OPENING TO THE BODY: Mindfulness of the Body
by Philip L. Jones
We spend most of our day caught up in our thoughts. While taking a shower in the morning, we may be thinking about our schedule for the day and the projects we have to work on or the places we need to go. While eating a meal, we may be reading the paper, watching TV or thinking about what has happened or is about to happen. Although all of these activities seem important, as we live this way our life is slipping away from us. Each moment of our lives is a moment that is unique and that will never return. Yet, rather than fully experiencing what our life is in this moment, we spend much of the day being out of touch with most of our sensory experience. How often do we truly experience the sensations of taking a shower, or the taste and texture of the food that we are eating?
One of the joys of beginning this practice is re-discovering the body, re-discovering what it is like to live in the body once again. We begin to become re-acquainted with our bodies and the five senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. In order to re-connect to the sense pleasures of the body, though, we need to be open to all of our sensory experiences, some of which are not so pleasant. Through mindfulness we learn how to be present with the unpleasant sense experiences as well as the pleasant. This ability to be present for the full range of our human sensory experience frees us from the constant effort that we make to avoid the uncomfortable and to seek comfort. Through mindfulness we discover an ability to experience this full range of experience with equanimity.
This ability to be present for all of our bodily experiences allows us to begin to have insight into, to see more clearly, the true nature of these experiences. One of the things that we come to see is that they are an ever-changing process which arises and departs simply due to causes and conditions.
Before we can experience these truths for ourselves, though, we have to learn to bring mindfulness to the body. We have to learn to open to our bodies, to physical sensations, with mindfulness, compassion and curiosity. We have to discover for ourselves what an itch or pain, a touch, a sound, a smell, a sight or taste actually is. Can we allow it to be? Can we come to rest in our life as it is in this moment? You can begin by practicing mindfulness of physical sensations.
Instructions for Mindfulness of Physical Sensations
Mindfulness of physical sensations/the body begins to broaden the field of awareness while building on the previous instructions. Physical sensations are sensations within the body including the sensation of breathing as well as other physical sense experiences such as hearing, smelling, seeing, tasting and the experience of touch.
Mindfulness of the body helps us to be more grounded in the reality of our experience, in the reality of who we are. It helps us to move beyond the stories in our head to what our life actually is at this moment. With these instructions we also make the transition from concentration meditation to insight meditation in which we bring moment to moment concentrated, mindful and compassionate awareness to the ever-changing flow of our experience. When the change from concentration to insight practice begins, the instructions have been italicized.
• Begin as with the instructions for Mindfulness of Breathing.
• Then, if a sensation or experience in the body is strong enough to pull your attention away from the sensation of the breath, allow your attention to rest in that new sensation (object of meditation) until it subsides or until a stronger sensation (a new object of meditation) pulls the attention away. When the attention is pulled away by this stronger or newer sensation, use that as the object of attention/meditation until it subsides or yet another stronger sensation pulls the attention away. Continue in this way for the remainder of the sitting period.
• Note that this movement of attention is not a willful process. Rather our attention moves with our ever-changing experience in which a new sensation momentarily arises and grabs the attention like an object floating on the ocean moves from wave to wave.
• Try to meet these physical sensations without judging them, holding on or trying to push away. Be curious, without being analytical. Hold the attitude "What is this?" while allowing the sensation to reveal itself.
• If you find yourself struggling with a physical sensation, try to open to it, to let it be. If you continue to struggle at this stage in your practice, simply return your attention to the sensations of breathing. After the mind has settled and developed more concentration, return to insight practice once again.
• As you continue to bring your awareness to physical sensations, try to maintain your mindful attention on them from the point when they come into awareness to the point when they pass from awareness. When you meet them with mindfulness, what happens to them? This may help you begin to see more clearly the transience or impermanence of the sensations.
• Continue this practice until your meditation period is over.
• Following your meditation period take a few moments to reflect on your experience. Do you now experientially understand the difference between concentration practice and insight practice? Are you able to tell the difference between a physical sensation and the mind's reaction to the sensation? Continue to practice with these instructions until these issues become clear in your own experience.