Quieting the Body

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Dear Still Water Friends,

One night in India, outside the town of Savatthi, 2600 years ago, the Buddha talked with his students about the various ways they were practicing meditation and then recommended to them an additional way — the practice of the full awareness of breathing.

What the Buddha said that night has become one of his most well-known discourses and is the basis for how mindfulness is usually taught to beginning practitioners in the West. Thich Nhat Hanh often teaches the practice, and two of his books (Breathe! You Are Alive and The Path of Emancipation) are commentaries on the discourse.

There are in all 16 exercises, four each focused on the body, the feelings, the mind, and the objects of mind. This Thursday evening we will work with the first four focused on the body and work especially with the fourth exercise, the practice of quieting the body.

In Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation, the first four exercises are:

Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath.
Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.’

Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath.
Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.

Breathing in I am aware of my whole body.
Breathing out I am aware of my whole body.

Breathing in, I calm my whole body.
Breathing out, I calm my whole body.

The key word in the fourth exercise is passambhayam, the Pali verb translated as calm. According to the Pali dictionary, it means "to calm down, to be quiet." The associated noun, passaddhi, is translated as calmness, tranquility, repose, or serenity.

For me, long indoctrinated into the materialism of the hard sciences, learning that we as humans can do this – that we can consciously change the energy configurations in our mind in a way that can change both the basic physiology of our bodies and how we experience our bodies – was like discovering a miracle.

In the tradition of mindfulness passaddhi, “tranquility,” is a very important state of being to cultivate. In the discourse on full awareness of breathing, in addition to “calming” the body, we are encouraged in the 8th exercise to “calm” the feelings. Passaddhi is also one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment: a complement to mindfulness, investigation of dharmas, energy, joy, concentration, and equanimity.

On Thursday, during our second sitting period, we will practice together a guided meditation focused on developing tranquility in the body. In our discussion we will explore the practice of quieting the body, considering especially:

  • Our experience of bringing tranquility to our bodies during meditation — what supports it and what makes it more difficult.
  • How we feel after we have calmed down.
  • How developing our capacity for calming our body has affected, or might affect, the quality of our lives off the cushion.

I hope you can be with us.

An except on calming, from Thich Nhat Hanh, is below.

In addition to our regular weekly events, Still Water is offering two special social events in August.

  • Saturday, August 1, at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a morning of Lotuses, Food, and Mindful Friends.
  • Saturday August 29, at Sycamore Island, an afternoon of canoeing, swimming, eating, and relaxing on an island in the Potomac.

Details for both events are on our web site.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Calming the Body
by Thich Nhat Hanh, from Breathe! You Are Alive: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing

“Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.” It is like drinking a cool glass of lemonade on a hot day and feeling your body become cool inside. When you breathe in, the air enters your body and calms all the cells of your body. At the same time, each “cell” of your breathing becomes more peaceful and each “cell”of your mind also becomes more peaceful. The three are one, and each one is all three. This is the key to meditation. Breathing brings the sweet joy of meditation to you. You become joyful, fresh, and tolerant, and everyone around you will benefit.

Although the aim of the fourth breathing exercise is to bring calmness to the movements of your body, its effect is to bring calmness to your breathing and to your mind also. The calmness of one brings calmness to all three. In the calmness of meditation, discrimination between body and mind no longer exists, and you dwell at rest in the state of “body and mind at one,” no longer feeling that the subject of meditation exists outside of the object of meditation.