The Effort of Release

I often hear people say that it takes them till about day 3 to wind down on a vacation and thoroughly enjoy it. I used to experience that as well many years ago before I really was able to check-in and connect to the felt sense of release in my body and the effort it takes to release the mind. Yes, it takes a great deal of hard work and effort to truly feel release, at least in the beginning.

I say in the beginning meaning in the beginning of tuning inward. In meditation we call the experience of tuning inward and going inward toward a concentrated mind, the dropping-in experience. What one may find when first starting to meditate is the great effort it sometimes takes to drop-in. It takes time after one closes the eyes to concentrate on the breath, the silence, and the busy mind. But over time, with great effort and practice, this dropping-in experience becomes easier and easier to the point that all one needs to do is close the eyes and you are there.

But until then there is effort, effort in attending, effort in concentration, and effort in stilling. On this path I encourage attention to the body as the first step in this path of effort. Take a comfortable seat and just simply close your eyes. Attend to this simple act of opening and then closing your eyes once again. Take notice of how just taking away the sense organ of sight immediately begins to signal the brain to slow down and tune inward. Just this simple act over time helps in this dropping in experience. The next time you open your eyes take in the visuals around you, close your eyes and now “see” the images and try to let them fade away as you attend just to your breath. Watch each one disappear so all you are left attending to is your breath. Now just notice the minds natural tendency to want to drift away and entertain story. Keep gently calling it back to your breath, just your breath and the sensation of breath in your body.

Watch what happens over time if you put the effort into this release. Over time the effort becomes less and less until it just is.

May all beings live in peace and ease.

The Space Between The Thoughts

When a thought ends, and before the next one begins, there is an open opportunity for exploration. Have you ever wondered or paid attention to the fine-tuning of the mind? It is not an easy thing to do and it is why Buddha encouraged the deep focus on the mind to come after there has been deep attention and focus on the first two Foundations of Mindfulness, which are body/breath and emotions. Mind and mind moments/impermanence follow as the third and fourth foundations. So, how can we begin to train ourselves in this mindful attention while knowing that it will be a challenge to delve directly into the nature of the mind?

We can begin with the first foundation breath and body/bodily sensations. When I teach a yoga class and do my own asana (posture) practice, I encourage the focus on paying attention to when we reach a sensation in the body that “wakes us up.” Often in yoga we call this the “edge” of a sensation. It is the point of the sensation leading to the questions can I be with this? Can I sustain this? Should I sustain this? Should I let go and find another way? The point being, it is the edge that makes you question. This is a good thing. It may not always be a comfortable space in your body but the arising of sensation, particularly the edge of sensation leads us to question. It moves us into self-inquiry, and self-inquiry is what is needed to go further to the deeper attention to mind and the development of mindfulness.

To explore the edge of sensation I often like to focus on an area of the body that I know is one that for most of us will be a challenge. Areas that are usually tight to begin with are the ones that offer the most opportunity in fine-tuning where to go and how to move and how to stay and/or release. The hamstrings are one of those areas. I encourage you to come to lying on your back and have with you either a yoga strap or a few ties tied together. Something that is long enough for you to reach your foot when your leg is outstretched. Lying down lift your right leg and place the strap under the sole of your foot. Begin to bend your knee and straighten. Keep doing this a few times over and over. Then leave the leg straight, inhale and walk your hands up the strap as you reach your forehead toward your leg. As you exhale come on back down. Keep this movement going between the inhale lifting up and the exhale lowering. At the same time begin to fine-tune your inquiry. Notice when you reach the edge of a sensation. At what point do you first feel it? Can you sustain the hold or is it beyond the edge for you? Do you need to modify it, let it go? Keep the inquiry going. What can you notice, what can you learn?

You can practice this line of questioning with all areas of your body (especially on the mat) as a way to awaken into mindfulness and keeping your attention to the moment. If we do not take sensation to the edge we have the tendency to drift away and get lost in thought. Over the edge, and we are in fear and protective mode, which blocks awareness and inquiry. This embodied practice of the First Foundation sets the stage for deeper awareness. After we gain awareness through the body we can move on to awareness of emotions and understanding when we are at the edge of an emotion. It then sets the stage for opening the door to questions such as, what is the space between the thoughts? You do not have to answer this one now. Just keep coming back to your body for the practice of the first step and trust that with practice the awareness will follow.

May All Beings Live In Peace and Ease

THE BODY AND HAPPINESS

Because suffering is impermanent, that is why we can transform it.
Because happiness is impermanent, that is why we have to nourish it.

-TNH, 10th June 2014

These are beautiful words written by Thich Nach Hahn. The great leader on compassion has written a great deal about the transformation of suffering and how our body can assist us along this path of discovery, compassion and the nourishment of happiness.

Thich Nach Hahn asks us to contemplate for a moment what happens when there is pain in the body, such as a splinter in your foot. Immediately, without any thought a hand reaches down to assist the foot, either in removing the splinter and/or in comforting the foot by holding it, rubbing it, etc. It happens in a split second this signal to the brain of protection and survival. Well, what would happen if we actually spent the time to focus on this kind of communication that exists in our body that is happening all the time? What if we did start to pay attention to the flow of compassion that one part of our body has toward another? The inner workings that sooth, comfort, balance, and support one another?

The truth is we have an amazing teacher of compassion that is with us each and everyday, yet most of us tend to not even notice. Or if we do we are too caught up in what I call the “surface image” of the body, i.e.: what it looks like, as opposed to what it can do and how it functions. We often lose sight of the miracle that it is and all it does day after day to keep us alive and offer us the gift of presence, the ability to love and be loved, and the ability to be alive in all feelings, whether they be ones of suffering or ones of great happiness. Now, we all know that our body is impermanent. We often know this too well, either through sickness and/or from fears of sickness, and through the loss of those we love. The body clearly reminds us of our impermanent state. This is not an easy thing to accept is it? The problem I find is that most folks get stuck here. Stuck in the concentration of the impermanent state of the body, not as a vehicle to propel themselves back into the present, but rather as a force that propels them into desperation of hanging on to the body as if it will last forever.

You know what I mean by that “lasting forever” piece. We have all gone there. Anti-aging, diets to promote longevity, vitamins, etc. I am a huge proponent of it all, however, as long as we understand that the more we are focusing on the “prevention” of the inevitable impermanence of this body, the more we may be losing sight of it’s present gifts. The gifts of the moment such as the inner compassionate workings; it’s ability to move you through exercise; it’s ability to restore and rest in sleep; the amazing ability your brain has in remembering all it needs to remember. Those are just a few.

So here is a simple little embodied exercise around appreciating the gifts and “happiness” that our body can teach us day to day. When you wake up and take a breath see if you can fell what that breath feels like in your body. Can you actually picture the air bathing each organ? Can you feel what happens in your chest cavity, your rib cage? How about the difference a big breath makes in your energy level?

Now as you step out of bed, can you attend to the coordination on movement between your legs and feet? If your body is compromised in this way, can you attend to how it has learned to work with the compromise? Have your arms learned to do more because perhaps your legs are not working the way they used to? Attend to what you normally do not attend to and see what happens as far as suffering around this body or the transcendence of suffering into happiness, contentment, compassion, and surprise. How can you continue to nourish happiness in your body today?

MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE