I often forget the importance of physical relaxation at the start of a sit. Softening the eyes, relaxing the jaw, and letting that relaxation run downwards through the rest of my muscles. Today I was more attentive to this process and found myself running through it several times during the course of the Metta Bhavana (development of lovingkindness). The physical relaxation triggers a softness of attitude in general and feels like what Pema Chodron describes as “taking off the armour”.
After the eyes and the jaw, I used the outbreath to relax the chest and abdomen, imagining the same wave of relaxation I felt in my face now moving down the front of my body. Then the shoulders and arms. Then the back. The outbreath has a lot to offer. Again there is something softening in its effect.
I live in a city by the sea so most of my sits are against the backdrop of traffic noise and seagulls. Once my body has relaxed, and with my eyes already closed, I allowed the sounds to come and go, and pay particular attention to the sounds giving way to silence – even just momentarily. It occurred to me recently that the silence into which birds, cars, people and all the other sources of sound return to is the same vast, unified pool of silence. And I try to relax my mind into this idea, and ask it to neither hold on to, or push away, anything it hears.
Physical relaxation is not a one-way street. When grasping or aversion arises when I’m meditating (as it did today) my body told me what my mind had failed to notice. I found my eyes, jaw and shoulders had all tightened up again. So I ran through the relaxation routine a number of times. In this way, my body acts as a dashboard: letting me see indirectly what’s happening under the hood, and allowing me to take corrective action.
Relaxation, the out-breath and a return to silence seem to me to be physical correlates of surrender and acceptance, and I plan to use this dashboard as a matter of habit before each meditation, and during, as required. On a general note, the regularity of sits during this 100 day challenge allows me to feed the understandings gained during one sit back into the next, and build up a practice that is based on my own observations as well as the advice of others.