I am continuing the theme of this week: the different ways we can experience our body. Because these ways can be so dramatically different, depending on the circumstances, the state of the mind, we can almost refer to them as different bodies or, as I referred to them yesterday, the karmic body.
I think that is where most people live most of the time if they are paying attention to their bodies. They are experiencing the body that is very much under the influence – under the impact – of our thinking, wanting or not wanting, our fear, all of these volitional forces that are operating. If used chronically – regularly – these forces build up a very strong feeling of the body and a strong sense of what the body is about.
Meditation begins to quiet down two things. It quiets down the ongoing karmic formation, the ongoing karmic force, that shapes the experience of our life and, especially, the experience of our body. And we begin to recover from the legacy of the karmic shaping of what is going on.
Very simply, if you spend your days with your shoulders up to your ears because you are tense or afraid, there is continuous fear that is the karmic force. Then, as we stop the fear, the shoulders can relax. But they might be so chronic that they do not relax all the way. Then, sitting and meditating, slowly, slowly, the shoulders might find a way to relax more and more. So the legacy of that karmic anxiety or fear begins to abate.
That gets replaced, with time, not automatically, with a sense of pleasure, well-being, ease, lightness, openness, and softness in the very same shoulders. It is easy, then, to go on to the next concern and not linger and pay attention to the shoulders. But it is possible also to feel how there is a release of energy. There is a way in which the tightness and definition of the shoulders softens, and the shoulders become more porous, softer, or more in flow with the rest of the body. There is a release of energy.
That release might not be noticed because, maybe, it is not much. But the opposite, staying chronically tense, is exhausting. And it can really create a lot of tiredness throughout the day, exhaustion and weariness. Without that tension, our energy is more available in a cleaner, easier way. Our body does not get so tired.
As we sit in meditation, relaxing the body, relaxing the karmic body, there starts to be available to us not only a nicer flow, or glow, or vitality of energy, but also, as we start getting settled in more and more, pleasures can begin appearing. Pleasant experiences begin to show themselves. They might be very subtle. But starting to pay attention to and notice them allows them to grow. It allows them to have a different influence on us than if we continually take in the karmic body, karmic pain, karmic thoughts, and ideas of what is wrong with the world, with ourselves, or with our situation. These thoughts have a huge impact on us. If these negative thoughts are chronic, the karmic repercussions on ourselves are huge. It is not cost-free to spend a lot of time with angry thoughts, depressing thoughts, or undermining thoughts.
Part of what meditation can begin doing is to quiet down all that thinking and those thoughts. If we pay attention to subtle pleasure, to subtle well-being, it begins showing us a different orientation. It shows us that there is more going on. There is more to the story of our life than our challenges. Part of the story of our life is our capacity for well-being, for feeling a healthy body, a flow of a body.
Even if there is illness, even if there is injury and pain in the body, it is possible that the container, the overall atmosphere of the body which holds that pain, is one that is soft and pleasant, with pleasure and joy. The sense of pleasure and joy that can be there makes it much more interesting for the mind to want to be present here and now. It supports the mind to want to be here in the present moment, with the body, with breathing.
There starts to be a unification process, a gathering together process – maybe around breathing, around mindfulness practice. The mind is less scattered, less interested in other things. Our interest becomes more and more centered here. It creates a kind of breathing room, creates space, for something to begin to emerge.
The karmic mind is a reactive mind. And the karmic mind, a reactive mind, does not make room for the wellsprings within to flow freely and for the emergent quality of healthy emotions. One of the emergent qualities that begins to arise in meditation is a feeling of joy, a feeling of delight. It is a feeling that I liken to that of a child letting go, sliding down a slide, squealing, and so happy. Not that we are squealing in meditation, but we are letting go into breathing, letting go into our experience here.
At some point, there does feel like there is a little bit of momentum, joy, and pleasure from letting go that is a bit like letting go into the sense of well-being that can be here. There is also some mysterious way – maybe not so mysterious to people who know the neurochemistry of the brain – that as we begin to get concentrated, settled and focused here, there starts to emerge, as a wellspring from within, more and more joy, more and more happiness.
Over time, and it might be years for some of us, this happiness and joy in meditation begins to suffuse the body, begins to spread. Until, at some point, it is predominant, or my experience is that it somehow lifts me out of the karmic body. And, when the concentration is no longer there, I come back into the karmic body.
As it lifts out, there is a pervasive feeling of well-being, a glow, a warmth, a joy, a lightness, that can have all kinds of different intensities, from a mild, pleasant intensity, to sometimes quite strong. But we start feeling a whole different feeling of what the body is. This sometimes is called the joy body or the bliss body. It is the emergent experience of the body that is a paradigm shift for the mind. It is like, "Wow. Is this possible? Is this my body?" It involves almost a shift of identity in which the boundaries of the body are not so strong, where there is a sense of safety and confidence, where there is a sense of safety, openness, and joy.
We start experiencing ourselves in a very different way from what the karmic body will ever let us know. If we only have the karmic body as a reference for how the body is to be experienced, we think that the karmic body is the real body. Remember, these are the bodies that we experience. They are not the corporeal body, the physical body. The body that is being experienced, and all experience of the body, is mediated through the activities – states – of the mind.
As those states of mind shift, the experience of the body shifts. One of the ways it shifts is into the karmic body. That is just one more way in which the mind manufactures or predisposes us to experience the body. It is not any more real than the joy body, the bliss body. They both have their place. They both have their value.
So begin settling into and relaxing into the sense of pleasure, the sense of joy, the sense of happiness that maybe, at first, is only hints. We may only have little traces of these going on. But these are things to relax into, to open into, to allow for, to have as supports, as a toehold in the present moment. And that toehold can grow and grow.
Inevitably, people who experience something like this – joy, delight, and pleasure in the body, will become attached to it, prioritize it, try to make it happen again, and try too hard. Of course, there is no crime in doing this. Maybe it is a developmental stage to do this. Maybe most people have to go through this. I went through that, until I realized it was not working.
We have developmental stages to go through, the attachment and clinging, the wanting, trying to make it happen with too much force, too much expectation and attachment. Then we start seeing that. Then we can begin working with and letting go of that. Because if we don't, if we stay with the attachment, the expectations, and the demands that it should be a certain way, we are just contributing to more of the karmic stream, the more the karmic body gets gets reinforced.
Chances are, if you start opening up and are experiencing this joy body in meditation, you will get attached. You have been warned. Now you can be mindful of that, not be so caught in it, hold it lightly, and find your way through it.
I certainly understand that this teaching on the joy body might seem very distant to some of you. You have no idea what I am talking about. And maybe it even feels like a betrayal of, or an offense to the challenges, the difficulties, you have with your body. However, there might be something here for you even so.
Maybe, throughout the day today, give yourself extra time. Give yourself pauses throughout the day. Maybe put your smartphone on a timer, and every thirty minutes or every hour, have a real extended pause, the only purpose of which is to feel embodied physical pleasure and joy. Go for a walk. Sit and have some tea. Look out the window, relax, and see if you can touch into joy, delight, or pleasure in your body. Be a touchstone for a few moments and see what happens through the day with touchstones and check-ins to your body's capacity for pleasure, joy and happiness. May you have greater well-being today than you would have had otherwise. Thank you.