May 13, 2008
The body’s call to return
For some of us meditators, our disembodiment reaches excruciatingly painful and completely unacceptable proportions. It is almost as if our practice itself and the sensitivity it develops have brought us to a level of awareness in relation to our somatic situation that is unbearable.
We feel out of touch with our body, our emotions, our sense perceptions, even the basic experience of being alive. Perhaps this awareness has been slowly growing over many years; perhaps it happens upon us one day, rather abruptly. We realize that we are not really living our life, not really going through our relationships and our experiences in anything but a numb and mechanical way.
Although everything may seem fine with us from the outside, inwardly these experiences, just in and of themselves, plunge us into the midst of a profound personal crisis. We really feel lost. Perhaps without even knowing exactly what is wrong, we begin looking for ways back into our body, Our world, and our life. The sense of personal crisis is, itself, he call of the body to return, our inspiration to try to find a way to recover our embodiment.
For others of us, the body calls us back through the fortuitous intervention of an external event or circumstance: injury, illness, extreme fatigue, impending old age, sometimes emotions, feelings, anxiety, anguish, or dread that we don’t understand and can’t handle.
Depression is one of the most powerful ways the body calls us back — a terrible darkness, an unbearable hopelessness and despair that settles over us, wherein we are so pulled down that we barely have the energy to think a single thought, let alone rise to do anything or engage anyone.
Either way, we hear the call of the body and feel an inexorable pull toward it. It is pulling us down, one way or the other, sometimes with a terrifying crash. After a period that perhaps feels like death, which can go on for years, something in us, some new life, begins to stir.
For those of us with knowledge of meditation, it is natural that we eventually attempt to see what or how meditation may bear on the intensely somatic call that we are hearing. Whether we are injured or ill, encountering debilitating psychological states of mind, or despairing over a life that is slipping by us, it is likely that we will initially be extremely tentative in bringing meditation to our situation.
Perhaps we will take a few moments now and then to let our mind relax, rest, and open to our feelings and our situation. If we do, we may find that there is some kind of shift, not necessarily in the content of what we are experiencing, but in our relationship toward it.
Generally, in experiences such as those described above, there is an underlying feeling of “problem,” an ongoing anxiety, and a resistance toward what is happening. When we open our minds in meditation, though, we suddenly find our “problem” becomes the focus of our meditation.
Without even thinking about it, we find our body’s call to be the subject of our attention. Our meditation is naturally turned toward the body. Without even knowing, we are receiving our first lessons in “meditating with the body.”
As we turn our meditation toward the body, as we open our awareness to it, we will find that the frozen-up quality around our physical or psychological problem, or our general feeling of disconnection, suddenly has more space; moreover, it begins to communicate itself to us in a way that could only be described as “active.” At this point, we are likely to find ourselves receiving healing and transformative information that we had not previously noticed or even thought possible.
This can be extraordinarily subtle at first, perhaps just barely sensed. But at some point, we perceive that something new is coming toward us. We begin to gain increasing clarity, recognizing that our debilitation, when viewed from the point of meditation, is a learning situation for us with great possibilities. We sense that our meditation has become an invitation for the body to begin showing us things. At this point, we are “meditating with the body.”
Thus it is that we find that we have a partner on the spiritual path that we didn’t know about — our own body. In our meditation and in our surrounding lives, the body becomes a teacher, one that does not communicate in words but tends to speak out of the shadows through sensations, feelings, images, and somatic memories.
No longer able to force the body to adapt to our conscious ideas and intentions, we find that we have to begin to learn the language that the body itself naturally speaks. Having thought we knew what was going on, we discover, over and over, that we have completely missed the point. And, having supposed that we were completely confused, we come to see that we have understood something far more profound and far-reaching that anything we could have thought.
It is all very puzzling, but, with the body as our guide, we begin to feel, perhaps for the first time in our lives, that with our body, we are in the presence of a force and intelligence that is filled with wisdom, that is loving, flawlessly reliable, and, strange to say, worthy of our deepest devotion.
Reginald “Reggie” Ray is a leading Buddhist academic and Vajra Master, teaching in the lineage of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Since 1974 he has taught in the Religious Studies Department at Naropa University where he is currently a professor.
Ray is the author of several noted books, most recently Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body.