riding together with him in a tiny hotel elevator, I felt as though I was standing next to a man who was in no way confined by walls, ceilings or floors. He was fully present, solid and contained, and yet he was outdoors among the stars, directly in touch with earth and sky. I skipped everything else in the conference in order to learn from
him, and in his classes he spoke a lot about the necessity of doing Qi Gong in the Outdoor Body, not letting ourselves be fooled by the presence of a building around us – nothing can cut us off from the Qi of the universe!
The primarily outdoor folks whom I know, and the Qi Gong practitioners whom I particularly admire, have been my role models for the living state that I call Outdoor Body. Wouldn’t it be great if, just as parents often say to their children as they come bustling indoors with their freely loud and rowdy spirits, “Indoor voices, children!” we could also get in the habit of reminding each other, “Outdoor bodies, everyone!”
Thea Elijah, Whole Heart Connection