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Lions Roar : July 2013
for years, decades, a lifetime—interrupts the usual flow of thinking profoundly based on the assumption of a discrete self inhabiting a unitary body. Once that flow is interrupted, and awareness is returned to the flow of lived experience in the present moment of being alive (a moment in which everything arises and disappears at once and seems to be both there and not there), life feels different. The body no longer appears to be the body per se. Somehow, within awareness of the process of living, the body becomes more than it is. It becomes identical with the awareness, and there isn’t a beginning or an end to it. After sitting practice, normal daily life in the body returns. But there’s a lightness and ease that comes with the feeling of having been relieved, at least temporarily, of the confinement of your small life lived in a vulnerable body. You might feel “calmer,” but the feeling is more than calm. It’s the feeling of reality—of having left, for at least a little while, the stressful unreality of daily living and entering a larger space. This is calming. And if you practice for a lifetime, this temporary relief becomes more than temporary. The sense that the body is more than the body, and that your life is more than your life, becomes a conviction and a calm confidence in the body itself, and therefore also in the mind. One of the deepest themes in Western philosophy, beginning with Plato, is that the world of appearance isn’t real. So the job of the intellect, its spiritual assignment, was to carry us beyond this corrupt physical world to a perfected world of nonmaterial form, purely mental or spiritual. This was seen as the task of philosophy and religion until the twentieth century, when phenomenology, perhaps in part under the influence of Buddhism, which never did have a mind/body split, began to break it down. In our Earth- threatened time, when we must think and care about the future well-being of the planet, it is fitting that we begin to learn and enact the truth that has always been engraved on our very skins: that body, mind, spirit, and Earth are one expression, one concern, and one delight. ♦ What is Your Body? continued from page 36 every organ in the body. The actual functioning human body is a marvel. No one manufactured it. No patents exist for it. No one knows where it comes from or exactly how it is produced. And the consciousness associated with it, the consciousness capable of knowing itself? About this we haven’t a clue. In the body scan meditation made popular in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction meditation course, practitioners lie on the floor while an instructor walks them through forty- five minutes of detailed mindfulness exercises designed to bring awareness to various parts of the body, from head to toe. Simply applying awareness to the body in detail has a healing effect. No one knows why. Zen meditation, especially as practiced in the Soto school, is a body practice, a process of paying attention to the body’s detail. When you are taught Zen meditation, the lesson typically begins with instruction about how to walk into the hall to take your seat: you are to walk carefully, paying attention to each footfall, with your hands in a particular position, your body erect. You are then instructed to bow carefully to the meditation cushion (the form for bowing is also detailed for you), sit down, and arrange your posture carefully. Your spine should be erect, your chin tucked in, your hands folded delicately into a mudra—thumb tips just touching, palms curved. Breath should be smooth, natural, and deep in the belly. All this physical detail is the focus for the sitting—not a teaching or a spiritual theme. Simply the experience of body itself is the focus of meditation. When the awareness wanders, as it will, this is fine as long as the practitioner is fully committed to coming back to the feeling of the body sitting and the breath moving. As with the body scan, there is an uncanny magic in this simple practice. Returning awareness to the body and the breath over and over again—over the course of one sitting, or many sittings, SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2013 67