Zen and the Body (Part 1)
1:40PM Feb 8, 2022
Today is Sunday, February 6, 2022. And I'm going to be giving teisho today - I guess we're talking about the body - the body, as we encounter it in our Zen practice, as we work with it in Zen practice.
I'm going to start off by quoting from the Buddha. He said, in this very fathom-long body is the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world. Or in other words, the road leading to Nirvana, full enlightenment.
So it brings us into the whole question of mind and body. As most people here have heard before, the western view is not the same as the Eastern view. We come from a tradition. Probably first person we think of as Descartes, the French philosopher, who thought that the seat of the soul was the pituitary gland. didn't have that quite right, I don't think. But we tend to think of our mind as something in our skull. And so when we hear there's nothing but mind, we get a little confused. There's a tendency to discount the material world and that's the tradition in Christianity as well, to see the the body as temptation, sin. Something that gets in the way, something that has to be overcome. And of course, the Buddha himself in his own Sedona his own search began or hit very soon in his in his path, on the practice of asceticism and denying the body its wants as a way of trying to work with the mind
Yeah, we like there's a little man in there, looking out through the portal of the eyes at this world full of objects.
The body is sort of this recalcitrant horse that carries the mind around
what is the mind? Zen master Dogan said you think your mind is ideas and concepts. But actually, it is rivers and mountains and grass and stones.
The word that in Chinese or Japanese that's translated in English as mind is Shin. But that really translates as both heart and mind. So for instance, the chant of the third ancestor song side, think we recite it as verses on the faith mind or the heart mind. So really, it's better than saying mind is to say body mind, that really not to. And that's something we're going to get into today. From a western point of view. The understanding that's growing among scientists and researchers and psychologists, that body and mind are totally interrelated. Different aspects of the same thing. Same no thing.
Practicing Zen is pointed at helping us to overcome our delusion of separation here and everything else out there
this is a split that sincere is and practice helps us to heal. But I want to start out here with a book. It's entitled The extended mind, The Power of Thinking outside the brain, by a woman named Annie Murphy, Paul.
And she starts out, of course, it's a long book, and I'm not going to be going much farther than the first chapter because that makes the points that I really would like to get across. She starts off talking about a guy named John Coates, who was a trader, financial trader, at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, and Deutsche Bank. And he had a good education, PhD in Economics from the University of Cambridge. And he would devise what he felt were brilliant trades and lose money. Every now and then, he would have a hunch, said I would catch a glimpse with peripheral vision of another possibility, another path into the future. It showed up as a mere blip in my consciousness, momentary tug on my attention. But it was a flash of insight coupled with a gut feeling that gave it the imprimatur of the highly probable. And when you obeyed those gut feelings, he was usually rewarded with a profit. And he arrived at the conclusion that good judgment may require the ability to listen carefully to the feedback from the body. Then looking around him on the floor of the exchange, wherever he was doing his trading, he noticed that the best traders were generally not the best educated. said you'll find high IQ Ivy League educated stars, who cannot make any money at all, for all their convincing analyses all across the aisles since a trader with an undistinguished degree from an unknown University, who can not keep up with the latest analytics, but who consistently prints money to the bafflement and irritation of his seemingly more gifted colleagues. And so he began to want you to research the whole question of gut feelings, and how people come up come to have them. How could we monitor feedback from our bodies, and he ended up getting into scientific research. And he presented the fruits of his inquiry in 2016 dealeth, detailing the results of collaboration with academic neuroscientists and psychiatrist in the journal Scientific Reports. So he is looking at traders on a trading floor in London. And he asked each one, to identify the success of moments when he could feel his heartbeat. Sort of a simple heuristic a simple way of seeing how attuned people are to their bodies. And he found that traders were much better at doing this than the average person of their age, age and gender and any other controls that they were using. And moreover, those traders who were the best at being able to know when their heart was beating, able to call out the rhythm and better trades and made more money and longer 10 years.
So his conclusion was Our results suggest that signals from the body, the gut feelings of financial lower contribute to success in the markets. And he said that those who thrived in this mill you were not necessarily people with greater education or intellect, but rather, people with greater sensitivity to interoceptive sync signals. So interoceptive it's just a word for our sensations that come from the body. They say here, it's an awareness of the inner state of the body. Just as we have sensors that take in information from the outside world, our retinas, Kakalios, tastebuds olfactory bulbs. We have sensors inside our body that send send our brains a constant flow of data from within. Sensations generated in all places all over the body, in our internal organs, in our muscles, even in our bones. Go to an area of the brain and merge with thoughts and memories and sensory inputs from the external world and integrated into a single snapshot of our present condition, a sense of how I feel in the moment. As well as a sense of what actions we need to take to maintain a state of internal balance.
So we all are getting signals from our body. But using this heartbeat detection test, find out there is a huge variation. It's something I found out, I was diagnosed a number of years ago with atrial fibrillation. And generally, when I go into about, I know it, because I can feel my heart. And interestingly enough, a lot of people with a fib have no idea when they're in a fib or not. It's really handy for me, because it's because I'm able to know when that's going on. I don't have to take medication on a regular basis. I can just identify when it's kicking in, take a pill, and so far, so good. I'll let you know if it doesn't work.
Here, they talk about a researcher who was administering the heartbeat detection test to members of the public as part of an exhibit at London Science Museum. And visitors to the exhibit were instructed to place a finger on a sensor that detected their pulse. And the only the researcher this guy, Vivian Ainley, or maybe it was a woman Yeah, woman, maybe inanely could see what see the beats the the people being tested could not. Please tell me when your heartbeats she would say each patron who stepped forward, and elderly couples stopped by the booth had very different reactions to Amy's request. How on earth would I know what my heart is doing? The woman asked incredulously. Her husband turned and stared at her equally dumbfounded. But of course, you know, he exclaimed, don't be so stupid. Everybody knows what their heartbeat is. They had been married for decades, but they had never talked of or even recognize this difference between them. It's such an interesting thing. You know, we think that our internal life is similar to everyone else. And yet, we can have things going on that very few people do. Some people go to bed at night, and they see a bright light other people don't. It's just all kinds of weird variations that we assume everyone else has, and hearing your heartbeat is one of them.
So a little bit about how interoception is is actually important for things other than making good trades in the market. It's important, he says to recognize, she says that the world is full of far more information than our conscious minds can process. Fortunately, we are also able to store and collect the volumes of information we encounter on a non conscious basis. As we proceed through each day. We are continuously apprehending and storing regularities in our experience, tagging them for future reference. Through this information gathering and pattern identifying process, we come to know things. But we're typical, typically not able to articulate the content of such knowledge, or to ascertain just how we came to know it. This trove of data remains mostly under the surface of consciousness, and that's usually a good thing. It's submerged status preserves our limited stores of attention and working memory for other uses. So researchers did various tests. One of them was had people watch a computer screen where a cross shaped target would appear and then disappear and reappear in a new location. And then every now and then ask them to predict where do you think it'll show up next. And over the course of several hours, people got better and better, more and more accurate at saying where the target might be. But they could not put this knowledge into words even when the experimenters offered them money to do so. Subjects were not able to describe anything even close to the real nature of the pattern, which apparently was quite complex. But The capacious realm that lies below consciousness was more than roomy enough to contain it.
Says as we navigate a new situation, where unconsciously, let me add that scrolling through our mental archive of stored patterns from the past, checking for ones that apply to our current circumstances, we're not aware that these searches are underway. The human cognitive system is not equipped to handle such tasks on the consciously controlled level. So how do we make use of this knowledge and this unconscious knowledge? The answer is that when a potentially relevant pattern is detected, it's our interoceptive faculty that tips us off. With a shiver or a sigh, a quickening of the breath, or a tensing of the muscles. The body is rung like a bell to alert us to this useful and otherwise inaccessible information that we typically think of the brain is telling the body what to do, just as much does the body guide the brain with an array of subtle nudges and prods one psychologist is called this guide our somatic Rutter. Somatic of course of the body
another experiment where people played a gambling game where they drew cards from a deck that would cause them to win or lose money. Two of the decks were far more dodgy than the other ones, and they would tend to lose money if they drew from those. And within 10 draws, they could tell by monitoring with electrodes attached to the people's fingers, that they were getting a signal from their body, that that was the wrong deck. It took 50 draws before they were consciously aware of it.
says their bodies figured it out long before their brains did. Subsequent studies supplied an additional and crucial finding players who are more interoceptive Lee aware, we're more apt to make smart choices within the game. For them, the body's wise counsel came through loud and clear.
And of course, they say the benefits of the body's intervention extend well beyond winning a card game in the real world. After all, it's full of dynamic and uncertain situations in which there is no time to ponder all the pros and cons. If we rely on the conscious mind alone, we lose. So many people who have so much difficulty making a decision. And often the problem is, we're sorting through all our conscious thoughts, we can make lists, this would be good, this would be bad spreadsheets. But there's information that we can only get at if we listen to our bodies.
So many of us have had the experience of doing something because it just seemed logically like the thing to do, and overriding that feeling of No, this isn't so good.
So how do we how do we get better at doing that? How do we get more attuned to the wisdom of the body? To the wisdom of our true mind. Well, obviously, Zen helps quite a bit. But you can get stuck up in that ethereal mind of yours. It's why Zen is a body practice the body on the mat, but on the cushion. That's why we make such a big deal of posture in Zen practice.
There's another way that people sometimes can can get more attuned to their body. And that's a practice called the body scan. Something that when we did our program called Hello pain Few of us three of us three or four of us went out to various groups on the outside not center members at all. And people with chronic pain who were looking for some way of dealing with their pain other than medication or surgery, or all the things that people try that often don't work. Oh issue of how to deal with chronic pain. And what we did had a sort of three components. We worked with people with their thoughts, sort of the behavioral therapy approach, looking at the way people tend to generate automatic negative thoughts, believe the worst, fall into cycles of hoping things will get better and feeling bad when they don't predict disaster. And that's that that's an important part of it. And then the other two pieces were more practical one was the body scan, and the other was actually doing Zen. And we thought and we did the program that people would prefer the body scan because you do it lying down. And you know, you got a nice voice talking over, you know, you hear somebody taking you through your body, having you see what's going on in your big toe of your left foot and then working your way up, feeling the calf and the knee and the thigh. It's really kind of a it takes about 20 minutes, some of them are longer. And if anybody's interested, you know, I'd say try it out. Because it it's it's it's pretty effective. It's pretty interesting. Then people did like that quite a bit. But actually more people. Preferred Zen, just a simple breath practice, you know, when it's presented is not some weird woowoo. Meditation isn't. I mean, we were we were upfront about the fact that we are from the Zen Center, but it's just straightforward attention to the breath. And people found that that was quite helpful as well. Anyway, she says about it rooted in the Buddhist traditions of Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, the body scan was introduced to Western audiences, by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat Zinn, now a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Jon Kabat Zinn was here last in 2016. So yeah, just about six years ago, he gave the sort of keynote address for our 50th anniversary. It's really a good friend of the center. And although a lot of what he does is related to mindfulness meditation, he considers himself to be a Zen practitioner. And he says, people find the body scan beneficial because it reconnects their conscious mind to the feeling states of their body. By practicing regularly, people usually feel more in touch with sensations and parts of their body they had never felt or thought much about before. And then he goes through the whole way of doing it, which there's just not time to go through all that. Already done a little bit. But I should mention here that there are a number of Zen teachers one of them is go Gu I'm going to read from later disciple of Sheng yen, the Chinese and master who suggest doing a scan when you first sit down on the mat. So it's something you know possibly you can try. Just coming from one end of the body to the other feeling what's there relaxing and moving down. So way of getting settled into the body. We'll talk more about how helpful that can be. Couple more things from the book I'd like to touch on though, and one of them skipping ahead aways.
We just begin reading here. interoceptive receptions, sensations Excuse me. interoceptive sensations form the building blocks of even our most subtle and nuanced emotions, affection, admiration, gratitude, sorrow, longing, regret, irritation, envy, resentment. People who are more interoceptive li aware can interact more intimately and more skillfully with the emotion That interoceptive sensations help construct. We've talked a lot in the past about dealing with anger, and how one of the most helpful things you can do is feel it in the body to know that you're angry. The worst damage is done when we become enraged is when we're so focused on the object of our rage that we don't even note the fact that a whole bunch of changes are going on heart is beating, skin is flushing cetera cetera.
We should go goes on. Understanding the relationship between interoception and emotion requires correcting a basic misconception most of us hold about how feelings come about, the story we're used to telling goes like this, on the basis of what's happening to us, the brain determines the appropriate emotion, happy, sad, scared, then directs the body to act accordingly. Smile, cry or scream. In fact, the causal area arrow points in the opposite direction. The body produces sensations, the body initiates actions, and only then does the mind assemble these pieces of evidence into the entity we call an emotion. And then she points out that this was actually deduced over a century ago by the American psychologist William James. Talks about seeing a bear in the woods, you're out pounds, your palms sweat your legs break into a run. It might seem that it's because your brain generates a feeling of fear and then tells your body to get moving. But James suggested that it works the other way around. We feel fear because our heart is racing, because our palms are sweating, because our legs are propelling us forward. As he put it, common sense says we lose our fortune are sorry and weep. We meet a bear are frightened and run. We're insulted by a rival are angry and strike. But he went on this order of sequence is incorrect. It would be more accurate he wrote to say we feel sorry because we cry angry because we strike afraid because we tremble.
So using that insight, researchers have worked with people to help them adaptively work with difficult emotions. So psychology psychologists who study the construction of emotion call this practice cognitive reappraisal. It involves noticing what's going on, but reiterate reappraising it in an adaptive way. So to give an example, will talk about nervousness or anxiety and excitement. So consider the interoceptive sensations that accompany these two emotions, a racing heart, sweaty palms, a fluttering stomach, the feelings are almost identical. That is anxiety and excitement, feel very similar.
And you can, as they point out here, you can, you can switch you can move from anxiety to excitement, just with a little bit of self talk. It's an interesting example, because Roshi, my teacher reported to me at some point, his wife, Angela, who was a psychologist, pointed out to him that he never seems to be anxious. He just gets excited. And he's done that all his life. And he finally realized, Oh, I'm actually feeling anxiety. But it's incredibly adaptive. When when anxiety would make most people back off and not do what needs to be done. Person who gets excited plunges ahead. And if you know our teacher, well, you know that is one of his hallmark characteristics to boldly go where so what else might not go so instead of telling people to calm down, they tried having them reframe what they were feeling. And so they they subjected people. This is an associate professor at Harvard Business School named Alison wood Brooks, studying this way of handling nervousness, so she would subject groups of people to experiences that most everyone would find nerve wracking, completing a very difficult IQ test admitted stirred under time pressure delivering on the spot of persuasive public speech about why you are a good work partner, and most excruciatingly of all belting out an 80s pop song Don't stop believing by journey. Hopefully they gave him the words. Before beginning the activity, that two groups, participants were to direct themselves to stay calm, or tell themselves that they were excited. And as you might imagine, the IQ test takers who were told to tell themselves they were excited, did significantly better. Speech givers came across more persuasive, competent and confident however they might have measured that even the singer is performed more passively passively, as judged by the Nintendo Wii Karaoke Revolution program they use. Science has come a long way. All reported genuinely feeling the pleasurable emotion of excitement, a remarkable shift away from the unpleasant discomfort such activities might be expected to engender. You know one place where you can do this is going to dockside. A lot of people have just performance anxiety wrapped around that going in and showing you know what's going on with you in front of somebody else. Yeah, yeah, the answer is just do it. There's so many things where we let our negative feelings or fears stand in the way the more in touch we are with them. What we generally do is you have that bad feeling that comes up from the body, you know, if it's things are dire enough, you're you're going to feel it no matter how little interoception you normally have. And and instead of going into it and seeing what's going on, you shut it down. It's like Oh, I hate that. And you just want to make it stop.
If you if you feel it in a non non judgmental way, if you're able to open up of how is this What am I feeling? Where am I feeling it? How does it move doesn't last can do so much more. Another strategy that they were used with people is to reappraise debilitating stress as productive coping. And so they had, they took people who were about to take the GRE, the admissions exam for graduate school, and they divided them into two groups and one group, they gave them the following message. People think that feeling anxious while taking a standardized test will make them do poorly on the test. However, recent research suggests that arousal doesn't hurt performance on these tests, and can even help performance. People who feel anxious during a test might actually do better. This means that you shouldn't be concerned if you do feel anxious while taking today's GRE test. If you're finding yourself feeling anxious, simply remind yourself that your arousal could be helping you do well. Second group got no such message. And then three months later, when the scores were released, the students who had gotten the message had an average score that was 65 points higher than the others. And I looked into what the average score is on the GRE. And apparently it's something in the neighborhood of 300. So that's like a 20% improvement, with just that simple reading that simple message.
There's one other
benefit to awareness, body awareness that they mentioned here at the end of the chapter, which I'd like to touch on too. And that is the ability to tune in to others. You know, the body we have were what are called mirror neurons. So if you're with somebody who's you know, feeling depressed or feeling anxious, you can feel it in your own body. And they found that therapists who have that ability, provide better therapy but it goes beyond therapists. It's just us in our in our daily lives. When we can be attuned to what's going on, we become more available to other people. We know what's going on. I always think about conversations I've had with people where involved in the back and forth of whatever we're talking about. And all of a sudden they begin to cry. And I realized, I never saw that coming. How was that? I think I do a little better now.
So I want to, with what time I have left, talk about tuning into the body, in our in our Zen, and going to be reading from goo goo book I've read from before fact I may have even read this passage before but it's good to revisit. The book is called Silent illumination. He's a Chan teachers and teacher. As I said before a disciple sanctioned by Sheng yen. And he teaches at the at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
He says when practitioners come across the familiar Buddhist teaching of non grasping, they think that they have to let go of everything, that this is something they can do right away, that once they've done so everything will be fine. The truth is, we have to first see what it is we have to let go up, we have to expose our subtle emotional afflictions and negative habits. In exposing them, we may recognize that they have been part of us for a long time, there is a history behind our behaviors that may be part of our defense mechanisms and survival skills. So we have to accept them. Only when we accept them will we be able to take responsibility for and work through them, then we will no longer be under their influence. This is letting them go. This is a long process and it is not linear, but circular. The more we're able to see, the more we need to embrace the more we embrace and let our feelings come through us, the more we are able to expose the deeper layers of our habits. The more we work through them, the more we are able to let go and accept ourselves in time we become freer. This letting go is actually the easiest part of the process, because it happens naturally and suddenly. But we must first do our preparatory work we cannot anticipate when these habitual tendencies will release themselves and we cannot will it to happen practice is a lifetime process that brings out the best in us it really is a barrier to getting into to to feeling things more deeply when we immediately fall into our preferences what I don't want to feel what I'm dismayed to recognize there's a one of the body scans that that I've done the the voice the guide says talks about sensing in some area of the body and mentions not wanting things to be a certain way Yeah, yeah, it's the whole the whole business of learning, practicing learning to just see what's there. That alone will help. The extra push that we add to that the the extra shit that we bring into it doesn't help and it closes us off. Go goo goes on. The first attitude we have to cultivate is the feeling of contentment, contentment counters and overrides our constant tendency to grasp and chase after things.
Contentment has the flavor of being at ease, grasping nothing lacking nothing. It is being open and leisurely. In this state, we don't make anything into a big deal. All at the same time we engage with The freshness of each moment. cultivating an attitude of contentment is engaging with and yet not grasping at causes and conditions. He goes on there is no formulaic way to cultivate contentment or non grasping, we need to personally explore the flavor of contentment, and digest this feeling little by little becoming familiar with it in our lives. We can't just force this attitude on ourselves and expect to be able to plow through all of our problems. Contentment is not a mere concept, we need to appreciate the depth of what it means to be content, just not just being disinterested, or detached from everything.
says we have to be in tune with the body and anchor ourselves in it. Contentment resides in the heart, and it has associated bodily component. The easiest way to become familiar with contentment is to physically relax the body. We relax from the crown of the head to the toes. Jon Kabat Zinn goes from the toes of the head, but you know, whatever. section by section, we relax the skin, the pores, muscles, tendons, this means actually feeling different areas of our body. Most people are so out of tune with their bodies that they don't really know how to relax or what their bodies feel. So this requires practice.
I had a hard time in my early practice relaxing, because it seemed like the messages I was getting were all about tensing up striving as hard as you possibly can. Remember the what muon says in these commentary on the koan Mu, he says, So then make your whole body a massive doubt. And with your 360 bones and joints, and your 84,000 hair follicles, concentrate on this one word Mu. Way I read that, that sounds like just squeeze every muscle in your body. But he doesn't say anything about your muscles. With your 84,000 arbitrary number, but Buddhists are very fond of 84,000 84,000 hair follicles are your pores with the pores of the body. How do we concentrate with the pores of the body? It's complete awareness. Nothing to do with anxious striving, or panting.
This whole business about settling into the body really is something we just have to we have to work with. It's important that the body become our ally. So many people are plagued by feeling their body doesn't look right. I weigh too much. Possibly I'm too skinny. I don't know there are too many people these days who feel that way?
We have to be we have to find that contentment. We have to find that comfort in being who we are. There's a quote I've always wanted to read. It's kind of goofy.
It's from Bill Murray. comedian Bill Murray. Star of 10 out of 11 Wes Anderson movies. He says this. Let's all ask ourselves a question right now. What does it feel like to be you? What does it feel like to be you? Yeah, it feels good to be you doesn't it? Feels good? Because there's one thing that you are. You're the only one that's you? Right? So you're the only one that's you and we get confused sometimes, or I do I think everyone does. You try to compete. You think dammit, someone else is trying to be me. Someone else is trying to be me. But I don't have to earn or myself against those people. I don't have to armor myself against that idea. If I can really just relax and feel content in this way in this regard. If I can just feel just think now. How much do you weigh? This is a thing I like to do with myself when I get lost and I get feeling funny. How much do you weigh? Think about how much each person here weighs. And try to feel that weight in your seat right now, in your bottom right now. parts in your feet, parts in your bum. Just try to feel your own weight in your own seat in your own feet. Okay. So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back to the most into the most personal identification of very personal identification, which is I am, this is me now, here I am, right now. This is me now, then you don't feel like you have to leave and be over there or look over there. You don't feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere. There's just a wonderful sense of well being that begins to circulate up and down from your top to your bottom, up and down from your top to your spine. And you feel something that makes you almost want to smile that makes you want to feel good, that makes you want to feel like you could embrace yourself. So what's it like to be me, you can ask yourself, you know, the only way we'll ever know what it's like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself, that's where home is.
I want to follow that up with something from Rabbi associa Read This Before of Hana poll. This is something that Martin Buber wrote, he used to say, if they asked me in the next world, why were you not Moses? I will know the answer. But if they asked me, why were you not Zuzia I have nothing to say it's it being ourselves. Being willing to look see the whole mess, take it in a hole
it's so amazing. To have come across this practice to find to find the way to practice without grasping without the rotten being neurotic that being excessively competitive. Just opening up and learning finding out it's it's an adventure. It doesn't get old. If it gets old, you're doing something wrong. Never gets old. We're also so fortunate to be in a community like this. Whether we're here in the Zendo or connected online to have so many other people who are doing the same thing
yeah, we're just lucky. Well, I have a lot more than I thought I was going to do. Naturally I didn't get to it
so we will stop now in recite the four vows