Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution

4 reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense.

human skull evolution“Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

In the narrowest, most literal sense, of course this is true. It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular. This is an observably true fact: it would be absurd to deny it, and I don’t. I’m not saying these people don’t exist.

I’m saying that this position is untenable. I’m saying that the “God made evolution happen” position is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence. You don’t have to deny as much reality as young earth creationists do to take this position — but you still have to deny a fair amount. Here are four reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution. To read more about why this well-meaning attempt to reconcile science and religion makes no sense, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

“The drugs are hurting us more than they are helping us”: How Not to Talk to People With Mental Illness, Episode 563,304

From Facebook, a comment responding to my post, On Being on Anti-Depressants Indefinitely, Very Likely for the Rest of My Life, in which I discussed my diagnosis of depression and the meds I’m taking for it.

If you haven’t read Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker it’s a must. The director of a leading psychiatry association finally acquiesced and said he was right. The drugs are hurting us more than they are helping us. I’ve been on a slow ween and feel so much better. I drive my husband crazy sometimes, more than I used to, but it’s nice to be me again.

(I’m not going to name the person who said this, since people on Facebook often expect marginally more privacy than they do on blog comments and other public Internet spaces. If they want to disclose who they are, they may do so.)

Here’s my response.

I realize that you probably mean well, but can you please not tell people with mental illness to ignore their doctor’s advice? Unless someone tells you that their health care provider is prescribing actual quackery (like homeopathy or something), or unless you have some more substantial evidence for your position than “I know that the established standard of care is (X), but this one guy disagrees and wrote a book about it,” it is seriously fucked-up to undermine people’s relationships with their health care providers.

What’s more, people with chronic illnesses, especially mental illnesses, get a bellyful of unsolicited amateur medical advice along the lines of “I know better than you how you should take care of yourself.” It is really not helpful.

If the preponderance of hard medical evidence starts shifting away from “A combination of meds and talk therapy is often effective at treating depression, and right now for most people it’s the best we’ve got” and starts shifting towards “Meds are not generally effective and they can actually do harm,” I will reconsider my treatment plan. In the meantime: There are appropriate places for debates about how the medical establishment should be dealing with depression and other mental illness. A personal post from someone with depression talking about their experiences with it is not one of them. Thank you.

To Give Itself Pleasure

This is the piece that I read at the recent Godless Perverts Story Hour, the one that was livestreamed as part of the Freethought Blogs Con online conference. The entire event was recorded: you can watch the whole thing if you like, and videos of the individual performances, including this one, are being posted on the new Godless Perverts YouTube channel. Visual video quality from the livestream isn’t great, but the sound quality is lovely.

We are a way for the universe to give itself pleasure.

Big Bang timelineThere’s a famous quote by Carl Sagan — well, famous among atheists and skeptics and other people who think of Carl Sagan as super-famous. There’s this quote by Carl Sagan: “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” And yes, that is (a) true, and (b) mega-cool. We are how the universe knows itself. 13.7 billion years ago, the universe went Foom, and it’s gone through countless configurations since then — and one of those configurations, one that’s happening right here and right now, is conscious life. Not just conscious life, but conscious, curious, exploring life that’s capable of looking around, and carefully examining what it perceives, and sorting out better ideas from worse ones, and figuring out what exactly is going on out there. The matter and energy of the universe has been morphing and morphing and morphing, and right now, it’s morphed into a state that is capable, in a small way, of understanding itself.

This makes me so happy. Yes, the universe is amazing — but without conscious life, the universe has no way of knowing just how amazing it is. It has no way of experiencing amazement. We are the experience, not only of knowledge, but of amazement at that knowledge. We are a miniscule piece of the matter and energy of the universe, looking carefully at some of the rest of the matter and energy, and saying, “Wow. Really? Black holes? Moving continents? All life on the planet sharing a common ancestor? Are you freaking kidding me? That is wicked cool.”

But we aren’t just that.

We aren’t just a way for the universe to know itself. We are a way for the universe to give itself pleasure.

For 13.7 billion years, the universe has gone through countless configurations — and one of those is the configuration, not just of consciousness, not just of knowledge, but of ecstasy. When we come, we are shifting the matter and energy of the universe into the form of euphoric, all-encompassing pleasure. When we fuck, when we suck, when we lick, when we finger, when we spank, when we pierce, when we tie each other up, when we masturbate, when we make good porn and enjoy good porn, when we dress up like saloon girls or ponies or 1950s biker gangs, we are the universe getting itself off.

Take a moment. Really appreciate that. We are not just how the universe knows itself. We are how the universe enjoys itself.

Serotonin and DopamineA friend of mine has a nerdy T-shirt that says, “Serotonin and dopamine — technically, the only two things you enjoy.” It made me chuckle… and then, me being me, I started to analyze and quibble, and I replied, “Well, if you’re going to get technical about it, serotonin and dopamine aren’t things you enjoy. Technically, serotonin and dopamine are your enjoyment.” Enjoyment is a particular set of configurations of the goop inside our skulls. I know that many people find this view of human experience depressing: cold, mechanical, reductionist. But for me, it’s exactly the opposite. Chemicals turned into different chemicals, which turned into different chemicals… and eventually, over billions of years, they turned into chemicals that generate joy.

And we aren’t just capable of experiencing our own pleasure. We’re capable of experiencing each other’s. We’re capable of giving each other orgasms, and taking pleasure from them. We’re capable of fingering each other’s pussies and sucking each other’s dicks and spanking each others asses, and having it flood our own brains with the chemicals of joy. As much as we are hungry for our own pleasure, we are also capable of being desperately, feverishly hungry for each other’s. We are a miniscule piece of the matter and energy of the universe, looking carefully at some of the rest of the matter and energy, and saying, “How would you like to get off?”

I love that this is how life perpetuates itself. I love that one of the chief ways that evolution works is that the experience of survival and reproduction is a pleasurable one. Life, almost by definition, is that which survives and reproduces — and I love that one of the central mechanisms by which this happens is that, for hundreds of millions of years, survival and reproduction have felt deeply, intensely, overwhelmingly good.

bizarre magazine cover woman in fetish bootsAnd I love that we’ve taken this powerful evolutionary drive to reproduce, and have taken ownership of it. I love that we’ve taken this drive, and have said, “Sure, this was once about reproduction, and sometimes it still is — but it doesn’t have to be. This can be about anything we want.” I love that we’ve dressed it up in studs and feathers, boots and stockings; that we’ve added personal theater and public theater; that we’ve spent millennia exploring it in painting and writing and film and pixels. I love that we can take this drive and use it to turn pain into ecstasy, shame into intimacy, helplessness into adventure, power into trust. I love that we’ve blended this drive with our uniquely human ability to make and use tools, in the form of dildos and vibrators and buttplugs and floggers and condoms and lube and violet wands and things that I don’t even know what they are. I love that we’ve blended this drive with our uniquely human ability to learn and explore and understand, in the form of books and videos and workshops and research papers and blog posts, about anatomy and sociology and psychology and sexology, about birth control and the psychological health of homosexuality and how, exactly, you tie someone to the bed. I love that we’ve blended this drive with our uniquely human ability to precisely communicate through language, so we can say to each other, “What I like is feathers and boots and floggings and vibrators and getting tied to the bed — what do you like?” I love that we’ve taken this powerful evolutionary drive, and have transformed it into expressions of love, friendship, companionship, consolation, community, art. In the words of Darwin, although not about this subject exactly — endless forms most beautiful.

And in the same way that I fall into rage and despair over people who deny their capacity to understand the universe because they think their god forbids it, I sometimes fall into rage and despair over people who deny their capacity to experience pleasure — harmless, honest, entirely ethical pleasure — because they think their god forbids it. In the same way that I fall into rage and despair over people whose religion leads them to not only deny their own capacity for knowledge but to suppress other people’s, I fall into rage and despair over people whose religion leads them to suppress other people’s capacity for pleasure. It makes me rage and despair to think that there are people who are taking their one short life, their miniscule sliver of matter and energy, and are devoting it to denying reality and obstructing joy, because they’ve been taught that this is necessary in order to experience an invisible, inaudible, intangible world that nobody has ever shown any good reason to think even exists. It makes me rage and despair to think that we have such a short time to create understanding and ecstasy, and there are people who are actively devoting their lives to throwing up roadblocks.

But I mostly don’t want to talk about rage and despair today. I want to acknowledge it, I want to recognize it and let it motivate me to make things better, and I want to move on. My own sliver of matter and energy is small, and getting smaller. As They Might Be Giants sang, I’m older than I’ve ever been, and now I’m even older, and now I’m even older, and now I’m even older. I have a small sliver, and I want to devote part of that sliver to demolishing the roadblocks to pleasure — but I also want to devote it to experiencing pleasure, and appreciating it. We have a miniscule sliver of matter and energy; we are an infinitesimal eyeblink in the vastness of time and space. But in that eyeblink, we get to be the universe giving itself pleasure. We get to be chemicals that generate joy. That is extraordinary. That is amazing. So let’s take a moment, and arrange the goop inside our skulls into the configuration of amazement, and let ourselves be amazed.

*****

Here, by the way, is the embedded video of the reading.

And I’d just like to say: I am betting that this is the only blog post in the world illustrated with an image of the Big Bang, an image of serotonin and dopamine, and an image of a cover of Bizarre Magazine with art by John Willie. If I’m wrong, please let me know — I really, really want to see that other blog post.

Where I Got the Science Nerd Chic Accessories

When I put up my recent post about my Science Nerd Chic outfit for the Academy of Sciences’ “Nightlife at the Museum” Fashion Night, several people expressed admiration for the accessories — especially the shoes. So I thought I’d let you know where you can get them.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 3

The shoes are the Icon, made by Hades. Mine are black, but they also come in brown or mustard. I got mine at Steamtropolis.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 4

The tights are the Universe style from Foot Traffic. They have them in several styles and sizes, in both gray and blue.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 5

The octopus necklace is actually pretty ubiquitous: I’ve seen pretty much the exact same thing in lots of places. I bought it at a second-hand/ vintage store, but a quick Google search for “octopus necklace” turned it up at Modcloth, in both silver and gold colors. Also, if you do a search for “octopus necklace” on Etsy, you’ll find the exact same piece with slight modifications — with an owl face, with a diving helmet, adorned with pearl beads, painted pink, and more — as well as straight-up.

Happy shopping!

(Oh, and the the computer-innard bracelet was made custom for me by my friend Josie, as a gift.)

Fashion Friday: Science Nerd Chic

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fashion Friday post, and I need something happy and frivolous to write about right now. So I want to show you the outfit I wore to an awesome event: the California Academy of Sciences’ “Nightlife at the Museum” Fashion Night.

Like many museums, the California Academy of Sciences has been doing a series of after-hours evening events for adults only: “Nightlife at the Museum.” It’s pretty damn fun: cocktails, DJs and dancing, special adult-oriented presentations (one time they had a docent displaying and explaining penis bones), that sort of thing. The evenings often have themes — and last night’s theme was fashion.

Fashion night at the science museum’s after-hours party. There was no possible way that Ingrid and I were going to miss this one. It took some doing — we found out about it at the last minute, and had to do some skillful shuffling of our schedules to make it happen — but it was like a magnetic force drawing us in. The event’s connection between science and fashion was a little thin… but I made up for it, with my mega-awesome Science Nerd Chic.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 1

The full ensemble.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 2

The bracelet my friend Josie made for me out of (if memory serves) computer innards.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 5

Representing for the cephalopods! I freaking love this necklace. When I got it I thought I’d hardly ever wear it, it’s so huge and almost garish… but it was eight bucks, so why not. I now wear it all the time, and it always draws lavish compliments.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 4

The planet tights. Around which I built the whole rest of the outfit.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 3

And, of course, the shoes. My steampunk Oxfords, adorned with (among other things) butterflies made of gears. Thus representing both engineering and entomology.

There were some astonishingly well-turned-out people at this event — Ingrid and I were in hog heaven, ooing and aahing over the awesome outfits. But I didn’t see anyone else turned out head to foot in science nerd fashion. Which was slightly disappointing. Science chic rules!

My Body is the Knife: Skepticism and the Reality of Medical Uncertainty

This piece was originally published in AlterNet.

The cutting edge of science is hard to accept when your body is the knife.

person asking question“If we don’t know the answer to a question, it’s better to just say, ‘We don’t know.’ And then, of course, investigate and try to find an answer. We shouldn’t jump in with an uninformed answer based on our cognitive biases. And we definitely shouldn’t assume that, because we don’t know the answer to a question, the answer is therefore God, or something else supernatural.”

Skeptics and atheists say this stuff a lot. It’s all very well and good: I totally agree. But what do you do if the question on the table is one you really need an answer to? What if the question isn’t something fairly abstract or distant, like, “Why is there something instead of nothing”? What if the question is one with an immediate, practical, non-trivial impact on your everyday life? Something like… oh, say, just for a random example, “What are my chances of getting cancer, and what should I do to prevent it and detect it early?”

Here’s what I mean. I’ll start with my own story, and get it out of the way. I recently got a presumptive diagnosis of Lynch Syndrome. This is a genetic syndrome that gives you about an 80% chance of getting colon cancer (a cancer I’ve sort of had — my last two colonoscopies found pre-cancerous adenomas which would have turned to cancer if they hadn’t been removed); a 20% – 60% risk of endometrial cancer (a cancer I definitely had, it’s the cancer I had surgery for last fall); and a somewhat increased chance of some other cancers, including an as-yet-unknown-but-possibly-as-high-as-ten-or-twenty percent chance of stomach cancer.

I say I got a presumptive diagnosis, because they didn’t actually find the genetic markers that normally point to Lynch Syndrome. But this doesn’t mean I don’t have it. According to the genetic counselor, it’s entirely possible — likely, even — that there are other genetic markers associated with Lynch Syndrome, ones that researchers don’t know about yet. And my family/ personal history of Lynch Syndrome cancers is strongly suggestive of it. It’s pretty much a textbook case of “Lynch Syndrome family history.” So we’re proceeding on the assumption that I have it… even though we don’t know for sure.

So in addition to my now-annual colonoscopies (oh, joy), we had to decide if I should get stomach endoscopies. I have an increased chance of getting stomach cancer… but my genetic counselor said there currently aren’t any agreed-upon medical guidelines on stomach endoscopies for people with Lynch Syndrome, and suggested that I consult with a gastroenterologist. So I talked to a gastroenterologist… who said that there currently aren’t any agreed-upon medical guidelines on stomach endoscopies for people with Lynch Syndrome, and that the two of us would have to make whatever decision seemed right to us, updating it as new information comes in.

You may be noticing a pattern here. Presumptive diagnosis. As yet unknown. No medical guidelines. It’s possible. It’s likely. As new information comes in. Whatever decision seems right. Proceed on the assumption, even though we don’t know for sure.

science journal coverThis is often the reality of science. There are questions that are pretty much settled: questions we hypothetically might re-visit if giant heaps of new contradictory evidence came in, but that have had an overwhelming body of evidence for decades or centuries pointing to one answer. (Questions like, “Does the Earth orbit the Sun?”) There are questions where the general broad strokes are mostly settled, but where we’re still figuring out many of the finer points. (Questions like, “What the heck is happening on the subatomic level?”) And there are questions that we’re very much in the process of answering, questions on which scientific consensus hasn’t been reached, questions for which the data that’s giving us answers is still coming in, questions we’re still making educated guesses about based on limited information, questions for which our “best educated guess” answers are changing on a yearly and even monthly basis. Questions like… oh, say, just for a random example, “How exactly do genetic factors influence people’s likelihood of getting certain kinds of cancers — and what are the best ways to address these factors to improve prevention, early detection, and treatment?”

Those of us who value science understand this. In fact, we more than understand it. We embrace it. We see it not as a weakness, but as a strength. Science isn’t a body of knowledge so much as it is a process, a method of gathering knowledge. And the way that this process self-corrects with new information is one of the main reasons it’s so jaw-droppingly successful. (If you think science isn’t jaw-droppingly successful, think for a moment about the device you’re reading this on.)

But if you’re living your life in the middle of one of those unanswered questions, this uncertainty and shifting ground can be a hard reality to take. The cutting edge of science is hard to accept when your body is the knife.

And I think this is one of the reasons many people are so skeptical of science, so dismissive of it, so ready to say, “Oh, what do those scientists know? They keep changing their minds! Last year they told us not to eat carbs, now they’re telling us carbs are okay! They can’t even make up their own minds — why should we believe anything they say?” On a practical, day-to-day basis, the cutting-edge, not-yet-answered science that most people are intensely engaged with, the one that most people deeply care about, is medicine. And the reality of uncertainty in medicine is often frightening, upsetting, depressing, and even enraging.

The cutting edges of astronomy, of botany, of quantum physics? Most people aren’t even aware of them. Their immediate effects on people’s lives don’t generally start until the science is fairly settled. Even with computer science — another science that affects our lives profoundly on a day-to-day basis — most of us don’t even touch the technology until it’s more or less hammered out.

But medicine is different. With medicine, a significant amount of research is being done on human beings. A case could be made that all medicine is research being done on human beings: medical protocols and best practices are constantly being updated and refined, even in areas that are pretty well understood. And when it comes to terminal illnesses, it would be irresponsible not to pursue uncertain, incompletely understood avenues of treatment that have highly unpredictable outcomes. If the choices are “try something that might or might not work” or “die”… well, most of the time, that’s a no-brainer. (My wife Ingrid got arrested nine times for demanding, among other things, that the FDA grasp this simple principle and shorten the research protocols for experimental AIDS drugs.)

knife-in-handIn the cutting edge of medical science, human lives are the knife.

And that can make people feel very freaking cranky about medical science.

Boy, howdy, do I understand that. I hate this uncertainty about my Lynch Syndrome. I would much rather just have the bloody diagnosis. I would much rather know for sure that I have this syndrome, instead of having to act on the assumption that I have it even when I don’t have a test result confirming it. If for no other reason: The fact that they didn’t find the genetic marker? It means that my family can’t get tested for that marker to see if they have it or not… so they now have to work with this vagueness as well, this not-very useful information that “You may or may not have a 50% chance, or a 25% chance, of having this syndrome, but we have no real way of knowing, so maybe you should be getting more frequent colonoscopies than you normally would. Or something.”

This is frustrating as hell.

But here’s the thing.

Medical science is the reason we even know about Lynch Syndrome. Medical science is the reason I’m getting colonoscopies every year instead of every five years, and am getting my pre-cancerous adenomas scooped out every year before they turn into cancer. Medical science is the reason we know that the tendency to get some cancers is heredity: it’s the reason that, even before my doctors knew anything about Lynch Syndrome specifically, they were looking at my mom’s cancer history, and insisting that I get colonoscopies early. Medical science is the reason millions of people are getting regular colonoscopies and mammograms as a standard part of their medical care, and are getting cancers and pre-cancers detected and treated early. Medical science is the reason colonoscopies and mammograms even exist. If we’d known about Lynch Syndrome forty years ago, my mom could have caught her cancer before it ate her up at age 45. It’s painful to think about that. But I can’t be sorry that the current medical science, imperfect as it is, is keeping me alive.

When I was growing up, people used to talk about finding “a cure for cancer.” As if cancer were one disease, and we were going to find one magic-bullet cure for it. I think some people are disappointed that this magic bullet hasn’t happened: that cancer is turning out to be hundreds of different diseases, and that after all these decades, after millions of dollars and millions of person-hours poured into it, cancer research is still about prevention and early detection and improved treatments and increased lifespans, much more than it is about a “cure.”

But the reality is that cancer is a much more survivable disease than it was when I was growing up. More people with cancer are getting it caught early. More people with cancer are living longer. More people are getting their cancer fully treated, and are living full lifespans and dying of something else. More people with cancer who can’t get it fully treated are living longer, and better, than they would have fifty years ago, or twenty, or even ten. More people with cancer are getting treatment that isn’t excruciating and doesn’t completely screw up their lives. More people with cancer are getting treatment that’s less excruciating, and is screwing up their lives less completely, than it would have fifty years ago, or twenty, or even ten. And some people aren’t getting cancer at all… because they’re eating their fiber, because they quit smoking or never started, because they’re getting regular colonoscopies and are getting their pre-cancerous doodads scooped out before they turn cancerous. Oncology is an imperfect, inexact science… but it’s getting better all the time. Prevention and early detection and improved treatments and increased lifespans are not trivial. Millions of people are alive today because of them. I’m one.

And I’m not going to embrace the results of the scientific process that’s keeping me alive — the messy, uncertain, unpredictable, loaded-with-false-starts, “try a hundred things with no idea which one, if any, will pan out” scientific process — and then piss all over it because it isn’t perfect.

LLS-logoGreta Christina is the 2013 Honored Hero of the Foundation Beyond Belief for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation’s Light the Night Walk. To participate in the Light the Night Walk, go to the LL&S website. To participate under the Foundation Beyond Belief banner, find out how to join an existing team — or start one of your own.

Coping with Life Under a Cloud of Medical Uncertainty

question mark sign“If we don’t know the answer to a question, it’s better to just say, ‘We don’t know.’ And then, of course, investigate and try to find an answer. We shouldn’t jump in with an uninformed answer based on our cognitive biases. And we definitely shouldn’t assume that, because we don’t know the answer to a question, the answer is therefore God, or something else supernatural.”

Skeptics and atheists say this stuff a lot. It’s all very well and good: I totally agree. But what do you do if the question on the table is one you really need an answer to? What if the question isn’t something fairly abstract or distant, like, “Why is there something instead of nothing”? What if the question is one with an immediate, practical, non-trivial impact on your everyday life? Something like… oh, say, just for a random example, “What are my chances of getting cancer, and what should I do to prevent it and detect it early?”

Here’s what I mean.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Coping with Life Under a Cloud of Medical Uncertainty. Go find out more about having a “presumptive” diagnosis of a genetic syndrome that increases your odds of getting cancer; the difficulties of living with medical uncertainty; how this difficulty contributes to people’s frustration with science; and why we should embrace science anyway… read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

God Won’t Cure Mental Illness: What’s Wrong With Rick Warren’s Sermon

rick_warren“We’re all mentally ill.”

“You have fears, you have worries, you have doubts, you have compulsions, you have attractions…”

So said Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of the megachurch Saddleback Church and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” in a sermon largely about his son’s mental illness and recent suicide.

Warren was clearly trying to help de-stigmatize mental illness, and I commend that. But this is not the way. We are not, in fact, all mentally ill. And saying that we are does not de-stigmatize mental illness. It trivializes it. It contributes to the stigma. And it makes it harder to recognize and treat.

*****

Thus begins my new piece for Salon, God Won’t Cure Mental Illness. To read more about how Warren’s sermon trivializes mental illness, stigmatizes it, dismisses evidence-based treatment, and frames atheism and religious doubt as a mental disorder, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Secular Meditation: “Energy,” and Attention/ Awareness

energy-perspectives-problems-prospects-michael-b-mcelroy-hardcover-cover-artSo what does this “energy” thing mean, anyway?

I don’t mean literal, physical energy. I more or less understand that. I mean “energy” in the supernatural/ metaphysical/ woo bullshit sense. And specifically, what does it mean for a meditation practice?

Here’s what I’m talking about. As regular readers know, I’ve recently begun a secular meditation/ mindfulness practice, based on the evidence-based Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques. I do a few different practices, depending on where I am and how much time I have… but the core of my practice, at least for now, is something called a “body scan,” in which I focus my attention on each part of my body in turn, starting with my feet and moving up to the top of my head, noticing thoughts and distractions as they arise and acknowledging them without judgment and then gently letting them go to return my attention to the body part in question. When I first started doing the body scan practice, I basically had to say the words to myself, in my head, “Heel. Heel. Pay attention to your left heel. Heel. Okay, moving on to the big toe. Big toe. Pay attention to your big toe. Okay, that’s an interesting thought drifting into your consciousness: notice it, don’t judge it, let it go, return your attention to your big toe. Big toe. Big toe. Okay… now little toe.”

But as I get more familiar with the practice — more practiced, I guess — this has been shifting. The verbal instructions to myself are becoming less necessary. It’s becoming easier to just experience my body, to just feel it, without having to name the parts. If I’m more tired, or more stressed out, I need more of the verbal directions… but I’m needing them less and less. (In a “two steps forward, one step back” way.)

And as I get less dependent on the verbal catalog to keep me focused on my body, and become more able to just experience my body for what it is, this… thing has been happening.

Instead of controlling or directing the body scan, it’s just been happening by itself. [Read more...]