Cultivating being in the body and working with the emotional household
Exercises in Mindfulness
To create the mind-body connection we have to empty the heart, to empty the heart we need to fully come into the body.
Our practice of ‘working with the three fires’ follows the Buddhist formula of the Middle Way. This consists of outer containment using the physical form, whilst taking a moment to enter the fire and become one with what Master Hakuin called “precious energy”. This applied formula (in Zen practice) is the only way in which the delusion of a false ‘I’ can be overcome. Thus, this practice is central to Zen training which seeks to bring about the ‘turning around of the heart-base’, as it is technically known.
Master Daie once said that if we want inner strength then we need to learn to conserve the energy that pours out of the heart moment by moment. Unfortunately, as he points out, we are ‘leaky’. That precious energy leaks out with our intentional activities of body and speech and with the sometimes endless indulgence in mental formations that tend to have ‘I’ and ‘me’ at the centre of them.
The heart-energy flows in the direction of the focus of attention. There was a rabbi who once said that inside his heart there were two wolves, one bright and one dark, who were forever in combat. One of his students asked which one would eventually win? The rabbi answered that the winner would be the one whom he fed. This feeding is done through indulging in giving attention to unskilful activities of body, speech and mind. Restraint of body and speech can sometimes be hard enough, particularly, for example, when it comes to my opinions and convictions; however, what about thoughts?
Many years ago, I worked for a man who I severely disliked. This ‘dislike’ manifested as powerful imaginative fantasies where ‘I’ was able to totally dominate him, the exact reversal of the actual situation. One day, on a bus, after being triggered by some incident at work that day, I was enraptured by one such fantasy when suddenly, coming out of it and looking up, I saw a fellow passenger looking at me in horror! Clearly, something dark and powerful expressed itself across my face whilst indulging in this fantasy and at that moment I realised that this fantasy was getting out of hand. It was then that a realisation struck that working with these fires was no longer an option; if this was not to get out of hand, then it was now a necessity. With this motivation, it was possible to begin to spot the emergence of this and similar fantasies and to jump back into the body, giving myself into the energy in the midriff. Taking a couple of long slow breaths into the lower belly really helped ‘earth’ this energy and then following this up with a bit of extra carefulness with movements of body and speech, whilst allowing the heart to be focused on the movements of the body, helped a lot with this practice.
For this to work, however, we need to cultivate a pre-cursor state of being ‘in’ the body at least to some degree throughout the day. Every opportunity can be taken to cultivate this state. When waiting for a bus or train, standing in line at the supermarket, instead of looking at the phone, just allow the heart to rest in the body, perhaps using the breath to help it settle. Over time, this will improve the ‘being at home in the body’ needed for working with the fires.
Although my own experience was born of necessity, it is much easier to begin with the smaller fires that flash up whenever something happens which ‘I’ don’t like’, or when impatience flashes up (such as waiting for a bus that is late), or when feeling bored and reaching for my phone to distract myself . A long breath into the lower belly and allowing the heart to settle deepens this ‘at-one-ness with the body’.
This energy, which is formless (as the Heart sutra says, the energy of the Heart-Buddha is empty), adopts any form it touches. As we always inhabit a human form, it humanises into the clarity of seeing and the warmth of heart which are our natural state.
If we want to begin developing this being ‘at home in the body’, then we can begin right now. Just breath in and then as you are breathing out, allow the attention into the lower abdomen. At the end of the breath, just hold for a moment before the next inhalation. Do this a couple of time and then relax. The rest is up to you, the more you can practice this when sitting, walking, eating and lying down, the more this ‘grounded’ feeling will pervade ordinary consciousness.
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