Dear Still Water Friends,
I was feeling very much out of sorts. Nothing felt right. Nothing felt worth doing. But doing nothing didn’t feel right either. I simply didn’t like any of my options, and I wasn’t sure why. What in the world was going on?
I sat there, flummoxed, frustrated, somewhat despairing. I felt my breath in my belly and stopped. I stayed with my breath and really felt all of my in-breath and all of my out-breath. I sat up straight, took a deep in-breath, and fully exhaled. Energy seemed to start flowing again as I became aware of my body. I felt some space around the churning, distraught mind and became aware I was much more than the uncomfortable feelings and frustrated thoughts. I could actually breathe and feel my own body instead of being frozen in thought. I could also feel the space around my body. Coming back to my breath and body caused a shift in perspective that opened an opportunity for deeper understanding of the funk I was in.
Coming back to our breath is one way of coming back to our body and establishing mindfulness. It’s a foundational practice. It gives us an anchor in stressful times, and it reminds us that we’re alive in body, not just mind. Many of us live in our heads and forget our bodies—quite literally. I remember during a long retreat in another tradition seeing a monk eating by himself in silence. As he ate quickly, hunched over his plate, his left elbow rested on the table, and his left hand was outstretched in an open clench, as if grasping an invisible basketball next to his head. His hand seemed to reflect his mind—tense, suspended, unaware of his surroundings as he grappled with whatever his mind was chewing on.
If we’re lucky, we have all caught ourselves in similar poses, perhaps with shoulders tensed up towards our ears or our foot tapping out our anxiousness or our shoulders slumped in surrender. Our bodies don’t just reflect our mind, they form our mind. Notice how our mental clarity shifts with fatigue or after a heavy meal. The two aren’t separate, but most of us spend far more time with our minds than our bodies, giving the mind first class treatment and relegating the body to steerage.
Coming back to our breath and body are not just doorways to mindfulness, they are mindfulness itself. They allow us to become truly present and really alive both to ourselves and to those we love. Grounding ourselves in our walking when we walk, our eating when we eat, and our sitting when we sit are, in a sense, the entirety of the practice. It’s really that simple (and something we have to bring ourselves back to over and over and over again).
This week we’ll practice a guided body scan meditation during our sitting practice, watch a portion of a Dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, and discuss how we bring ourselves back to our breath and body in order to be truly present. A quotation from Thich Nhat Hanh below discusses body and mind together.
As is our tradition on the first Thursday of the month, we will also offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
I hope you can join us.
From Buddha Mind, Buddha Body by Thich Nhat Hanh
Two Feet, One Mind
In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha is described as the most respected and loved creature who walked on two feet. He was so loved because he knew how to enjoy a good walk. Walking is an important form of Buddhist meditation. It can be a very deep spiritual practice. But when the Buddha walked, he walked without effort. He just enjoyed his walking. He didn’t have to strain, because when you walk in mindfulness, you are in touch with all of the wonders of life within you and around you. This is the best way to practice, with the appearance of non-practice. You don’t make any effort, you don’t struggle, you just enjoy walking, but it’s very deep. “My practice,” the Buddha said, “is the practice of non-practice, the attainment of non-attainment.”
For many of us, the idea of practice without effort, of the relaxed pleasure of mindfulness, seems very difficult. That is because we don’t walk with our feet. Of course, physically our feet are doing the walking, but because our minds are elsewhere, we are not walking with our full body or our full consciousness. We see our minds and our bodies as two separate things. While our bodies are waking one way, our consciousness is tugging us in a different direction.
For the Buddha, mind and body are two aspects of the same thing. Walking is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. But we often find it difficult or tedious. We drive a few blocks rather than walk in order to “save time.” When we understand the interconnectedness of our bodies and our minds, the simple act of walking like the Buddha can feel supremely easy and pleasurable.