the wisdom of the body

This is about contentment, pleasure and joy.  About awakening to life.  And the premise that we really can’t get to those things without going through the body.  These things happen in our body.  Our body is the experiencer of joy, contentment, and pleasure. Our body experiences life inside and out.  This is the body in contentment.  The body in pleasure. The body in joy.  And also the body in unhappiness, in sadness, in pain.  In the suffering of loss.

Yet looking at the bookshelves at the book store one would think you can read your way to happiness.  That we can change the body through the mind. That we can think ourselves into pleasure.    I’m not sure this is possible without including the body as an equal partner in that process, in the re-education.  Bioenergetics says the body and mind are one.  The mind is in the body; the body is in the mind.

We are a culture that wants to believe we can think and will ourselves into a better life. Positive thinking is so American. But here is an element of positive thinking that is a denial of feeling, of emotion, of the experience that is really there.    We are a culture focused on the head, we live in our head.  As my old zen teacher used to say, Westerners are “Energy up.”  Energy up in the head, and by implication not grounded in the body. So in this culture most of us are up in our head.

One might say on the surface we are a nation of body worshipers.  At the store, look at the glut of things to take care of our bodies: lotions, shampoos, scents, conditioners, moisturizers, defoliates. People work out at the fitness club, run, jog, swim, cycle. And I am one of them   Surely this is a nation of body consciousness, body worshipper, isn’t it. But,  generally we are working on that image,that  wonderful beautiful lustrous healthy body image that we want to create.   However, the experience of our bodies—we aren’t really looking for that.  It may happen, but that is not what many are looking for.  We want to make the external image of the body look good for some mental idea.   People recognize that exercising can release tension, make them feel good, but it is an activity for a purpose and people return quickly to the busy life of the mind. Computers, ipads, iphones, apps, tvs, movie.  And we are lost in a world of images and words.

So this blog is about living the life of the body—living as whole human beings in our bodies, so mind and body becomes one.  As we become “at one” with ourselves we can become “at one” with our the life around us.

Energy vs Enlightenment

“It is possible,” Zen Master Seung Sahn taught, “for people with a lot of thinking to use samadhi to cut off their thinking, cut off their desire, and get a lot of energy. The universe and you become one point. But enlightenment does not depend on energy. In enlightenment there is no concern with energy.

“Enlightenment and non-enlightenment are the same point. A long time ago, a Zen Master said, ‘Before I got enlightenment, when I saw the sky, blue; after I got enlightenment, when I see the sky, also blue.’ That’s enlightenment-the same point-the sky is blue. Getting enlightenment or not getting enlightenment doesn’t matter.

“Samadhi has no cause, no effect, no karma, no enlightenment, no I, nothing at all-only energy. No sky, no color. But it’s very easy to attach to samadhi energy and lose one’s way. ‘I am wonderful, I have lots of energy, I can do anything!’ — this kind of mind can appear: much desire, much attachment to power. Then you return — BOOM! — to small I. I-my-me again appears. So this is very dangerous.”

born again this moment

Watching a child come into the world is a miraculous event.  When my my first child was born, I faced the amazing fact that I was holding a new life in my hands, a life that had never been here before. From two people coming together a third had emerged.  I had an image of all the pictures of the holy family over a thousand year. What those pictures represented for me at that time was just venerating the miracle of birth— that out of life, life emerges; out of a mother, a child is born.

I was once teaching a class on spirituality, and there was one guy who was having trouble with the whole concept of spirituality and couldn’t think of anything which he had felt was “spiritual” until finally he said he felt that way at the birth of his child.

And at this time of year as we celebrate the turn of the year, the solstice, the birth of Jesus, the birth of a new year, the increasing light in the world, reflected in the Festival of Lights,  we are celebrating this miracle of life— new life emerging from the old, and the widening light upon which this life depends.

Yet behind this emergence is death and I was reminded of that this year. My father in law died 10 days before Christmas. While it was a very sad occasion fraught with some guilt on my part about us not visiting him enough—it was a sober reminder of the background of death with which we live. It was mixed however with the joy of seeing our relatives and spending time with them—another reminded of the importance of community in handling the vicissitudes of life.

“Death is the mother of beauty,” Wallace Steven wrote.  And out of death, birth comes.

I was once practicing with a zen group in Boulder, Colorado and this long time practitioner named Gil was talking about how in buddhist teaching, each moment emerges, is born and dies.  And so everything is born and dies each moment. And he added, “You could call me a born again buddhist.”

It’s a good reminder that this moment is all there is, and each moment is a new one with new possibilities.  This one right now in front of our eyes. We take a breath, let go, and appreciate it—this gift of the moment, of life.

And then Hotei, who looks a lot like Santa Claus with a big belly and a sack on his back, just stretches his hand and arms out, leans back and laughs and laughs.