Breathing the Body Alive

posted in: Dharma Topics | 0

Thursday Evening Online Program
March 24, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water friends,“What mindfulness practices would you suggest for anxiety?” a Still Water practitioner asked me in an email this week. They meditate regularly, practice deep relaxation, and work out, all of which help some. But still, anxiety pervades their life.

“Ahh,” I said to myself, “this is something I know about.” Throughout my life, because of my anxiety, I’ve said and done a lot of stupid things. And, also, I have not said and not done things that I should have said or done. With time and life experiences, especially mindfulness practices, the seed of anxiety in my storehouse consciousness appears to have gotten smaller, but it is still there, ready to arise when conditions are sufficient.

It seems that  all the people I know well have strong “afflictive emotions” (kleshas in Sanskrit) buried in their consciousnesses. For some it is anxiety, for others it might be fear, sadness, depression, need to control, blaming, pride, jealousy, etc. All are deeply learned ways of responding to the discomforts and displeasures of life. If we are lucky, at some point we realize that these responses, though they feel automatic or “just who I am” are not helpful; they limit our ability to be present for joy and love and to have satisfying relationships with the people around us.

Some of the practices I now use to work with my seed of anxiety and other afflictive emotions are:

  • A form of meditation that allows me to be relaxed and able to “breathe my body alive” so that I can feel afflictive emotions and not be overwhelmed by them.
  • Learning to be curious about and lean into my afflictive emotions.
  • Journaling about my afflictive emotions: How were they created and maintained? What triggered this particular instance?
  • Sharing openly about the afflictive emotions with trusted friends and other practitioners.
  • Through personal experience and reading, becoming aware of how others have managed their afflictive emotions.
  • From time to time, when I feel I am stuck or need in need of a different perspective, talking with psychotherapists and others with special expertise.

This Thursday evening we will explore the first bullet point: breathing our bodies alive. We will begin with a guided meditation focused on relaxation and using the energy of our minds to heighten the subtle experiences of our body, including of the Dantian energy center and the the Ren and Du meridians, which are central to Qi Gong meditation and Tai-Chi.

After our break and  introductions, a second, shorter meditation will extend our contemplative awareness to our five senses, and to our hearts, our affective experiences of feelings, emotions, and moods.

Our Dharma sharing will begin with these questions:

  • Were there parts of tonight’s guided meditations that were especially helpful or challenging?
  • How do I usually experience my body in meditation?
  • What practices have I found to be helpful in working with my anxiety and other afflictive emotions?

You are invited to join us.

Related readings on embracing our emotions (Thich Nhat Hanh) and experiencing our bodies (Will Johnson) are below.

Much love and many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

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Recognizing and Embracing Our Pain
by Thich Nhat Hanh from Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child

We practice mindful breathing, mindful walking in order to generate the energy of mindfulness and concentration. It’s exactly with that energy of mindfulness and concentration that we recognize and embrace our painful feeling that is there. We should not cover up the pain. We take care of it. To ignore or suppress the pain would be doing violence to ourselves. Mindfulness is us, but the painful feeling is also us. There’s no fighting. This is the view of nonduality.

When we avoid going home to ourselves, we allow our pain to grow. The method proposed by the Buddha is to go home and take care. We need some mindfulness and concentration. We should be able to generate mindfulness and concentration so we’re strong enough to not be overwhelmed by our pain and sorrow, and with that energy of mindfulness and concentration we can go home with confidence and recognize the painful feelings. “Breathing in, I recognize the painful feeling in me. Breathing out, I embrace the painful feeling in me.” This is a real practice. A practitioner should be able to recognize her pain and embrace it tenderly, like a baby. Sometimes it may be a little bit difficult, especially when we’re beginning. The collective energy of the Sangha can help.

Aligned, Relaxed, and Resilient
by  Will Johnson from The Posture of Meditation

A body that is not aligned, relaxed, and resilient creates in itself a great deal of tension and extraneous pain. Any unnecessary tension that exists in the body directly translates itself into tension in the mind. Mentally, we feel compressed, compacted, bound in. If, on the other hand, we are able to bring out body into a state of alignment, relaxation, and resilience, then our mind begins to soften and expand as well. . . . Acts of clinging and aversion, no matter how overt or subtle, are expressed through systematic tensing in the musculature of the body. It may seem initially far-fetched to reduce the pain and suffering we experience at the level of mind to what have become virtually involuntary patterns of muscular tensing. Once again, however, we need to remind ourselves that states of mind are dependent on bodily postures. Objects, images, perceptions, thoughts, and attitudes continually come and go in the complex flow of life. Holding on to any of them with the intention that they stay with us forever is dependent on the same kind of muscular tension that we would feel were we to hang on to a long rope that has been secured around the neck of a wild animal. Pushing any of them away with the hope that they will disappear from our lives leaves us feeling equally exhausted and depleted. Through familiarizing ourselves with the posture of meditation, we can begin to let go of the muscular patterns that lock us into a constant vacillation between the clinging and aversion that cause us so much pain and suffering.