2021-06-23 Mindfulness of the Body (3 of 4) Body as Nature
9:06PM Jun 23, 2021
We continue with the discussion of the exercises or practices related to mindfulness of the body as discussed in the discourse called the four foundations of mindfulness, or the four establishments of mindfulness. The next one has an analogy or a simile for it – an example of something that is evocative of what we are practicing here – an orientation for a particular practice on mindfulness of the body.
I am going to read you that simile: "One practices just as though there was a bag with an opening on both ends." I do not know what that means. It certainly makes me think of the human body, which has these two openings – things come in, and things go out of these two openings. I do not know if it is evocative of that, or whether it is just a kind of bag they used to have in the ancient world.
"Just as though there were a bag with an opening at both ends, full of many sorts of grain – such as hill rice, red rice, beans, peas, millet, and white rice. If a person with good eyesight were to open it, and review it thus – they would look upon it this way: "This is hill rice; this is red rice; these are beans; these are peas; this is millet; and this is white rice.""
I have seen bags and bowls of mixed beans – red beans, pinto beans, white beans and all kinds of beautiful beans. These are usually kinds of dried beans. There is a kind of beauty or simplicity to this – a delight. Sometimes I have even put by hands through them and let the image roll off my hands – just appreciating them. Sometimes each different kind of bean stands out in highlight. If you look at them, you can see each distinctly. You can also see the collection and all the different medley of colors and shapes in the mix.
This image here is of this bag full of different kinds of rice, different colors of rice, different kinds of beans, millet, and all these things. There is clarity. You can see each one. There is a collection of different things that we are seeing. There is a kind of specialness – seeing it all – and an amazement that this natural world produces this wide range of different seeds, that become human food. They dry nicely and store. They are available to cook at a later time and to feed us.
People who are close to and working with land – farmers – see these as seeds that can be planted for next year's crop. Amazingly, built into these seeds is the capacity to sprout and grow – develop into plants, flowers, or more seeds. The cycle continues naturally and easily.
Probably for most of us, if we looked at this bag of different things, we might have our preferences of which to eat. But just seeing it does not lend itself to greed, attachment or aversion to any particular seed – unless maybe we are allergic to some of it. We can marvel at this naturalness and ease – a beauty of sorts. But it is not something we would easily get attached to.
It is not that we start looking at the different seeds and say: "Well that one is a really superior seed. That is a more beautiful seed. Oh, that is a terrible seed. How could nature make this seed with that kind of shape and color?" It is like everything is seen in this natural way. This is how it is. There is appreciation, or marveling at it – but not a pull to be attached or aversive in any way – just the naturalness of it.
That is how I see this simile. When the text says, "Just as this." Then the exercise itself is to review, to visualize, to bring to mind for oneself – sitting in meditation – thirty-one parts of the body. This thirty-one parts of the body – sometimes there are thirty-two, if we add the brain – is a classic, regular meditation practice taught in Southeast Asian Buddhism and Theravadan Buddhism.
I have known people that when they get ordained as a monastic, this is the first meditation practice they are taught. It takes memorizing these thirty-one - thirty-two parts of the body. The fact that you have memorized and can recite them – review and visualize them – requires concentration and focus.
Maybe it is an exercise of memorization and focus, that is not as easy as something like breathing. You do not have to memorize that you are breathing – and it does not require this higher order attention or functioning of the mind to stay focused – as memorization does.
It is a way of training the mind to be present. It is present for something that is very important for human beings, and central to who we are – our body. To be aware of these different parts of the body with the same naturalness and detachment or non- attachment – the absence of attachment or absence of aversion – but as a marvel. Watching the naturalness of these beans and seeds is the same thing as just being with the body in that way.
This for some of us human beings, is a radically different way to relate to our body. Human beings – maybe because of social conditioning, or maybe because it is built into our DNA – are very concerned about our attractiveness and our non-attractiveness. We spend an inordinate amount of time caring for that. Some people spend a lot of money concerned with their physicality and how they look. Some people spend an inordinate amount of time being critical, embarrassed, or ashamed of some parts of their body and how they are.
There is a higher order self-consciousness and valuation. A lot of it is learned from our society. There are trends, social trends, on what kind of body types are considered attractive or appropriate or not appropriate. We buy into these social constructs and ideas.
There is a tremendous amount of pain and distress that goes along with this completely natural thing. We do not see the beans being upset about being a certain kind of seed or a different shape. They are allowed to be who they are. The same species of trees can have all kinds of different shapes. Generally, we don't look and say: "That is not an appropriate shape to have. That branch should not be coming out at that angle." It is just like all part of the natural world.
How do we shift our attention from this more complicated, socially conditioned concern about our body – from an image-based concern, an external image, one where we project ourselves to others – to a very different way of being with the body? If we are not inclined to look at ourselves or others in physical terms, as being better or worse than anyone – then there is no hierarchy, no judgments of people – just the naturalness and ease of all the different ways we can be.
This exercise begins with four or five of the external things that we human beings tend to be most concerned with. When we become a teenager our self-consciousness around our looks becomes more and more marked. Sometimes it can be earlier or sometimes later, depending on our social situations and what is valued.
The text goes like this: "A practitioner reviews or visualizes, considers this body up from the soles of the feet and down from the top of the hair. One considers his whole body in both directions – reviews it and visualizes it in this way: """In this body, there are head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, and skin.""
How many of you have been preoccupied with these things? Maybe you are spending a lot of money to adjust them and fix them so they are this way or that way. You are upset, embarrassed, ashamed, or shy about this. Our society creates a tremendous amount of suffering and imposes it. We project concerns on your skin color, for example. It is heartbreaking what we do around this.
But here just being reviewed, visualized, and considered, like we would look at this bag of beans – not negative, not positive – just a bag of dry seeds. The seeds themselves, because they are dried, are unappetizing, not ready for us. They are just there, but they have their value and importance.
It starts with the external. Then it goes deeper inside. The first places were kind of neutral. I imagine the ancient world people did not have a really clear sense of what these organs were. It goes on: "Flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery."
If any of you have ever had a chance to look inside of human body – going to cadaver labs. There can be an amazing beauty to it all. It is not a beauty that is exactly attractive or aversive. It is like, just, "Wow!" It is like looking into the Grand Canyon. Wow! That is quite something. It is a natural marvel to see it.
Then it goes on to things that some of us would consider a bit unclean, not attractive, maybe even a little repulsive. It goes from what we might be attracted to, to what we may be most commonly repulsed by: "The contents of the stomach, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints, and urine."
In what way can we look at all these different parts of the body equally? What approach can help us visualize, get focused, review step by step, get concentrated, to have the mind become still – and to free the mind from its reactivity for or against these different parts of the body?
The degree to which the body is a preoccupation – our own body, other people's bodies – for lust. Is there some appropriate, freeing, and beneficial way to see all these different parts of the body? The ones we are attracted to, and the ones we are repulsed by – to find an equality. Maybe neutrality is the right word, but it seems too passive. Maybe it is a kind of appreciation with no attachment and no aversion.
Just watch the naturalness of it, which frees us from our social conditioning, from self-consciousness, from our preoccupation. It settles us, allows us to be settled and intimately connected to this amazing naturalness – this natural wonder, the marvel of who we are physically, free of attachment and aversion.
If we go inside and feel our body from the inside out, that is what the body really appreciates. I think our body appreciates that best – just being allowed to be the body without the overlay of all the projections, values, and ideas that the mind lays on top of it. To allow the naturalness and the natural beauty of who we are radiate from the inside out.
Freeing ourselves from the particular constructs of a particular society and times that we are part of. In that way, our body, our hearts from the inside out, will sing. We will just sing and play the song of our own naturalness, and be free.
So thank you, and we will continue this series tomorrow. Thank you very much.