2021-01-15 Mindfulness of Breathing (10) At Home with the Body
4:24PM Jan 15, 2021
The third step of ānāpānasati is to train oneself, when breathing in, to experience the whole body, when breathing out experiencing the whole body. And in this idea of experiencing the body, experiencing means really sensing, feeling with our sensations, all the sense doors we in have this body of ours.
One of the ways in which I have felt encouraged and inspired to really tune in to the sensations in my body, is the idea that when I die, and then this body becomes a corpse. The nerves in this body no longer firing. There's no more electricity. There's no more activity in the nervous system of this body. And if someone touches a corpse, with their finger, there's nothing in that corpse, which will register, pick up, sense, feel, and send nerve signals to the brain. So everything that I sense, every sensation in my body, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, is a symptom or a sign of being alive. It's not always going to be here. That sense that this is what living is. This is what aliveness is.
This precious experience of being conscious of being alive encourages me, supports me, to really be present. And I felt delight to feel, to know that I'm alive when I feel all this. To feel the body, to experience the body is so important in Buddhism.
There's a wonderful story that, after the Buddha died – soon after he died – someone went to one of the Buddha's leading disciples, his cousin, Ānanda, who had spent, I think they say 20 years as the Buddh's attendant. And they asked Ānanda, "Now that your teacher is dead, who is going to be your teacher? Who is going to be your good spiritual friend?" And Ānanda said, "Now that our teacher is dead, our teacher will be mindfulness of the body." He didn't say, our teacher will be our body. What he said was the teacher will be mindfulness of the body.
So that's a remarkable statement that this wonderful, amazing founder of Buddhism, who had so much wisdom and realization – that his disciple, who knew him directly, would point to your capacity to be mindful of your body as having some equivalence to the Buddha himself. So that's quite a statement about the potential of, of your body to really be your teacher – to be your Buddha in a sense.
But again, it's important to realize it's not the body by itself. It's the mindfulness of the body – the ability to have awareness coursing through the body – awareness sensing and feeling the body. As we practice meditation, ideally, the body becomes more and more alive, more and more conscious – there's more awareness of the body.
It's easy to, to be unconscious or unaware of parts of our body – to disassociate from parts of her body. Some of this might be because we're simply too much in our head – thinking too much. I think computer work, sitting at the computer for long hours, is a kind of mental activity, where many people lose track of their body. They're not settled in their body. There can be whole professions where people have their center of gravity above the neck. So there's a disconnection, and atrophy of the living aliveness of the rest of the body.
There can also be emotional difficulties, where it's too difficult to be in the body – because to feel parts of the body is to touch into those unresolved places or the pain that's there. And so people will stay maybe above the neck, or above the waist, and not feel what's happening.
And breath meditation, Buddhist mindfulness meditation, can be seen as reclaiming our body – really kind of opening up, filling out, and really feeling our body. So that over time, we discover for ourselves how wonderful it is to be at home in the body. And also how much mindfulness of the body is, in fact, a teacher for us – because it reveals so much. The path of practice, and the path to spiritual freedom is revealed through really living mindfulness of the body.
But as we do so in the beginning, what we begin experiencing is what I've called the "karmic body." And the karmic body is when the body – our bodily experience, our sensations, how we experience our body – hasn't really caught up to the present moment. Meaning that if we have some unresolved issues, unresolved emotions, unresolved experiences held and trapped in the body, then, as we meditate, in order for the body to really catch up to the present moment, we have to work through that.
It can be as simple as if, if, through life experiences, you've learned that, to be tense, to be at be anxious, to be afraid – and that fear translates into the shoulders being raised. Then when we sit down to meditate, we feel the tension in the shoulders. Sooner or later, we'll start feeling that. And that tension is a legacy of the past – in a sense, it's a continuation of how we we've been conditioned by past experience, past operations, thinking and attitudes we have. They get sore. They get perpetuated. They get locked in. But as we start feeling those shoulders being tense, maybe we can relax a little bit. And as we settle and get concentrated, and more more here, the shoulders relaxed more and more. Then at some point, the shoulders no longer contain this momentum from the past. And when their momentum is no longer there, then – in my language – the shoulders have finally arrived in the present moment. They're here.
All over the body, there might be holding patterns that represent ways in which we've repressed our body – not paying attention to the way we hold the body, the tension we have. All these things are part of the karmic body.
It said that Abraham Lincoln said, "By the time a person is 40, they're responsible for their face." And I think what he meant by that is the chronic holding patterns of how we use the small micro-muscles of the face. After a while, they get locked in. Or certain muscles get strong and developed, and others atrophy. And that subtly shapes that human face.
I've seen that in people who grew up in different cultures. They had the same ethnicity, but they grew up in different cultures, speaking different languages. And you can see the subtle, subtle shifts and changes in their face. Maybe because of the language, they use different muscles to speak.
So if we're always afraid, or angry, there are subtle micro-muscles in the face that hold that. The face can be a legacy of the past, of the momentum of the past. And the face can relax, and we can catch up and be in the present moment.
So part of mindfulness is to let the body catch up to the present moment. To do that, it requires being willing to feel and sense all that's in the body – to leave nothing out. In this idea of being at home in the body, there are messy rooms. There are rooms that still needs to be cleaned out for the house to be settled so we can really feel at home in it.
So we have to be very patient with all that. This is where mindfulness of breathing can be helpful. In mindfulness practice, we really want to feel this body, feel the tensions we have, and feel the pains we have. And we breathe with those discomforts, breathe through them – to help them to relax, open, and soften.
It's almost like, when there's space – breathing room for the body – the body knows how to unfold, unwind, and relax. So this idea of breathing with the discomfort, rather than thinking about it, reacting to it, pushing it away, being discouraged, being upset, going into fantasy to avoid it – to really be here in this body, and breathe with it. So to breathe with. Opening to the body feeling at home and the body, learning to be grounded here.
I'll repeat what I said at the end of the meditation, that many people thrive, or really benefit a lot, from others, offering their attention. It's a great gift we give to others, to listen to them well, to attend to them well, to pay attention to them well.
But that attention that we give, also conveys subtle other attitudes that we have. If we're leaning forward always, showing we're paying attention, but we have a little bit of fear or anxiety around it – or we're trying too hard to do something for them – we convey something very different than if we're settled back and paying careful attention. But we convey a sense of wholeness, a sense of safety – of comfort in this body, in this world. To convey that to others, "I'm paying attention to you. Yes." And we can be at ease and settled here.
To say that, maybe is not very compelling for you, how important that is. But if the reference point was small children – that if you're with a four-year-old, how you're paying attention, in subtle ways, is what children pick up. If we're paying attention with anxiety, they learn the world is an anxious place. But if they see someone paying attention and being there, and that person is at home in their skin, at home in their body, feeling safe and settled – they learn something very different.
This is possible! It's possible to feel at home in this world, and relaxed. Mindfulness of the body – one of my goals in life is to be a cheerleader for mindfulness of the body.
So I hope that over the next few days, over the weekend, you really explore this. One of the ways to explore mindfulness of the body is not to make this big project, to be mindful. Make it a study to become aware of all the ways that you're not aware of your body. All the ways that you might wander off from it, and are not in touch. Notice that. Become like an expert. To recognize quickly, "Oh, I'm not in touch with my body. I'm not aware of what's happening here. I'm in my thoughts, ideas; I'm lost in my project." And do that regularly, just that. And see what happens to you, independent of any need to actually come back to your body. Notice how much you're away.
So thank you very much, and I look forward to continuing this series on Monday.