Monday, August 17, 2009

More on the Body

Reading and writing about the body and meditation appears to a big a draw for me right now. It seems to be corresponding to a certain internal shift I've felt over past several months which most easily can be described as "feeling the ground more fully." While walking, I actually feel my feet moving up and down, for example. And when one or both feet are flat, sometimes they even feel like they are slowly sinking into the ground below. Not some sort of scary, quick sand sinking, but more like a raindrop slowly settling in between blades of grass.

Back to the article from BuddhaDharma Start With Your Body.

Phillip Moffitt responds to a question about being mindful of the body with the following: "I start guided meditation by saying, Bring attention to the body - not your body, the body. I'm pointing to a phenomenon occurring right now."

This is a very interesting set of comments, even if, on the surface, they look obvious or not all that earth shattering.

How often do people actually experience their bodies as they are in the moment?

Isn't it more often the case that we're lost in our ideas about what is happening? Or we're swimming in conditioned thinking about what we look like? Or are swamped in the details of some diagnosis given by doctors? Or are in competition mode, wishing we had a flatter stomach, stronger arms, or less flabby ass, like those models in the magazines we read, or in the movies and tv shows we watch? Or maybe are locked in a battle with memories from some physical trauma from the past?

There are so many ways to spin out from the body as it is right now.

Phillip Moffit says the three most common modes of relationship we have with the body are judging, comparing, and fixing. And at least here in the U.S., these three modes are nearly state sanctioned, and law codified as not only appropriate ways of relating, but actually the most important. All popular forms of media reinforce the notion that you must look a certain way, feel a certain, and if you don't, you better damn well fix it so that you do. And sadly, people spend billions of dollars on products, procedures, and programs (The 3 P's) that are designed to prop up or create an image of their body that is more in line with the popularly accepted images of beautiful and handsome. Make no mistake - this isn't a single gender issue. We all can, and do, fall for these lines of thinking and acting.

As Moffit comments, any time we land in one of the three common modes of relating with our bodies - judging, comparing, and fixing - we're trapped in dualism, and creating a solidity to our experience which isn't actually there. I know for myself, there have been plenty of times during meditation where some slightly intense energy will appear, be it physical pain somewhere or emotional pattern or whatnot, and I can spin in stories about what might happen. If I let this go, will it get more painful? Will I have some sort of medical emergency? Will I die? These are fleeting thoughts, but sometimes I stick to them, and not surprisingly, tension expands and makes things "feel worse."

And beyond that, although I'm not all that prone to the 3 P's, I have been known to fuss over my hair way too much, worrying I don't "look good," whatever that means. I might not buy a bunch of products and services, but I have repeatedly returned to the restroom to check and recheck the day's hairstyle. Is it hanging in the right place? Did the wind blow it all over? Just the other day, I walked up to the window of a closed restaurant because the wind had picked up, and I thought things had gotten "too messy."

How much of our lives do we waste on this kind of stuff?

It goes far beyond taking care of your body and your appearance. It's just plain neurotic.

I think it's important, when recognizing these kinds of behaviors, to not fall into punitive land about it. Harshly judging the neurotic relationships we have with our bodies just continues the cycle of separating from the present moment - from what's actually happening now.

However, at the same time, cultural conditioning around the body is so dense, and so powerful, that we really don't have any time to waste. What good is a spiritual practice if it doesn't work to undo the layers of cultural conditioning we have? I say it's time to stop saying yes to every whim and fear we have about our bodies, and to start paying attention to what's really there.

Let's drop the three modes, drop the three P's, and embody the home that's been waiting for us.


Kyle said...

"I say it's time to stop saying yes to every whim and fear we have about our bodies, and to start paying attention to what's really there."

Very well said.

Robyn said...

The way you write about the body reminds me of some advice I heard from a midwife that I subsequently have shared with pregnant women I have worked with - namely that the strength of the pain in labour (or what is labeled pain and often is perceived of as pain) is actually the power of your own body.

It is quite remarkable how that simple fact is completely lost in all the other stuff (and there are plenty of the three Ps surrounding pregnancy!). Sometimes women "get it" and I see the light go on in their eyes and in their life and labour, for them, is quite a remarkable event - to use a less than satisfactory word - it is empowering. Needless to say, it is so totally different than when the strength of the contractions is viewed as coming from out there somewhere - someone is doing this to me.

Anyway, volumes can be and have been written about women and their perception of their bodies in pregnancy, but since it is such an amazing time - a time of vulnerability and incredible power - when women can be very open to perceiving themselves in a new way, there is a possibility to experience a deep shift in thinking.

But really, that possibility exists all the time. I wonder if it is possible to remember that next time I stub my toe!!

ZenDotStudio said...

I do some qi gong and one of the aspects of the practice the qi gong master I study with stresses is a qi gong meditation where what you are doing is simply tuning into the "qi" in the body. You start by trying it find it in the middle dan tien and then move the hara. After you develop some sense of this and some concentration you can feel it move. (The aim is for it to circulate and move through energy blockages in the body).

As you point out Robyn, you feel the power of your own body. This qi can feel very strong! For me I had to have faith that I would actually experience it and the perseverence to develop the skill to sense it.

It is a real opportunity to be present with the body.