2022-01-27 Satipaṭṭhāna (18) Posture as a Mirror for Oneself
4:36PM Jan 27, 2022
I thought this would be the last talk on the second exercise of the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta, which is mindfulness of postures.
As with the first exercise, and for each of the 13 exercises, it is followed by the refrain. The refrain is the same for each. This implies that this simple mindfulness of posture, as a foundation, can lead to the deepening of practice described in the refrain. It can lead to a kind of open awareness that is receptive to both what is inside and outside – in the ways in which we experience our body from the inside out and the ways we experience our body from the outside in. It is just open awareness – to know what is arising.
As we do this, there starts to become a sensitivity to how things just appear, even though there might be some predominant thing that lasts. At the same time, we notice that new things appear into consciousness, into awareness – from the body within the posture and the sensations of the body. To receive the comings and goings of sensations and to know it in this simple way can allow a deepening and quieting – settling and stilling the mind. Then we start to taste something of the freedom, of radical simplicity, where there is no craving, no clinging to anything.
That is one direction in which mindfulness of posture can go. I would like to take it a different direction. As we become more sensitive and more attentive to our posture, we can become aware of the details of our posture, or the subtle variations in our posture as we go through our lives. We can develop a tremendous amount of self-understanding by noticing the shifts in our posture.
They do not have to be big shifts. It does not have to go from standing to sitting, or sitting to lying down. But if we are standing with someone talking with them, or we are sitting with someone doing some activity, what is the posture expressing? Are we tense? Maybe we are not happy with what is going on. We are actually in a chair and pushing back into the backrest of the chair.
Or perhaps we are really eager to understand someone. In this desire to understand, we lean forward. Maybe they tell you that they know what the lottery number will be for winning a big prize. Then we lean forward because of the desire for something.
Or maybe we feel discouraged. Someone says something personally about us. Someone says to me that a self-respecting dharma teacher does not wear blue shirts. Then I notice that my shoulders sag and a little slumping goes on. There is deflation, discouragement, or disappointment.
There are all these little movements that the posture varies. As we pay attention to the posture and we are sensitive to it, then we can become aware of these subtle shifts and variations. We turn away. Someone says something and we find ourselves turning away. Or we hold ourselves more tensely. The posture expresses what we are feeling. The posture expresses some intention, or some purpose. All kinds of things are expressed in the posture.
This is represented in the English language by the verb "posturing." When we say someone is posturing, it means that they are asserting themselves, or their status – and trying to assume a place in the hierarchy or situation. They are trying to prove themselves or show who they are in relationship to others. That can also be expressed in posture.
Confidence can be expressed in posture. Care and attentiveness, can be expressed in posture. To really be present for someone can be expressed in posture.
Many years ago – I have not experienced this for almost 30 years. There was a series of people over the course of a year – three people, maybe. If I stood listening to them speak, and I was facing them directly – maybe I am a little intimidating when I directly face someone and listen to them – they would turn around almost 90 degrees to talk to me. If I went around, to be more directly facing them, they would turn around 360 degrees without knowing it. They did not want that direct looking or direct contact. I was quite surprised by this, partly because they seemed unconscious of it. But I do not know what was going on, now that it is 30 years later. Maybe it was something about how I was. Maybe I was too forthcoming in my attention. It can go in all kinds of ways.
Sometimes we pay attention to the postures of other people and it tells us how they are responding and reacting to us. This is one of the meanings or one of the interpretations of the first part of the refrain, "One experiences (or one observes) the body internally, and the body externally." Some people say it means to pay attention to other people, their bodies.
So now with posture, you can also notice other people's postures and the shifts they have. As we speak, and as we are doing things – as they are doing things – their posture can tell us a lot about their emotional state or their attitude about things.
So this exercise – this mindfulness of posture – can take on a more subtle form. This variation in posture is a means of both self-understanding, and a heightened understanding of other people. Our psychology, attitudes, feelings, and emotions can become very clear and are first revealed through shifts in our posture.
That happens to me sometimes. The first time I know that I am tense is when I am leaning forward. Sometimes when I am giving a dharma talk, and I am a little concerned that people are not understanding or following me, I notice that I begin leaning forward. It is the leaning forward that tells me that I am a bit worried about how people are hearing me, or how clear I might be. Occasionally, leaning forward does not mean that, but sometimes that is what it means. When I notice that, then I come back, relax and settle in again.
So, mindfulness of posture – I hope that these days of looking at it have heightened your attention, interest, and sensitivity to posture – your posture. Its value can be as one of the anchors to the present moment, staying present, staying mindful, being here and not wandering off in thoughts too far away from your presence.
So, thank you, very much. Tomorrow, we will start on the next exercise. It is a continuation of what I just did now, where mindfulness of posture can lead to a wider understanding of ourselves. The next exercise, also on mindfulness of the body, involves a richer, wider understanding of things in our lives as we go about them. So that is for tomorrow, and thank you very much.