2020-09-16: Mindfulness of the Body (3 of 5) Embodied Joy
2:52PM Sep 16, 2020
With this topic of the week - mindfulness of the body - yesterday I pointed out one of the benefits of mindfulness of the body is a sense of protection and safety. It's a wellspring of being ethical. It's hard to intentionally hurt other people, harm other people, if one is really centered in one's body, because then one has the information, the experience of how that's also harming ourselves. There is another way to take care of ourselves, take care of the world. It doesn't require us to harm anyone.
Today the emphasis is that mindfulness of the body provides also a means, a way, to experience some of the greatest joys and happiness a human being can experience. It's through being embodied that we release and open up to the wellspring, the reservoir, the capacity to experience embodied joy, embodied happiness.
That is really spectacular because of how embodied it is. It feels really full and complete. It can feel very stable, very satisfying because it's a satisfaction in all our muscles and all the marrows of our bone as opposed to just a mental excitement, a mental joy, a mental happiness. That might come more from evaluation, getting what we want, getting praise or something that is exciting for us or interesting. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but to discover the capacity from within.
This is what was so radical for the Buddha when he taught in ancient India. There were plenty of religious traditions in his time that really mistrusted any kind of embodied physical sense of joy and happiness. They associated with sensual pleasure which was kind of a trap or attachment. The Buddha who saw and understood the trap, the problems of clinging to sensual pleasure discovered a nonsensual, embodied sense of happiness and well-being that can well up from sitting quietly meditating.
In a modern world we might say that as we get concentrated, settled and peaceful, stress begins to fall away entirely, and the body's very relaxed and we keep being kind of more concentrated just on the breathing, or just on something here, that it releases endorphins. Or it releases some kind of chemicals in our body that bring up a lot of sometimes quite intense sense of joy and happiness.
We might say that, but that to me seems very reductionistic. It seems like it misses the point of the deep embodied sense of well-being, contentment, satisfaction that can well up in this meditative happiness and joy. It really comes to its own when we have the capacity to have an embodied mindfulness where there's a receptivity in the body for this to well up.
As I said earlier, I think it's fairly revolutionary for our modern world that this happiness that the Buddha advocated is happiness that doesn't harm anyone. It doesn't require using a lot of resources, a lot of money to get pleasant experiences, to do exciting things. It doesn't require receiving praise from anyone, adulation, or becoming famous. It doesn't require having power, the pleasure of power some people are addicted to. Many of the normal places people are looking for happiness and well-being often cause more suffering than they do happiness. Not in the short term, sometimes in long term.
It's not to be critical of those, but to have access to a deeply embodied, internal sense of well-being and happiness, some of the greatest kinds of joy and even ecstasy that's possible in meditation that doesn't require anything outside to be different. It doesn't require money and all the other things. It's considered to be harmless for the world around us.
To have that as a wellspring of meaning, of purpose, to understand how deeply satisfying it is, how meaningful it is gives a life a sense of purpose. And it leads to a life of service. It leads to a life of caring, compassion, and freedom.
It's not a selfish happiness. It can't be selfish because selfishness actually squashes this free-flowing wellspring of joy and delight that comes from the inside. That's why it's such a revolutionary act for some people to begin experiencing this wellspring of meditative joy because it requires a reorientation certainly away from conceit, away from narcissism that some people have. But also away from a self-preoccupation with self and self-identity. But rather a willingness, a receptivity to allow a life force to well up and move through us. Rather than being in the control tower trying to control it, be it, prove it, apologize for oneself, show off oneself, define oneself or justify oneself. To put all that selfing aside and trust this welling up of this goodness, the peacefulness that's possible here.
In talking about this and in the guided meditation I did, I'm very aware that this is not really meditation for someone who's brand-new to meditation. I offer it here partly as a continuity of all these months of offering the 7:00 a.m. sitting with the hope that the continuity, the background of all that we've done so far creates some kind of foundation that makes this a little bit accessible, what I'm talking about here. It doesn't have to be ecstasy. It doesn't have to be dramatic, but to learn to turn our attention inward, and begin to be receptive, to be allowing to, to be attuned to the feelings of pleasantness, lightness, satisfaction, contentment. That might start as little hints. But as we breathe, open, and settle more, it becomes bigger and stronger.
It does require a mind which is undistracted. It requires a mind that doesn't fill the space of attention with its preoccupation because there has to be room in our attention, the attentional field for this embodied experiences to surface and show themselves.
It may be useful to think that our attention only has certain amount of bandwidth. If we fill it with thoughts, memories, stories, and conversations that gives very little bandwidth leftover for our body. In fact, probably it's like Zoom where if too much bandwidth is being used, something begins to freeze. You're not really kind of keep going.
So to quiet the mind enough to allow this lived experience. Some of you maybe had the experience of doing exercise, like going for a really nice walk someplace outside on a nice cool day. And just feeling the vitality flowing in the body, the blood flowing, the vitality. It just feels so good to feel the body, all the energies of the body just flowing. There's a deep satisfaction with those energies flowing.
It's kind of like those. It's related to that that begins to be released when there's a lot of relaxation and alertness. When we begin really the revolution of recentering ourselves on the lived experience from the inside out as it flows and moves through us. There's different degrees, different characteristics of this pleasure, the sense of well-being, that can well up from the inside.
But the reason to talk about it here in mindfulness of the body week is that the more we can be embodied in practice, the more we're attuned to our body and make a habit and are familiar with the experience of a body, the more benefits that come from it. Certainly if there is pain, which oftentimes can be pain and discomfort in the body, there's a way in which mindfulness of the body can be phenomenally supportive for that, can allow us to respect it, find a way through it, and find our peace with it. But also mindfulness of the body really allows, makes room for this meditative joy, the capacity for inner joy and happiness to well up and come forward.
I didn't know about this for many years when I first started doing Zen practice because in Zen meditation it was actually discouraged or seen as a little distraction to have a meditative joy and happiness as part of practice. Maybe there's an orientation in that tradition sometimes to see any kind of leaning into it or opening to it as a kind of attachment, a departing from just the more ultimate connection to truth which maybe sometimes Zen is supposed to emphasize.
But when I was introduced to "Vipassanā" practice, it was then that I began to appreciate that this meditative joy and happiness that can well up not only is it allowable, but it actually begins opening the door for greater and greater letting go. As you open up more and more and get more and more settled in the present moment, wonderfully the joy fades away. Then with a joy fading away, there's a deeper sublime form of happiness embodied, deep satisfying feeling that wells up. Then with time, that happiness fades away. Rather than it being a loss, it's really a fantastic gain because it's very deeper, a more satisfying feeling of peace, tranquility, equanimity kind of replaces it. To be so at home, so feeling so not in conflict, so not challenged by anything, but feel this beautiful feeling of peace flowing in here that also at some point fades away. It fades away into a deep letting go, deep release. That deep release then allows us to touch - tactile touching - of freedom, of liberation.
This joy and happiness that the Buddha emphasized is not meant to be an end to itself. The idea is not to be attached to it, but certainly to allow for it, to be receptive to it. To allow it to grow and develop, so that it can keep morphing and transforming as the practice deepens into happiness and peace, and then freedom.
So mindfulness of the body. May your body be your friend. May you feel that your body is here really to support you. That it has these treasures inside that if you take the time and give some of your attentional bandwidth to you can allow this deep healing and deep freeing of these positive emotions and feelings from deep within.
Thank you very much and we'll continue tomorrow.