2020-09-17: Mindfulness of the Body (4 of 5) Physically Calming the Mind
3:12PM Sep 17, 2020
Mindfulness of the body as a foundation from which to understand the mind, relax the mind, and free the mind. That as the body becomes more relaxed, but not limp. That's why relaxed might not be the best word I think I said the other day. The Buddhist words are calm or tranquil. There can be clarity in tranquility, a crispness even. To have the body have a sense of crisp, clear tranquility.
The more the body's relaxed and is tranquil the more we notice when the body gets tense, when we tighten up. Certainly it can be big movements. Suddenly some car comes barreling down the road in a way that's a little frightening and we tense up. That's reasonable because we're getting ready to jump out of the way. But there's all kinds of ways in which we tense up the body. We have hundreds of little muscles in the body. They're all somehow connected to our feelings, emotions, thoughts, and reactions. They're all part of the whole working.
As we get more and more settled and more muscles are relaxed, those muscles can tighten up. If they're already tight, then it becomes the status quo and we don't really see the changing, shifting nature of what's happening inside. If we're completely tense all the time, we don't notice really that we're even tense. Sometimes we don't even know that we're tight.
I know for me, still to this day, sometimes when I sit down to meditate, only then do I notice that my shoulders are tight. Or some part of my body, there's a little bit of holding in the breathing. I can feel as I inhale, the top of the inhale, it's a little bit held back. There's a resistance there. It's the way I've been living my life being busy, doing things. In meditation I feel that, and then I can relax. I have that because I have a contrast. I know what it's like to have an easeful, relaxed breath or shoulders.
The more relaxed the body gets, the more sensitive we become to movements in the mind of clinging, tightening, and resisting. We're more sensitive to how we pick up our thoughts and be involved in thoughts. That is really the name of the game or the heart of it. It's not really what we're thinking about so much, but how we think, how much we're invested in our thoughts, reacting to thoughts, resisting them, grabbing hold of them or pushing them.
How we are in relationship to thoughts you can feel in the body if the body has become really relaxed and soft. Because then you can see the difference. If the body is tense, you might not see the difference because it's just all part of the same thing.
So part of the benefit of really getting calm, concentrated, still, and quiet is a whole different relationship to the mind. When we see we have access, we have a toehold into how to work with the mind. Not by necessarily shifting what we're thinking about or changing how we're feeling, but by noticing the tensions associated with the mind and then relaxing.
Even if we can't relax it, there's something about in a relaxed way holding the tensions of the mind in awareness, in mindfulness. Maybe not trying at all to relax, but simply to hold it in an awareness that things begin to release themselves when they're held.
It's like if someone has a tight fist all the time. They're just so afraid or angry. They're holding it tight, tight, tight, and they don't even know that they're doing it. And someone comes along and says, "Here, my friend. Here." They take their hand. They put it and rest it in their hand. "Relax your hand. Relax your weight. Let my hand support you." Generally, the tendency for that hand is to begin to open, to relax like that. The person is not doing the relaxing, not forcing the hand open, but just holding it and supporting it. Knowing it's accompanied allows the hand to relax.
The same thing with the contractions, the vise grip, sometimes that can be felt in the mind. The smallness, the narrowness of the mind that if we just hold it in awareness sometimes, in mindfulness, just help it feel safe and accompany with it, then something begins to release and relax.
In fact, some of the deepest forms of mental relaxation or calming there is. deepest form of letting go is so subtle that to be the agent of doing the relaxing, doing the letting go is a coarser activity than what is needed at that time. So it just goes in the opposite direction. What's really needed is not any doing on our part, but just that holding, being and feeling. Then at some point, something begins to release itself.
We don't want to overdo being the agent of relaxation, relaxing and making ourselves calm. If we are pursuing that all the time, we're really missing the opportunity of really in a more deeper way, cultivating mindfulness, attention, even cultivating concentration. But relaxation is allowed.
To feel the activities of the mind physically is not easy. For some people I think it's a very foreign idea. But it starts becoming available when the whole system is more relaxed, mindfulness has become stronger, and the heightened sensitivity to feel and sense what's going on.
There can be a slightest little movement in the mind to even begin thinking. It can be felt as just an ever so slight beginning of pressure somewhere in the mind, very soft, very relaxed. It's not unnecessarily uncomfortable, but you can feel the beginning of pressure. Then if you are there and relax that pressure just there and notice it carefully in mindfulness, that pressure can release.
The fun thing about this is that you'll never know what that thought was going to be. In other words, if you're really quiet and still, very sensitive, you can notice the physical changes associated with just the beginning of thought, before a thought has been really formed. It's that subtle the physicality associated with the mind.
It's easy to think of the mind as being disembodied, being this abstract thing or formless thing that has no connection to the body. But in fact, the mind is very closely intimately connected with the body and the workings of the body influence the mind, affect the mind. Exactly which has priority, which has the major role, I think we should be very careful not to decide exactly how it is. In particular not to decide the major role for our whole life and how we live is in our minds. The minds and body are closely related.
So mindfulness of the body is a way of taking care of the mind, is a way of taking care of the good heart. To develop mindfulness of the body, both by relaxing and by just really seeing, sensing, and feeling the body fully is a very significant way of caring, healing, supporting, and ultimately freeing the mind.
I hope in all these talks about mindfulness of the body so far is that you value your body. That you become a friend of your body. That you really trust the inner body, how the body feels like from the inside out. Don't give so much, especially in meditation, attention to what the body is from the outside in - what it looks like, what you think about it. But just really feel it. That's a powerful, opening or doorway to all kinds of benefits - mindfulness of the body. Thank you