2020-09-15: Mindfulness of the Body (2 of 5) Calmness Surfaces Goodness
2:51PM Sep 15, 2020
The topic is mindfulness of the body. As an introduction to this, there is a teaching that there are two wings or two sides of Buddhist practice, meditation practice. They're called "samatha" and "vipassanā," śamatha and vipaśyanā in Sanskrit. Here "samatha" means tranquility, being peaceful, calm. "Vipassanā" can mean clarity, can mean to see. The word "passanā" comes from the word to see. "Vi" is emphatic, to see well, to see clearly.
This combination of tranquility and clarity is the real balanced or magic ingredient of what this practice involves. The idea of being mindful of your body, one of the purposes of that - to pay attention to your body - is to notice the tensions of the body, the holding patterns in the body and to spend some time letting that relax. As the body relaxes more, not to the point of going to sleep, but the direction we're going is to be relaxed with clarity, with a relaxed alertness. The art of it is how to allow a calming, peaceful movement within the body and to have clarity at the same time.
Now some people might feel that it's not really where meditation is supposed to be, just to relax the body. But the body and the mind are not so separate from each other. The tensions of the body are there because of the activities of the mind. As we relax the body, the mind has a chance to relax. As we relax the mind, the body has a chance to relax. These two work closely together. If we really want to drop deep into ourselves, then really this idea of calming, letting ourselves become be more tranquil.
Wherever we can feel, sense or smell the tranquility, that's the door to greater tranquility. The Buddha talks about tranquility as the food for tranquility. In other words, tranquility is the very thing that promotes more tranquility or peace promotes more peace within us. So to relax, and not just to relax, not just be calm, but then to really appreciate the value to rest in the afterglow of the relaxing, of the peace. To allow us to receive it and feel it.
It's a conditioning force. Even if it's a very teeny bit that we feel - a peacefulness or tranquility - feel that fully, receive it. Let it be a guide to how to grow that in a gentle, calm way. Don't be in a hurry. Don't be greedy. Don't be pushing for it.
As this body becomes more tranquil and as we develop more clarity, and we're more mindful of the body and see what's happening here, it brings a lot of benefits to us. One of it is the body then protects us. The primary thing it protects us is against ourselves in the sense that when we're really sensitive and attuned to how we react, contract and pull back, how we build up tension in the body.
If we're attuned to that, and really pay attention to it, we get the early warning sign that there's the danger of going into some of these mind states and motivations that require us to be tense. We might get angry. We might get greedy. We might spin out with fear in a way that's not really useful for us. So to stay grounded in the body and get the signals of how we're reacting, then we don't have to react that way. We can relax.
Also the more we can become familiar with our body and are at peace in our body, there is a kind of stability in the body as well. So we're less likely to be pushed over by our reactivity or our reactions to what people do. We can stay grounded, and that's a protection.
The Buddha talks about how the body protects us from being unethical. He doesn't say this, but I think that what the implications are that when the body is not calm and at ease, and we're not clear and mindful of what's going in the body, we won't notice how we get more tense. Being unethical involves tension. Something gets contracted and tight in order to want to hurt someone. If we take refuge in a relaxed body, a peaceful body and mind, we'll get again the early warning signs that something is off when we start feeling tension.
But, more importantly, we start feeling the kind of self-harm that unethical behavior does. The way we close up. It's grating. It's painful to be angry, greedy, hostile. The more sensitive the system becomes, the more we get the clear indication, clear experience, that we're harming ourselves as well.
On the other end, the more we're connected to this body in a sensitive, calm way, the more we'll also become attuned to these good qualities within. The things that have more room to show themselves. They almost need a receptive feeling, an open, receptive, calm, nonconceited, nonaggressive kind of stance to that generosity, love, kindness, friendliness, care, forgiveness. All these beautiful interpersonal qualities have a more chance to recognize them, be attuned to them.
Sometimes those can be scary to have. But when we feel the fear, we start feeling tense. If we really learn to trust, the tranquil, relaxed body, what we find is this is a fantastic support for living what in English we would call an ethical life - a life that is for the welfare of others, the welfare of ourselves and a life that wants to avoid causing harm. Because that's the nature or the quality of this relaxed state, this clear, relaxed, open state.
So this movement of relaxing, calming, settling the body and relaxing and settling the mind has ethical connotations, ethical consequences. It makes us better people, makes us more careful and conscientious people. It's a beautiful thing to do.
To practice mindfulness of the body, one of the aspects of this is not simply to be aware of the body, but actually to take the time to calm the body, settle the body, bring some peace, let go, relax the body. This is a teaching and instructions that go all the way back to the Buddha. The Buddha talked about settling into the body, feeling the whole body, and then relaxing the bodily activities, relaxing the tensions, the active ways in which the body is tense and tight. To calm the body.
Last week I liked the expression "cool the body." Let the body, if it is overheated, let it become cooler, calmer, more peaceful, more settled, more at ease in this body. It's a beautiful thing. It's a profound thing to really center one's practice in this body. Perhaps there is no real deepening into the path of harmlessness, the path of liberation without being well attuned and connected to a body, a body that has learned, sometimes slowly learns, how to relax deeply, how to be peaceful, how to be at ease.
So may you enjoy your body. If you want to do a reflection about something during the next 24 hours, you might reflect on what I said that all the things like anger, hostility, greed, craving, being perplexed, being confused, being deluded, all involves some kind of tension, some kind of tightening up or contraction. In and of themselves, motivations and emotions like love, generosity, kindness, and friendliness don't involve tension. They arise from a place where there is no tension. So why don't you reflect on that topic. See if that's true for you, how it might be true and the implications for it. Maybe talk to some friends about this distinction. What does it imply that there are certain things that arise with tension and some things arise without? What does that teach you? What do you learn from that? That might be an interesting topic to reflect on.
Be well and take good care of yourself. May these reflections help the best of you to come forth for the world. Thank you.