Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Mindfulness of the Body


Mindfulness of the Body
In contemporary society we generally have a very dysfunctional relationship with our bodies. We treat our bodies badly, we often eat wrongly, push our bodies excessively, or fail to give our body the degree of care and attention it needs. Addiction is incredibly widespread and nail biting, skin picking, excessive gum chewing, and other nervous habits, are all signs of a dysfunctional connection to the physical environment in which we partake. 
Then, added on to this, we have all of the distorted images of the body given to us by advertising and consumerist culture, by celebrities, comics, and pornography; a mass of illusions of how we are supposed to appear and present ourselves to the world. We often look at our bodies in a very distorted manner, or even refuse to look at our naked form out of fear, or shame. The commodification of the body and the falsification of body images have the function of collectively disassociating people from the simplicity and immediacy of how their bodies really are and how wonderful they are in their diversity. The general obsession with external image often causes us to seek to present our bodies in specific postures, poses and shapes. How often do you either strike a model’s pose when you look at yourself in the mirror, or refuse to look honestly and deeply at your naked body without tightening up or judging it? These are all aspects of the collective baggage that we carry around and filter our perception of our body through.

Because the body is the starting place for mindfulness and because of the complexity of the issues I have just laid out, it is important to realise that mindfulness is a very rich and profound pursuit of re-engaging with experience based on very new rules. Mindfulness is not just being present, but it is also looking deeply at things to see how they really are and how we are relating to them. In this sense it is truly a path of freedom, because if we are brave enough to go all the way with it, it can free us from the mess we are in collectively and individually with regard to our bodies. 
What follows are the seven factors of mindfulness. They immediately illustrate a more complete and holistic picture of deep mindfulness practice. They also show us that mindfulness is not just something you do on a cushion in a safe, quiet space, but is rather an adventure that is embarked on that can result in the radical change and gaining of freedom that I have pointed to in several previous posts. Below is my own non-traditional wording of the seven factors.

Seven factors of Mindfulness
1.      Being present and deeply engaged with what we are doing
2.      Bridging the gap to experience: non-judgement & intimacy
3.      Appreciation for experience: acknowledging & honouring your life as an unfolding process
4.      Relieving of unsatisfactoriness & reducing separation: feeling connected & part of it all
5.      Looking deeply: penetrating experience to see clearly what is real and important, releasing our natural intuitiveness 
6.      Gaining insight & direct understanding through being grounded in experience & fully open
7.      Transformation: growth, healing, opening, freedom

Just consider for a moment, if you will, how it would be to take these seven factors, and relate to your own body with them. How would it be to view your body without judging it? How would it be to openly appreciate this form? How would it be to develop greater intimacy with your body? It should become clear almost immediately that these seven factors represent both a very different approach to the body compared to what is considered normal in current society, as well as a deeply, healing way of being within our body.

Mindfulness of the body begins with the breath. The breath is a constant throughout life and never stops reminding us that without it, we will not live long. Attention and the breath are intimately connected and our breathing patterns mirror how we are relating to the physical world. The breath is always the basis for experience.
Mindfulness of the body involves dynamic practices such as body scanning, noting the body positions, working with the elements and walking meditation. It also involves resting in awareness practices where attention is rested in the simple experience of being in a body, as well as the position, space and moment we find ourselves in. Mindfulness of the body is finally practised through placing full awareness into each phase of any action we carry out, whether it's drinking a cup of tea, listening to traffic, or having sex.
There are an array of different techniques that we can try out and work with. The choice we make will ultimately determine the ease and speed with which we are able to make progress. It will also depend on where you are at. Ideally technique matches where we are and not an imagined generic position. This is where a decent teacher can help through their own experience and through understanding the personal themes that each of us brings to practice as the dominant element of our own form of mindlessness.
In looking at the beginning stages of mindfulness, one of the first steps is simply acknowledging what is actually going on in and around us. Acknowledging our body means developing the capacity to engage in the first two steps of the seven factors as a basis for exploration. We choose to consciously engage with what is going on, we choose to let go of judging experience and we choose to open to what is.
Off the cushion mindfulness of the body can start with acknowledging our body posture/position throughout the day. When you are sitting, acknowledge you’re sitting, when you're standing, acknowledge you’re standing. This simple technique of bringing attention and thus awareness back to the simplicity and immediacy of the position of our body in relation to the immediate environment, can work wonders.
Acknowledging can also take the form of a simple sentence, in this case our speech also becomes a part of mindfulness of the body. Allowing our speech to be a connection to our body as opposed to a detached observation, we acknowledge through the simple phrase, ‘I am sitting’ when we are sitting. When we are lying down in bed, we can do the same, ‘I am lying down in bed’. Such simplicity is not to be discounted. When we develop a discipline of practising this throughout the day on a daily basis, it becomes an anchoring technique that reminds us of where we are. For many this is a huge step forward in reclaiming experience.
Mindfulness of the body ultimately is bringing our awareness and attention back to the human experience, the simplicity of being in a body, on the Earth, in the time that we are living. Mindfulness of the body means shedding the layers of confusion we carry around with regards to our body and looking at it with much greater clarity and honesty. Mindfulness of the body means touching this immense opportunity to live a human life, grounded and present.

Next: Mindfulness of feelings


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