2021-02-19 Mindfulness of Breathing (36) Embodiment Leading to Joy
5:29PM Feb 19, 2021
Many of you have heard me, and other Buddhist teachers, teach the value of being embodied. Sometimes I imagine that it would have been nice if we translated 'sati' not as mindfulness, but as 'bodyfulness.' It's such an important part of this practice.
The two classic teachings by the Buddha on mindfulness practice – the "Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness" and the "Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing" – begin with an emphasis on mindfulness of the body. One of the reasons for this is that the more present we are for our body, the more there is awareness that's alive and available through the body, the more the body becomes an instrument for the growth of meditation practice. It becomes the vehicle and space for some of the deeper feelings and qualities of meditation that begin to arise. As the body receives some of the benefits of meditation, those benefits grow and fill out – and we get the most out of them.
As the body becomes more alive and sensitive – and more of an instrument of sensations, experiences and feelings – it's not just feeling the body itself. The body becomes the sense door for feeling some of the goodness that comes from meditation. I use the word 'goodness' in an abstract, vague way, as a word to describe some of the positive feelings that can come with meditation. Classically, it's joy and happiness. It could also be contentment. I like the word ease quite a bit. There can be gladness. Deep feelings of equanimity or confidence can arise. Even feelings of inner cleanliness and purity, as embodied feelings, can course through us.
All these qualities are felt more fully when they're felt throughout the whole body – felt with the body. If the body is not available, then it becomes a mental thing. Sometimes that's quite wonderful and profound in its own way. But especially in the beginning stages of meditation, it's really a way of being quite limited in the experience. It gives us a different impression of what meditation is about.
An orientation, which is too much towards the mind, doesn't really help us develop the wholeness and the unification of all of ourselves, which is ideally what we're looking for in Buddhist meditation. One meaning of 'samādhi' is unification: bringing it all together here – present.
The body is not just a bunch of physical stuff that we carry around with us. The body is a significant repository of nerve endings. It's a significant location for the emotions, the feelings, and the goodness of meditation to course through us, or fill us and be here. To begin tuning in – relaxing the body, sitting in with the body, feeling the body – is one way in which we begin to open up to this repository of goodness.
Classically, what comes next after the first four steps of 'ānāpānasati,' as the practice deepens, are feelings of well-being, joy, ease, or gladness. To know this is coming, and that it's part of meditation, encourages us to be a little more sensitive to when the hints of these feelings appear. We start feeling the good feelings that come. Sometimes it feels like pleasure in the body or tingling in places – a sense of lightness.
Not that we're trying to make it happen, or searching for it, or striving for it. But when they begin to show themselves there's an art to opening to them, relaxing with them or including them so that they go along with the breathing or the breathing goes along with them. It encourages us to become even more embodied – to feel these in our body. As we feel this goodness and breathe with it and open with it, we continue this process of feeling and sensing and developing as we go along.
Contentment is part of this. To feel contentment isn't a moral obligation, but it allows for this filling out of the practice, and really being rooted and centered here in this body, feeling more and more. It's the same thing with the idea of being in the present moment, and not thinking about the past and future. It's not a moral obligation to do that.
But when we're no longer caught up in the past, in the future, and thoughts, it allows for the possibility of filling out more into the wholeness of this moment, which includes so much more of us. It's like momentum – a movement – towards becoming whole and present with all of who we are. Part of that comes along with relaxation, tranquility, calmness, more space for delight, joy, well-being, a sense of pleasure in just being alive and being here.
I think of this joy of meditation as being joy that has no opposite. It's just joy that exists in its own way. If it had an opposite, then we could swing from one to the other. But it has no opposite. Certainly we can not have it. But it doesn't swing. It's not part of a pendulum that goes from one to the other.
For example, if your joy is dependent on praise, the opposite then is blame. And then the pendulum can swing, because it's dependent on getting something. Or if your joy is dependent on success, then there can be failure. If it's dependent on physical pleasure, it can be dependent on things being uncomfortable. But the joy of meditation does not have an opposite. It just has a wonderful, simple, clear quality of surfacing, arising, and being here – without depending on the things that come and go in the world. It's a wellspring that flows within the body.
The more we can center ourselves in the body – relax and be present – the more we will start to open up to our potential – our capacity – for well-being, joy, and happiness. And that's a wonderful thing. It turns out that meditative joy and happiness continue the process of unification – of wholeness – bringing more and more of ourselves into the picture, so that we can continue on the path to liberation.