Chapter One

—Human Body—

The journey through your Book of Present is propelled by awareness, navigated by understanding, and safeguarded by compassion and acceptance. Through this adventure you can expect to cultivate wisdom by necessity as your awareness of your self, your world, and your universe grows stronger.

Leave uncertainty behind and dive within, without fear, to an exercise focused on cultivating awareness of the physical body that serves to carry out your worldly actions. In the following practice, you will explore and document the soil in which you are planting your Tree of Life.

Exercise 1A — Cultivate a Little Solitude

Observation:

Start by finding yourself a comfortable place to sit and relax. Once seated, simply observe your current physical state without judgment or manipulation. Delicately focus your awareness on the following sensations:

 

  • breathing pattern (quality of the breath: speed, depth, ease, …)
  • heart rate
  • body temperature
  • blood pressure
  • posture
  • feelings of heaviness or lightness
  • digestive and abdominal sensations
  • joint, skin, and muscular comfort or discomfort
  • your overall state of physical health

In this state of awareness, your goal is to observe as much as possible, gently gathering information about the current state of being of your physical self.

Afterward, record your findings in your Development Log. Keeping a record of this and all other practices in this book will prove invaluable as you unfold your true self. As you progress, your experience will feel so natural that it may be difficult to internalize a perspective of your growth without reviewing a firsthand account of your past experience.

Duration and Frequency:

This exercise could take 5 to 10 minutes or longer. No need to set a timer. Your task is simply to observe. As with any observation of a complex system, the longer you watch, the more information you will collect.

Use this opportunity to dedicate a small but expandable window of time in your daily routine that will create space for the practices in this book. Most practices in this book require no longer than 20 minutes; however, you’re likely to naturally expand this window as your time with yourself becomes increasingly valuable and enjoyable.

For Exercise 1A, it is up to you to define the frequency. Gather as much knowledge as you desire until you are comfortable moving on to the next practice. You may continue this practice alongside other exercises in this book or return to it at any time to witness your present experience of self-awareness.  You may be pleasantly surprised when new sensations reveal themselves as your awareness expands and your Tree of Life grows. Comfortable or not, remember to always greet these valuable new messages from your body with the respect they deserve.

1A

While most of us are busy catching up with our professional life or our multitude of other responsibilities and commitments, we fail to notice or acknowledge the gradual changes of our personal health, physical body, or even our state of mind. Being conditioned to point our attention externally, many of us have completely forgotten how it feels to relax, enjoy a dull moment, or eat and sleep well. Even those of us in relatively affluent situations have often forgotten how to be present to enjoy the beautiful experience we have created so diligently. While using our intellect and advanced technology to create countless wonders from our planet’s physical resources, we often fail to employ the same aptitude to discovering and exploring our true nature of being, seeing our physical, mental, and emotional health as it exists within this ecosystem.

Physical and mental health have far-reaching effects on the overall experience of life. Ancient cultures, defined the body as the vehicle for the mind and soul. Each philosophy developed or adopted its own set of rules, including dietary guidelines and physical activities (sometimes in the form of prayers), to maintain this vehicle—or “temple”—that is hosting the pure consciousness.

The exercises you will explore over the following weeks, intended to be practiced as consciously and persistently as possible, serve to build your temple’s foundation. They bring into conscious awareness the current state of balance in each system of your physical body. Expect to get more in touch with your posture, breath quality, sleep cycle, eating patterns, stress levels, and environmental health (including light, temperature, air quality, sounds, and exposure to nature). Only after spending some time understanding and cultivating our soil can we confidently watch our tree grow. Do not be overly concerned if you find your foundation in need of care. Increased awareness naturally stimulates the gradual lifestyle changes necessary to bring the physical body into balance.

Human Body Systems

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It may already be clear that each component of your self is comprised of interdependent subsystems, each of which requiring at least some attention. The physical human body is the most tangible and well-understood example. Most of us are very aware of what overt dysfunction or dis-ease in certain body systems can feel like: skin rashes, digestive distress, respiratory cough or congestion, and muscle soreness or tension.

However, imbalance in the less-palpable—but equally important—body systems can be more difficult to distinguish. How many of us can identify symptoms of dysfunction in the endocrine system? What state has your nervous system been living in lately? Your physical body depends on the overall state of health of your lifestyle and all body systems to operate well as a whole. Healthcare viewed through this lens is commonly known as the field of integrative medicine.

To make the deeper practices of self-discovery that you will explore in later chapters as comfortable as possible, we must first form a decent balance in all underlying physical systems. Of course, each system can be—and has been—studied on its own for an entire lifetime; however, even a general awareness of each main system, its needs, and its current state of health can be instrumental in creating balance.

The figures below give an overview of the body’s major systems, including a description of each system’s functions. As you review them, do your best to consciously feel the sensations associated with each system in your own body. By directing your focus inward, you allow your body to create neural connections that can eventually provide you with very precise information about each system’s state of health. The value of this internal information is immeasurable. If you can act on subtle cues from within, then you gain the power to prevent minor dysfunction from escalating to painful disease.

Integumentary System

Comprised of the skin: the largest organ in the body (2 square meters or 22 square feet of surface area)

Provides sensation

Serves as a barrier against infection, ultraviolet damage, and mechanical abrasion

Contains sweat glands (and occasionally goosebumps) which regulate body temperature

Synthesizes Vitamin D for use in other systems

Skeletal System

Comprised of 206 bones and a variety of unique joints

Allows the body to rise above the ground and stand upright

Serves as the mineralized internal framework of the body

Protects vital organs

Provides the scaffolding for movement force generated by the muscular system

Stores calcium, accumulating or releasing ions (as directed by endocrine system) to balance blood plasma calcium concentration

Produces red and white blood cells

Muscular System

Comprised of muscles that generate movement as well as connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments (the combined system of bones, muscles, and connective tissue is known as the “Musculoskeletal System”)

Assists circulation

Aids digestion

Generates facial expressions

Maintains posture

Contracts to protect the body against perceived threats or discomfort

Cardiovascular System

Comprised of the heart and blood vessels

Transports sustenance to every cell of the body

Absorbs and transports oxygen and nutrients throughout the body

Absorbs and transports cell waste

Contains antibodies and immune cells

Maintains pH of the body

Contributes to temperature regulation

Carries chemical messengers (hormones) produced by the endocrine system

Lymphatic System

Comprised of interstitial fluid, an open-ended network of tubular vessels, lymph nodes, and organs including the tonsils, spleen, and thymus

Circulates interstitial fluid, which consists of water, ions, and solutes (small particles) that constantly diffuse from the blood through the walls of capillaries, unidirectionally toward the heart

Lymph nodes trap and destroy pathogens, damaged cells, and cancerous cells.

Houses lymphocytes, a group of white blood cells that support immunity

Maintains fluid balance between tissues and blood vessels

Nervous System

Comprised of the brain and spinal cord, nerves and neurons, along with the primary sense organs

Maintains internal order, coordinating actions of the muscles and organs

Receives and interprets sensory input, triggers reactions, and provides protection from danger

Supports learning and understanding

Shifts the body between “fight or flight” and “rest and repair” modes

Respiratory System

Comprised of the lungs, tubes to carry air to and from the lungs, and the muscles of respiration (the diaphragm and intercostal muscles in the ribs)

Exchanges gases: brings oxygen into the body and releases carbon dioxide

Supports sound generation and speech

Protects body from invasion by airborne pathogens

Digestive System

Comprised of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, and large intestine (colon and rectum)

Responsible for breaking down food into the building blocks of the body, then absorbing and assimilating these nutrients

Home to the gut flora: multitudes of beneficial microorganisms (the “microbiome”) responsible for synthesizing some vitamins and supporting immune function

Urinary System

Comprised of the kidneys and bladder

Cleans dissolved waste products from the blood

Excretes liquid waste

Regulates electrolytes, fluid, and pH balance

Endocrine System

Comprised of a series of glands that secrete hormones into the circulatory system

Involved in every process of the body, hormones act as chemical messengers that regulate growth, metabolic activity, nutrient utilization, mineral retention, sleep cycles, and many other bodily functions

Involved in development and maturation of the adaptive immune system

Reproductive System

Comprised of the ovaries, uterus, and mammary glands in women and the penis, prostate, and testes in men

Allows for the production of offspring

Immune System

Comprised of the portions of other systems that filter, identify, disable, or remove pathogens

Depends strongly on the lymphatic system

Reliant on the proper function of all other systems

By becoming more aware of your physical form and the systems therein, you are allowing the energy of your thoughts, actions, and your body’s internal healing mechanisms to flow towards those areas that need attention. The following practices will guide and remind you to take simple, harmonious steps to take care of your physical body.

Although there is no magic pill to balance the body overnight, each evening you can review that day’s actions to make sure you are gradually drawing closer to the goal(s) you set for yourself with your intention. With each day’s practice, you reinforce a healing habit that becomes increasingly effortless as it is ingrained in your natural tendencies. The following practices may take weeks or months; but you’re encouraged to take your time and focus on each practice until you begin to experience noticeable improvements. You can take full credit for these changes because your awareness and actions were responsible for them. You should notice simple improvements almost immediately, as the body often requires only a little push to be brought back into a balanced, healing state. Even better, all exercises in this book reinforce each other. Healthy body systems provide better support for healing each other. As each system comes into balance, it requires fewer resources to maintain. Spare energy is naturally utilized by the body to repair other systems until balance is restored to the point that more energy can be directed to higher faculties of conscious, creative action.

Be mindful that the objective of these practices is to enhance self-awareness. Do not obsess over the body or physical results. Find the balance between awareness and hyperawareness. Take your time and avoid wasting energy comparing yourself to others or looking for shortcuts. This is neither a race nor a competition.

Practice each exercise for at least one week and up to three weeks. Explore what works best for you. Let yourself have fun with your practice as you experience contentment in awareness and delight in improvement.