Dear Still Water Friends,
Recently, I feel more tightness and tension, and my breath is sometimes shallow and strained. I know the sources of the tension.” My body is responding to the changes and transitions in my life. I am traveling more frequently, balancing time at home with time away. Also, my daughter and her children are living with me temporarily, as they search for their new home. While these changes are positive, they have upset my equilibrium. For support I turned to Thich Nhat Hanh’s (Thay’s) book, Breathe, You Are Alive. These passages from the section “Awareness of the Body” are especially helpful:
Breathing is the vehicle that brings us home, to our body. If we do not come back to our home and care for it, who will? When we come home to it, our body breathes a sigh of relief and says, “She has come back at last!” We do not blame our body, accusing it of being a nuisance because we have a headache or an upset stomach. We embrace our wounded body, care for it, and heal it with right mindfulness. In the Anapanasati Sutta, the Buddha teaches four exercises in connection with the body:  Breathing.  Recognizing the body, calming the body.  Recognizing the positions of the body. When standing, sitting, walking, or lying down, you know you are standing, sitting, walking, or lying down.  Recognizing actions of the body: bending down, drinking tea, lifting up a cup of tea. If your actions are hurried and forgetful, you recognize that, and once you do, your hurriedness and forgetfulness will disappear.
My body has been sending me messages. Instead of trying to ignore them or being annoyed by them, I decided to stop and give them my full attention. These messages are trying to help me. My job is to slow down and listen.
My body and my breath are my “care partners,” working together for my benefit. When I feel my shoulders lifting and tensing, I can ask myself, “What is that about?” Sometimes it is a worried thought about not doing or being enough. Sometimes it is an old habit that urges me to take responsibility for others in unhealthy ways. In these moments, I can give myself compassion and take time to breathe.
Thay continues in Breathe, You Are Alive:
Our breathing is part of our body. Our breath is the door through which we can go back to our body, our perceptions, and so on. With the energy of mindfulness, we embrace our breathing, our in-breath and our out-breath. We become one with our in-breath and out-breath. As our practice continues, our in-breath and out-breath become deeper, more harmonious, more peaceful. Then we go a bit deeper and embrace our body and reconcile ourselves with our body. We might do this in a sitting position or lying down. It is very important to go back to our body and show our concern, attention, and love. Our body might be suffering. It might have been abandoned for a long time. This is the beginning of the practice of love. We become aware of our body; we are determined to take good care of our body. And our body will feel much better when we’re able to do so.
Thay invites us to “embrace our breathing… embrace our in-breath and our out-breath… embrace our body and reconcile ourselves with our body.” Embracing is defined as “holding closely in one’s arms as a sign of affection” or “to accept and support enthusiastically or willingly.” I usually think of just noticing my breath. Thay calls us to a very different relationship: to embrace our breath.
This final passage from Breathe, You Are Alive is very encouraging to me.
We know that our body has the capacity to heal itself. When we cut our finger, we don’t have to do much. We just clean it and allow it to heal—maybe for one or two days. If we tamper with the wound, if we worry too much or panic, it may not heal. We know that when an animal is wounded, it looks for a quiet place to lie down. Wisdom is present in the animal’s body. It knows that rest is the best way to heal. It doesn’t do anything, not even eat or hunt; it just lies down. Some days later, it can get up. It is healed. Human beings have lost confidence in their body. We don’t know how to rest. Mindful breathing helps us to relearn the art of resting. Mindful breathing is like a loving mother holding her sick baby in her arms saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you, just rest.”
Thay teaches me that in the midst of change and transitions, when I am feeling out of balance, my breath is my anchor. I can listen with love to my body’s messages and hold my strong emotions, doubts and pain with tenderness. I can trust my body’s wisdom.
I am thankful that I can find support and nourishment in the Dharma, the Buddha and the Sangha. The thought of being with you on Thursday, to share our lives and our practice, makes me smile.
Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will focus our Dharma Sharing on our relationship with our breath and our bodies. Recently, what messages have they been asking you to pay attention to? What helps you slow down, listen, and heal?
With gratitude and love,
Congratulations to Linda and Rachel Phillips-Anderson from the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center; Mary Carnell from Opening Heart Mindfulness Community; and Nigel Twose from the Washington Mindfulness Community. After several years of study, practice, and mentorship, they were recently ordained into the Order of Interbeing — a community of monastics and lay people who have committed to living their lives in accord with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, a distillation of the Bodhisattva teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.