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Lions Roar : January 2003
24 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2003 From the Buddhist point of view, these are all physical reflections of our mental situation, and, painful though they may be, are regarded as providing needed feedback we are unable to receive in any other way. They are welcome opportunities to grow. This is why Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, for example, remarked that one should be grateful to have physical ailments to deal with. “Those who get sick are the lucky ones,” he said. If your neurosis does- n’t affect your body, you will just keep pushing on in your current direction until your mind reaches a point of no return. The body, it turns out, is an ally in medita- tion practice. Physical distress in sitting calls our mind away from its fantasies of spiritual attainment, and brings it back to the here and now. In Buddhism, this is known as synchro- nizing body and mind; through practice, our mind attunes itself more and more with the body, the concrete and earthy reality of our sit- uation. This is the meaning of paying atten- tion to the breath in meditation: we cultivate the ability to pay attention and be present to this subtle manifestation of our physicality. In mindfulness of breathing, we are training to surrender to the body. But physical pain is often a more powerful, direct and unavoidable route to this than fol- lowing the breath. There are many times in intensive meditation retreats when you are sit- ting hour after hour. Your body may be incredibly sore and tender—so much so, in fact, that you are not able to follow your breath, watch your thoughts or do anything else that might be considered “meditation.” You sit there and the only thing going on is just being with the pain, the discomfort, the fatigue, the hunger or whatever physical distress you may be feeling. Rather than saying that in those moments we are unable to meditate, I think it would be more accurate to say that we are practicing “mindfulness of the body.” We are meditating on the body because it is beyond us to do anything else. The most powerful and transformative periods in a dathun occur in the fiery furnace of meditation sessions where this is going on. The more deeply one journeys into the world of meditation, the more one finds one- self working with the body. At a certain point, the body seems to be the main thing you are working with. For example, one of the most advanced Tibetan teachings—taken up after many years of beginning and intermediate