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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 49 and just feel that for a moment. Now, pretend that you don’t trust your left hand. Keep the right forearm touching the left palm but hold a little tension in the back of the right hand and the forearm, such that they’re slightly hovering above the left hand. There’s contact, but you don’t trust the contact to support you. Now let that tension go, and drop your right forearm into the palm of the left hand. Push down as though you can’t trust the hand not to throw your arm away, so you’re going to hold it there. Now just relax and let the forearm rest in the left palm. This feeling of resting the forearm—neither hovering nor pushing down—is like relaxed attention. Can you feel the dif- ference? You may be responding to strong desires and difficult situations in your daily life by pulling away from (hovering) or leaning into (pushing) the moment. Neither of those reactions helps you meet life with ease. The cultivation of relaxed atten- tion, however, will prevent you from falling into reactivity. Through practicing mindfulness of the body and relaxed at- tention, you learn to be with whatever sensation is arising in the body, regardless of whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, with- out trying to hold on to or push away the experience. Such is the freedom taught by the Buddha. Having mastered the body, you are then able to turn your attention to your mind states, all of which register in the body, and gradually learn to become nonreactive to each of them. As a result, your mind becomes spacious, alert, curious, and equanimous, and you are able to proceed to the more subtle levels of meditation practice, which require that your mind not be hindered by difficult states. But as is always true in meditation practice, you have to start where you are, and most likely that is with a fairly undeveloped relationship to your body. So in addition to simply cultivating increasing body awareness, you can also reflect on the nature of the body as a storehouse of your past experience, as a means of staying present in the moment and as a gateway to liberation. The Body as a Storehouse As you begin to practice mindfulness of the body, you discover that it is the storehouse of all the physical and emotional events of your life to this point, starting with your genetic inheritance. Through reflection you gain the insight that these conditions, while unique to you, are actually impersonal, like conditions in nature, and that clinging to them with anger, resentfulness, or self-pity only adds to your suffering. Your liberation lies not in what the body has stored from the past but in how you respond to whatever manifests in your body in any given moment. This is the insight of karma—that what is happening in this moment is dependent on past seeds of action that are now blossoming due to the right causes and condi- tions. Your freedom, now and in the future, will be determined by how you respond to these impersonal conditions. Are your actions wholesome or not? This is awakening in the body. For example, you may have inherited favorably proportioned leg bones that make it possible for you to sit cross-legged in med- itation without any discomfort, or perhaps you inherited dispro- portionate leg bones that make it difficult for you to sit for long periods, even in a chair. In either case, you learn to sit in medita- tion with your body just the way it is, feeling neither superior nor inferior. These are simply conditions, and your practice is to respond to these conditions from your deepest values. Similarly, you might have inherited a gene that increases your chances of developing cancer, or maybe you are haunted by an injury or an act of abuse in your childhood. Rather than being angry that those conditions are unfair, you make your life worthwhile just as it is. Again, what’s given is not your business; it’s how you respond that determines your happiness and well- being. Of course, you work to improve those difficult condi- tions that can be affected, but you stop resisting their existence and feeling victimized, inferior, or resentful. Various memories from the storehouse of the body will in- evitably arise during meditation. Many of them are unpleasant, and you may have a tendency to get caught up in your emo- tions about them. If they are pleasant, your mind may be drawn into fantasy or planning and lose awareness. But if you stay in the body regardless of what arises from its storehouse, then you not only maintain awareness, but you also actually start to af- fect your experience. For example, when a difficult memory from the past shows up, instead of pushing it away, simply no- tice how it feels in your body in this moment. If it’s a longing for something you missed or once had but is now lost, rather than clinging to it as a desire, focus on it as a body experience in this very moment. You will discover that being mindful of all that arises as sensation from the storehouse of your body purifies the charge that the memory possesses. This purifica- tion happens spontaneously, without any doing on your part. Sometimes it takes the form of releases—the body will make spontaneous movements or you will feel vibrations, heat, or pressure release within. Sometimes you will notice the release in the moment it is occurring; other times you may not notice it until days or months later. A number of students have told me that the best bodywork they ever experienced happened during sitting meditation. When you let loose experience that was defining and limiting you, it’s like having a great psycho- therapy session without having to pay for it. ➢ page 109 In this very body, in this very moment, you can choose not to succumb to reactions to the arising of pleasant and unpleasant. SEPT 44-49.indd 49 SEPT 44-49.indd 49 6/25/07 4:58:41 PM 6/25/07 4:58:41 PM