To begin with let us acknowledge the energetic disturbance that we bring to the practice as a result of our busy lives. We tend to alternate between these two modes of being: the hyper active overdrive and fatigue—the resulting slump from having come out of the fast pace drive of our daily life.
So, our embodiment is not just physical but also somatic i.e., the way the body experiences itself. This somatic intelligence helps us know if we’re safe. It’s primary to the coarser form body and is key to helping us settle and stabilize the mind; so, we practice using the body to train the mind.
Emotions and thoughts won’t do it – to bring peace to this physical form we begin by bringing our attention to the tactile impressions. This is only the first step because the somatic experience expands beyond the limits of the physical form and is experienced as subtle and pleasant.
We use the way we experience our physical form as a way of opening and extending the somatic presence. This somatic intelligence is affected by aversion, fear, guilt, and these create pressure on the somatic experience; it gets over loaded, numb, agitated or contracted and that’s important because those states act as a base for our emotions.
Most people are so stressed that the somatic body is either undercharged and often completely ignored. And if we’re not in tune with this somatic intelligence, the body turns to sensory phenomena to find happiness and comfort. It’s an understandable tactic but it’s addictive. It strengthens dependency on unreliable phenomena; and it’s non-progressive. Why? Because sensory phenomena are not innate, they’re risky, flittering, and not trustworthy … The wisest strategy is to direct your feeling-base back to the body—often difficult because one’s somatic presence is not yet established.
How do you know you have a body? When we bring our attention to this embodied experience, we first get a sense of tactile pressure, aches, pains, discomfort etc. But these sensations are happening to something. So, we can ask ourselves, “What is this that is receptive to physical sensations? What is this inner sentient body?
We can begin meditation by sweeping around the physical body I.e., establishing mindfulness of body. This first step helps us broaden the receptive somatic body.
The somatic body is not solely affected by the sense impressions from the physical body, a good amount of these inner feelings of defensiveness… being overwhelmed, burdened, emotionally wounded etc., are imbedded in somatic memory. And we can always find thoughts to validate these patterns because they colour the way we perceive the world.
Once we recognize these deep-seated habits, we begin to see how they give rise to habitual thought patterns such as ‘a need to be something’ or ‘being anxious about what do others think of me?’ ‘comparing oneself to others’ or ‘regretting the past’… but why do that? How true is any of this?
What are these programs and why do they arise when we sit in a quiet comfortable place? Perhaps ‘Why’ is not the right question. It might be a better to reflect on how these arise. What if we were to plant strong healthy impressions and see how that feels. And then ask, how true is that?
We can’t really prove either positive or negative thought patterns; so why do we so often dwell in the more persistent negative patterns? Don’t we all want to be happy?
Try saying – it’s safe, I’m welcome here. Or try extending a welcome to others so they feel welcome. How would it feel if others here were genuinely concerned for my welfare? Isn’t that more the norm? By welcoming others – we relinquish the grip of fear, isolation and defence that holds us in a barely acknowledged way. If there was no pressure to be something special… no sense of urgency… how would that feel?
Connect with the rhythm of breathing, the inner intelligence of breathing. It’s never in a hurry and has a quiet strength to it. This very body in it’s settled-ness offers us a teaching. We’re using the body to train the mind. We’re using the aspiration, encouragement, the wish to settle the body as a way to bend our mental intention in the right direction – steering one’s mental intention to a new trajectory. One that leads us away from suffering to a higher happiness. This is what the Buddha meant by right effort.
Transcribed by Jim Bedard