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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 10 46 So investigate: What is the voice behind the emotional charge of the stuck place? Who is standing on the edge? This can give us a good insight into what the mind is affected by. That subject, that person, becomes one’s meditation theme. Here the standard meditation for relaxing the energy that engenders self is one of empathy, goodwill, and compassion— holding this self in the sphere of wishing it well and recognizing its suffering. There’s a change of intention and energy there. In this way, we’re changing the way we relate. We are not trying to change our apparent self, or even understand it, but rather use it purely as a way to establish the sphere of loving- kindness and compassion and relate to our helplessness or meanness. All we want to do is offer kindness and compassion very purely. And as we begin to discern the self as a succession of mind-objects rather than as a single true and solid thing, our center starts to shift. We feel less oppressed, and no longer on the edge. Another resource is hold- ing this stuckness in its bodily sense. With stuckness, we may feel tension in the body, or a more visceral or energetic dis- turbance. One approach is to sit and scan the body with awareness, and particularly to open up, as stuckness tightens places in the body. We may feel gripped in the head, tense in the belly—or bits of the body disappear out of consciousness as other places get intense. Try sweeping the body with atten- tion, or breathing through the whole body with the intention to make this whole bodily sphere into a good place in which the sticking energy can sit. Rather than trying to get rid of it, find a place to hold that conundrum—make the sensed bodily space big enough. The feeling of sticking and holding on tightens and narrows us. Sensory impact, isolation, and the afflictive relationship experiences that people have tend to drive them behind the skin wall, giving rise to the view that we are inside this body. On retreat we may want to go even further inside it; but mind- fulness of body is to be practiced internally and externally— that is, in terms of how it feels both as a subjective entity and as something that exists sensitive to and dependent on an external context. As a thorough day-to-day practice then, the bodily experience one should be mindful of is not a particular place in the body, but rather the nervous and energetic sense of embodi- ment. Our conscious process is embodied, and the body has an intelligence. This embodied intelligence is not within physical form; physical form manifests within it. It has an energy and a sensitivity that moves out around this physical form. And it interacts with the emotions: The bodily sense and the emo- tional sense work together. For example, when we enter a room we find a place to sit that feels comfortable in an intuitive way. We sit at a distance from other people that feels right. Otherwise we feel awkward. Furthermore, when we have powerful emotions, we sense their effect in a bodily way—the nerves start firing, the face flushes, the guts tighten or relax. This is somatic intelligence. It means that this physical form can attune to its environment without touching things. When we feel afflicted and hurt we contract. We withdraw that sensitivity, switch off our context, and go up in our heads. The effect is a retrac- tion of awareness, replaced by a numb, fixated state. Many people live like this most of the time. The body grows clumsy, losing its grace; mental atti- tudes and emotions seize up. People become rigid, unable to see things without a simple this-or-that mentality; the lateral thinking, the ability to play, to look around, or to be spacious—all the flexibility and agility— goes out of awareness. So bringing that full sensitivity back to the body through meditation is very helpful, because the more mental aspect of awareness takes its cues from the somatic experience of the body. In general, the instruction is to widen and soften as one experiences the way the body senses its own presence. This makes it possible to recognize where stress is manifesting physically, and to release it. In mindfulness of body, it’s impor- tant to attend to the joints, where space can get lost. The space element in the body is primarily the small spaces in between joints and tissues. When one gets rigid, the tendency is for all of that to contract. So practice opening the hands, relaxing the arms, opening the shoulders, relaxing the jaw where it will tend to clamp, and opening up the place between the skull and the neck, all of which tend to shut down. Deliberately widen We’re not trying to change the stuckness, or even understand it, but rather to attend to it, feel it out, and listen to it. We’re no longer absorbed in the hostility or hopelessness or frustration of trying to do something to make it change.