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It is important to clarify the role of our body in Mindfulness meditation through the eyes of MIDL. This will help us understand how to fully use the function of our body to develop our Mindfulness meditation practice and also what it means to our daily life.
Firstly, when discussing anything through the eyes of meditation we are never talking about what a thing is, but rather we’re talking in terms of its function and how it’s experienced. What a thing is functions on a conceptual level, we need to understand this to understand our meditation practice.
Lets look at the conceptual way in which we normally relate to our body. So, I look at my body and I think okay, my body is tall or it is short, or it is fat or it’s thin, it’s black or it’s white. Maybe I see my body as being attractive or unattractive, healthy or unhealthy, well dressed or not well dressed.
These are the usual ways that we relate to our body. All of these are just concepts. If we approach our body in this way and read our body as these concepts during meditation practice, then our meditation practice will become all about me, it will become shallow, it wont develop.
Lets look at the meaning of 'body' through the eyes of MIDL meditation in terms of its function and experience. How do we experience our body? We experience our body as sensations. This is how our body is experienced.
Lets look at what it feels like just to sit here now. I can feel some warmth and coolness on my skin, some tightness in my body, also a feeling of pressure; I can feel my hands touching one another, the pressure of my arms on my legs, the touch of my bottom on the floor and the touch of my feet. If I am relaxed I can also feel heaviness throughout my body.
So our body is actually experienced as a series of elemental qualities or sensations. We experience our body as a range of hard to soft, warm to cool, wet to dry, heaviness, lightness, movement, vibration, tension. When we place awareness within our body this is how our body is experienced.
So when following the MIDL guided meditation and I say "become aware of your body, immerse your awareness within your body, remember the touch of your body", what I am referring to is this elemental quality of your body. To understand this elemental quality better we then have to understand the function.
So lets look at the true function of our body. What is our body’s function?
Our body really has three functions, this is its purpose. To propagate the species (to breed), to move around through the world, and as a sense organ. The first two functions really aren’t that important to our meditation practice. We’re interested in the third function, the function of our body as a sense organ.
One of our minds functions is to interpret what are called the five senses. So there’s five doorways through which the world comes into us. There is the Eye Doorway, the first sense, and the eye doorway is sensitive to light. So when light strikes the eye doorway, there is a contact there. If light strikes your ear, can you see? No. The Ear Doorway is sensitive to sound, the Nose Doorway is sensitive to smell, the Tongue Doorway is sensitive to taste and the Body Doorway is sensitive to touch.
Our body is a sense organ. Our body’s task is to listen to the world through touch. The world is coming in and touching you right now. It’s coming in and touching you with light, with sound, with smell, with taste and it’s also touching your body. The air is touching you, the chair, the floor, whenever anything touches our body; our body mirrors this touch by producing sensations. These are these elemental qualities (hardness, softness, hot, dry, wet, cold, heavy, light, movement vibration, tension), all of them are reflections of the world touching you.
So our mind sits behind these five senses and looks out at the world. The world comes in and hits our senses. When it contacts our senses then our mind has the ability to interpret what is 'out there'. If I reach for Jason’s hand right now and we shake hands, there will be contact between our hands. Now I can not actually feel Jason, this is how close, how intimate we can actually be without anyone or anything. I can’t feel him, what I actually feel is the changing sensations within my body from that contact. I feel warmth; I feel pressure, maybe softness or hardness. But I can’t actually feel him.
So our body’s function is as a sense organ, it reflects the world through touch. And here’s where it starts to get interesting. Our mind also touches our body. I like to think of my mind as having tentacles that go into my body, like an octopus. And these tentacles touch our body.
Our mind is the sixth sense. Our mind senses the five senses but it also senses thoughts and memories. If your mind is chewing on a problem, or a painful memory, the juice coming out of that thought or memory reflects through the touch of your mind in your body. Literally, whatever your mind is chewing on, whatever your mind is involved in, whatever your state of mind is, because your body’s function is to reflect touch, and since your mind is touching your body, your body will reflect the touch of your mind.
So now we have a second layer of sensations that arise within our body. We have the sensations that arise from the touch of the world, and then we have the sensations that arise from the touch of our mind. And these sensations that arise in our body from the touch of our mind we call emotions and feelings. Emotions are just sensations that arise within our body to reflect the touch of our mind, to reflect the state of our mind.
So our body’s function is to be a mirror to reflect touch. We have the elemental qualities that arise within our body due to the touch of our mind. So if our mind is feeling aversive and angry, then the elemental quality of anger will arise within our body, anxious: elemental quality arises, depressed, frustrated, lonely: elemental quality arises. We see this as an elemental change literally the sensations within our body will change; will alter their shape to reflect our state of mind.
So when using our body as a meditation object, our first task is to become very intimate with the different sensations within our body, to open up our sensitivity to those sensations as much as we can. If we get used to the landscape of our body, i.e. “this is the way my body feels when the world touches me”, then we also can start to separate the elemental quality. We then understand that “these sensations within my body, are not from the world touching me but they’re coming and are produced by the touch of my mind”. This means that by becoming sensitive to the elemental quality within our body as the world touches us, we start to become very sensitive to the elemental quality that arises due to our state of mind and quality of heart.
So our body plays a bigger function in MIDL practice than our mind does. You might think that it would be recommended that we observe the mind, because the five senses come into it, but it isn’t. The Buddha mentions in the Satipatṭhāna Sutta to use the experience of our body as a foundation. Why is this?
Because the elemental qualities within our body always tell the truth, they are direct reflection. A mirror does not lie. Our body directly reflects the state of our mind, it tells the truth. So our task as meditators, particularly in MIDL practice, is to learn to read the patterns of sensation within our body, like learning another language or brail. Learning to feel these different sensations and read their meaning.
Through reading the sensations, the elemental qualities that appear within our body, we come to understand our mind; we understand when it’s longing for something, when it’s resisting something. And when it’s Equanimous and balanced. This then gives us a doorway to retrain our mind.
The elemental quality within our body always tells the truth, so why don’t we use our mind?
Our mind is basing its interpretation of these sensations through misinformation. It interprets our senses through our past experience. Now, if our past experience has been flawed, if it’s been corrupted, if there has been trauma within our life, if we’ve had pain in our life, then when our mind uses this past experience - because what else can it identify ‘now’ through - to identify these five senses, and if that information contains pain, then the way it interprets now will be flawed, and the narrative that it will supply within our head, will also be flawed.
This creates the world which we normally live in, but it’s a flawed world, it’s a reactionary world, its not the world of reality, its not the world of truth. This is why as meditators we don’t believe what the mind produces, but instead we believe the elemental qualities within our body.
Now here comes the interesting part.
Our body’s task is to reflect the world through sensations, through the sensations of touch, and our mind looks out through our body and also through the other four senses. Through sights, sounds, smell, taste, and it puts them all together, it assembles them to create the world that we see out there.
So our mind is looking out through our five senses to interpret the world to protect us, literally. And one of the senses it looks through is the elemental quality of our body, but there lies a problem. Our body also reflects the touch of our mind. So if our mind is chewing on something, if its worried about something, if its concerned about something well then of course its touch on our body will create sensations, probably unpleasant sensations to arise within it.
How it all Comes Together
Our mind is looking out at the world through the body sense to interpret it as it touches us. But because the mind is reacting to something, chewing on something, the elemental quality, the sensations of touch within our body have been polluted by, have been corrupted by the reflection of our mind. Literally the sensations, the emotional qualities coming up within our body have corrupted the touch of the world around us. And so our mind is putting all of our five senses together, its looking out through our body sense combined with the other four senses at the world saying "Whats this?". But it’s actually looking at a flawed reading, the reading has been flawed by the mind itself as it reflects within the sensations of the body.
Our mind sees its own reflection within our body and it reacts as if that reflection is out there in the world around us. So if its reflection is anger, it looks at the world for something that has caused anger because it thinks that that reflection 'is' the world around it. If the reflection is fear, it looks out at the world for fear, frustration, anxiety, loneliness, sadness. So literally it’s looking through this reflection, and because it thinks it is a reflection of the world, it starts searching for the reason for the emotional quality arising within our body in the world around us. But what it ceases to understand is that it is reacting to its own reflection.
How do we break through this delusion?
In MIDL, we use seated Mindfulness meditation to cultivate a sense of Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration, so we can literally observe Awareness, observe the mind and its knowing quality. Once the momentum of seated Mindfulness meditation has been built, we then transfer the meditation practice into our daily life. Throughout the day we then observe the interaction between our heart and mind. This is done by increasing our sensitivity to the elemental quality to the world touching us and by observing the elemental change within our body as the mind touches it.
This allows us to observe when the landscape of our body changes and to apply the MIDL Softening Into skill to relax and soften deeply into our minds relationship to what is being experienced within the Five Senses, or should I say within the Six Senses. It is through observing this change within our body, Softening into our dislike or our like of it, Softening into our relationship allows the mind to develop Equanimity, developing a mature mind and heart within daily life.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, Meditation Instructor from Meditation in The Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you