“Close your eyes. And feel the weight of your body, resting against your seat. See if you can let it quickly resolve itself into a cloud of sensation. Forget about the parts of your body. Don’t notice hands or feet. Or shoulders. Or your back. There’s just each new sensation. And there’s no telling which will appear next. ”   Sam Harris; Day 23 Guided Meditation, Waking Up App

Notice sounds. Notice thoughts. Notice images, however fleeting. Notice changes in the darkness behind your eyelids. Notice your breath.

The operative word here is notice.

This basic exercise is a version of one I use regularly with massage clients. The stillness of the therapeutic space allows for this kind of scan of one’s body, and it is often a first for someone. Many people don’t notice their body (beyond a reflection in a mirror) until their brain is registering and signaling some form of discomfort – an unease, an ache, a loud shouting pain, or some other form of uncomfortable symptom.

And then they “treat” these symptoms, often in the form of numbing, avoiding, or otherwise avoiding the conversation the body is trying to have with them. How powerful would it be to have some degree of control over the source of a discomfort, thereby reducing or even eliminating these signals that something is not well?  The thing is; we do.

Discomfort is a whisper and pain is a shout – that something is not optimal for our body. Perhaps it is a shoulder(s) that aches from a slight rounded posture, or back muscles that don’t appreciate the way you lift something. Numbing that signal, or otherwise just treating the symptom allows the cause to continue – perhaps into the range of soft tissue damage or a more debilitating injury that requires a longer, more complicated recovery. Connecting the symptom to a cause – perhaps a movement or a posture – allows you to respond accordingly in the moment. Often, it is not what we are doing but how we are doing it and that is something we can control.

As a massage therapist, I am frequently asked to deal with symptoms. Make them go away, actually. I will never claim to have that ability, although I have spent almost 20 years acquiring information, knowledge and experience of the human body, and mind, and spirit – which are all one, really – in order to help people live more comfortably and peacefully within theirs. The first step is developing the capacity to notice.

Awareness is a powerful tool. Now we call it mindfulness. To simply notice more  – deep and wide. And then respond, in this case in such a way as to address a cause. The symptom often disappears. And once a client learns to listen, more regularly and more deeply, to the constant stream of sensations flowing through their body – the ebb and flow away and towards balance and wellbeing – they too develop a more expansive, intelligent response system.  Response ability.

You can’t stop the waves – but you can learn to surf.