Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday we will touch the earth in a slightly different way than we normally do at Still Water. This week, we will rest on the earth, and focus on mindfulness of the body. We will explore awareness of the bodily sensations, breath, energy of the body, thoughts, and emotions in the body through a guided meditation practice. This practice is partly based on what I have learned from some of my Buddhist Yoga teachers, including Anne Cushman, Philip Moffitt, Janice Gates, and Frank Jude Boccio, as well as my own practice of mindfulness of the sensations in my body.
For many years, I have been practicing and teaching yoga as part of my mindfulness practice, and have discovered that mindfulness of my body is a path to freedom. In addition to the sensations that we normally associate with the body (aches, pains, itches, etc.), I have been able to locate in my bodily sensations my breath, emotions, thoughts, and energies. All wonderful objects for my mindfulness and all bring me more clarity about who I am. By being mindful of these sensations, I am learning how I create more suffering for myself by grasping at and pushing away from the sensations as they arise.
As Stephen R. Schwartz said (from a 1992 interview in Sun Magazine),
"We are the most powerless when we believe what we’ve been told about ourselves, when we don’t find out what we really are and what life is about. The greatest power comes from approaching our own experience honestly and directly, not through the dictates of conditioning… It’s fundamental. There’s a feeling. There’s an interpretation of that feeling. You locate the feeling in the body, breathe with it, listen to it as if it were a kind of message. The feeling becomes a guide. But its guidance is far different from the guidance which comes from the mind… There is nothing in the feeling to dislike. It is a movement in the body, a flow of something, maybe a hurt or a woundedness, which we assume to be weak, neurotic, or wrong. Feelings come and feelings go. The interruption of this flow comes from conditioning, from habitually imposed responses. When a person turns toward whatever is being felt in the body, it is always different from what they initially thought."
In the Sattipatana Sutta, the Buddha expressed a similar idea. The very first practice of mindfulness in the sutta is mindfulness of the body. It all starts there.
"And how does a practitioner remain established in the observation of the body in the body?
"One goes to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty room, sits down cross-legged in the lotus position, holds one’s body straight, and establishes mindfulness in front of oneself. "Breathing in, one is aware of breathing in. Breathing out, one is aware of breathing out. Breathing in a long breath, one knows, ‘I am breathing in a long breath.’ Breathing out a long breath, one knows, ‘I am breathing out a long breath.’ Breathing in a short breath, one knows, ‘I am breathing in a short breath.’ Breathing out a short breath, one knows, ‘I am breathing out a short breath.’
"Moreover, when walking, the practitioner is aware, ‘I am walking’; when standing is aware, ‘I am standing’; when sitting, is aware, ‘I am sitting’; when lying down, is aware, ‘I am lying down.’ In whatever position one’s body happens to be, one is aware of the position of the body.
"When one is going forward or backward, one applies full awareness to one’s going forward or backward. When one looks in front or looks behind, bends down or stands up, one also applies full awareness to what one is doing. One applies full awareness to wearing the robe or carrying the alms bowl. When one eats or drinks, chews or savors the food, one applies full awareness to all this. When passing excrement or urinating, one applies full awareness to this. When one walks, stands, lies down, sits, sleeps or wakes up, speaks or is silent, one shines his awareness on all this."
On Thursday, after our sitting, walking, and sitting, we will move into a reclining position, and from this position, I will guide us through an awareness practice for about 20 minutes. After this, we can share our experiences with the practice, or our experiences of being mindful of the bodily sensations in our everyday life. Some questions we might want to ask ourselves are: What did I notice in my body? Could I feel the movement of breath in my body? What was my energy like during this practice? Could I sense the energy in my body as heavy or light? What emotions did I find were alive in me? Could I physically sense emotions in my body? Was my mind active or quiet? Could I feel my thoughts as sensations? What surprised me during this practice? How might this practice of mindfulness of the body support me on my path?
I look forward to practicing together on Thursday.