the body

Learning how to meditate can boost your sex drive

Yahoo News: According to researchers at Canada’s University of British Columbia and Israel’s Hadassah University Hospital, just a few sessions of meditation can boost your sex drive and speed arousal time.

The researchers measured the reactions of 24 women who were watching an erotic film, then measured for a second time after they attended three ‘mindfulness’ meditation courses.

Even though the participants were watching the same film, they were more turned on than during the first viewing.

he reasons for this aren’t fully understood, but researchers believe the art of meditation allows you to ‘turn off’ the active part of your brain and focus on specific feelings and sensations instead.

This could help you forget about that annoying tax return when he propositions you after dinner!

Here are a few tips to help you calm your mind…

+ You don’t need to be sat in the traditional cross legged position to meditate, just pick a posture that’s comfortable for you.
+ Clasp your fingers together and close your eyes.
+ Slowly begin to calm your mind by focusing on your breathing in and out.
+ Don’t do conscious breathing – don’t inhale sharply and force the air out in a wheezing motion, just stay relaxed and natural.
+ You should notice your thought processes slowing down.
+ Eventually your breathing will be short with limited movement in the chest (and just a slight movement at the brow).
+ At this stage, if you are completely relaxed and free of niggling thoughts you will be in a state of meditation.

Original article no longer available

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Stepping out of obsessive thinking

Man leaping into water, doing a cannonball

I’d gone into therapy during my sophomore year in college, and remember the day I brought up my current prime-time fixation: how to stop binge eating. No matter how committed I felt to my newest diet plan, I kept blowing it each day, and mercilessly judged myself for being out of control. When I wasn’t obsessing on how I might concoct a stricter, more dramatic weight-loss program, I was getting caught up in food cravings.

My therapist listened quietly for a while, and then asked a question that has stayed with me ever since: “When you are obsessing about eating, what are you feeling in your body?” As my attention shifted, I immediately noticed the painful, squeezing feeling in my chest. While my mind was saying “something is wrong with me,” my body was squeezing my heart and throat in the hard grip of fear.

In an instant I realized that when I was obsessing about food—craving it, wanting to avoid it—I was trying to escape from these feelings. Obsessing was my way of being in control. Then I realized something else. “It’s not just food” I told her. “I’m obsessing about everything.”

Saying it out loud unlocked something inside of me. I talked about how I obsessed about what was wrong with my boyfriend, about exams, about what to do for spring break, about when to fit in a run. I obsessed about what I’d tell her at our next therapy session. And most of all, my tireless inner critic obsessed about my own failings: I’d never change; I’d never like myself; others wouldn’t want to be close to me.

After pouring all this out, my mind started scratching around again—this time for a new strategy for changing my obsessive self. When I started down that track, my therapist simply smiled and said kindly: “If you can notice when you’re obsessing and then feel what’s going on in your body, you’ll eventually find peace of mind.”

During the weeks that followed, I kept track of my obsessing. When I caught myself planning and judging and managing, I would note that I was obsessing, try to stop, and then ask how I was feeling in my body. Whatever the particular focus of my thoughts, I’d find a restless, anxious feeling—the same squeezing grip I had felt in my therapist’s office.

While I didn’t like my obsessing, I really didn’t like this feeling. Without being conscious of pulling away, I’d start distancing myself from the pain almost as soon as I’d contacted it, and the relentless voice in my head would take over again. Then, after a month or soof this, I had an experience that really caught my attention.

One Saturday night, after my friends and I had spent hours dancing to the music of a favorite band, I stepped outside to get some fresh air. Inspired by the full moon and the scent of spring blossoms, I sat down on a bench for a few moments alone. Suddenly the world was deliciously quiet. Sweaty and tired, my body was vibrating from all that dancing. But my mind was still. It was big and open, like the night sky. And filling it was a sense of peace—I didn’t want anything or fear anything. Everything was okay.

By Sunday morning, the mood had vanished. Worried about a paper due midweek, I sat down to work at noon, armed with Diet Coke, cheese, and crackers. I was going to overeat, I just knew it. My mind started ricocheting between wanting to eat and not wanting to gain weight. My agitation grew. For a moment I flashed on the evening before; that quiet, happy space was like a distant dream. A great wave of helplessness and sorrow filled my heart. I began whispering a prayer: “Please … may I stop obsessing … Please, please.” I wanted to be free from the prison of my fear-thinking.

The taste of a quiet, peaceful mind I’d experienced the night before had felt like home, and it motivated me not long after to begin spiritual practice. In the years since, I’ve become increasingly free from the grip of obsessive thinking, but awakening from this mental trance has been slower than I initially imagined.

Obsessive thinking is a tenacious addiction, a way of running from our restlessness and fears. Yet, like all false refuges, it responds to mindful awareness—to an interested and caring attention. We can listen to the energies behind our obsessive thinking, respond to what needs attention, and spend less and less time removed from the presence that nurtures our lives.

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Planting ourselves in the universe

Here in this body are the sacred rivers: here are the sun and moon, as well as all the pilgrimage places. I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body.
—Tantric song

When I meet with people at retreats or in counseling sessions, some will tell me they feel numb, lost in thoughts, and disconnected from life. Others might tell me they are overwhelmed by feelings of fear, hurt, or anger. Whenever we are either possessed by our feelings or dissociated from them, we are in trance, cut off from our full presence and aliveness.

In Buddhist meditation training, awakening from trance begins with mindfulness of sensations. Sensations are our most immediate way of experiencing and relating to life. All our other reactions—to thoughts, to external situations, to people, to emotions—are actually in response to physical sensations. When we are angry at someone, our body is responding to a perceived threat. When we are attracted to someone, our body is signaling comfort or curiosity or desire. If we don’t recognize the ground level of sensation, we will continually be lost in the swirl of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that make up our daily trance.

One of the best instructions I’ve heard for meditation practice was given by Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Buddhadasa: “Do not do anything that takes you away from your body.” The body lives in the present. When you are aware of the body, you are connected with living presence—the one place where you can see reality, see what is actually happening. Awareness of the body is our gateway into the truth of what is.

This gateway to refuge was crucial to the Buddha’s own awakening. When Siddhartha Gautama took his seat at the base of the bodhi tree—the tree of awakening—he resolved to stay there until he found full freedom. He began his meditation by collecting his attention, quieting his mind, and “coming back” to a full and balanced presence. But then, as the story is told, the demon Mara appeared, accompanied by a massive army, and with many deadly weapons and magical forces at his disposal. Mara is a tempter—his name means “delusion” in Pali—and we can also see him as Gautama’s shadow self. Mara’s intent was to keep Gautama trapped in trance.

Throughout the night Mara hurled rocks and arrows, boiling mud and blistering sands to provoke Gautama to fight or flee, yet he met these attacks with a compassionate presence, and the missiles were all transformed into celestial flowers. Then Mara sent his daughters, “desire, pining, and lust,” surrounded by voluptuous attendants to seduce Gautama, yet Gautama’s mind remained undistracted and present. Dawn was fast approaching when Mara issued his final challenge—doubt. What proof, Mara asked, did Gautama have of his compassion? How could he be sure his heart was awakened? Mara was targeting the core reactivity that hooks and sustains the sense of small self—the perception of our own unworthiness.

Gautama did not try to use a meditative technique to prove himself. Rather, he touched the earth and asked it to bear witness to his compassion, to the truth of what he was. In response, the earth responded with a shattering roar, “I bear you witness!” Terrified, Mara and his forces dispersed in all directions.

In that instant of acknowledging his belonging to the earth, Gautama became the Buddha—the awakened one—and was liberated. By claiming this living wholeness, he dissolved the final vestiges of the trance of separation.

For us, the story of the Buddha’s liberation offers a radical and wonderful invitation. Like the Buddha, our own healing and awakening unfolds in any moment in which we take refuge in our aliveness—connecting with our flesh and blood, with our breath, with the air itself, with the elements that compose us, and with the earth that is our home. Whenever we bring our presence to the living world of sensation, we too are touching the ground.

In the early part of the last century, D. H. Lawrence found himself in a society devastated by war, a landscape despoiled by industrialism, and a culture suffering from a radical disconnect between mind and body. Written in 1928, his words have lost none of their urgency:

It is a question, practically of relationship. We must get back into relation, vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe. … For the truth is, we are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs, we are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal, sources which flow eternally in the universe. Vitally, the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree, with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe.

When we disconnect from the body, we are pulling away from the energetic expression of our being that connects us with all of life. By imagining a great tree uprooted from the earth, we can sense the unnaturalness, violence, and suffering of this severed belonging. The experience of being uprooted is a kind of dying.

Some people tell me about the despair of not really living, of skimming the surface. Others have the perpetual sense of a threat lurking around the corner. And many speak of being weighed down by a deep tiredness. It takes energy to continually run away from pain and tension, to pull away from the life of the present moment. Roots in the air, we lose access to the aliveness and love and beauty that nourish our deepest being. No false refuge can compensate for that loss.

Yet, like the Buddha touching the ground, we can reclaim our life and spirit by planting ourselves again in the present. This begins by connecting with the truth of what’s happening in our body. Then, when we’re finally in direct contact with the felt sense of that aliveness in our own being, we can fully experience this mysterious field of aliveness we call home.

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Keeping a level head while meditating

Buddha statue carved into rock cliff

One thing I noticed a long time ago was that the position of my head during meditation made a surprising difference to my state of mind. If my chin was down even a fraction of an inch, then I’d tend to get tired, or to get caught up in often very heavy emotional story lines, full of drama. If my chin was up even a fraction of an inch, then I’d tend to get lost in thoughts that were generally more speculative and excited. Chin down focuses our energy on the emotions; chin up puts more energy into our thoughts. This is perhaps why when someone’s depressed we tell them to “keep their chin up” and when someone’s a dreamer we say they have their “head in the clouds.” Both of these metaphors convey essential truths about the relationship between head position and mental states.

In the ideal position the back of the neck feels long and open, almost as if a space were opening up between the skull and the first vertebra. In this position the muscles holding the skull in place are doing the minimum amount of effort. When the head is nicely balanced on top of the spine in this way, with the chin slightly tucked in, and in a “neutral” position, then it’s easier to be mindfully aware of both our thoughts and emotions without getting sucked into either of them. We can maintain a more mindful distance between us and our experience. We’re, to use another popular idiom, “level-headed.”

To some extent this relationship seems to be one of simple cause-and-effect from mental state to posture. If you’re excited, then the body’s muscle tone is higher, and the muscles on the back of the neck tense up, raising the chin. If you’re feeling low in energy, then the body’s muscle tone decreases, and you slump, bringing the chin down. In a balanced state the head is held in a balanced way.

But the causal relationship also works in reverse. If you adjust the angle of the head, then the mind shifts in energy and focus. And so this is something we can be aware of and use in our meditation practice. Whenever we sit down to meditate, it’s advisable to first check out and adjust our posture. We need to make sure that the body’s position is going to support both alert mindfulness and relaxation. And as part of that check-in with the body, we can make sure that the head is in an appropriate and helpful position. Ideally, the head should be balanced effortlessly on top of the spine.

If, during meditation, we notice that the head has drifted out of alignment, we can bring it back to this point of balance.

I’d like to suggest two experiments for you to try out, so that you can explore the powerful affect that our head position has on our experience.

1. So start by setting up your posture for meditation, and let the head find a natural point of balance on top of the spine. Let your breathing settle, and notice how much of the breathing is happening in the chest, and how much in the belly.

Then, try dropping the chin a fraction of an inch, and notice again how much of the breathing is happening in the chest, and how much in the belly. And then bring the head back to a neutral position.

Then, try raising the chin a fraction of an inch, and notice how much of the breathing is happening in the chest, and how much in the belly.

What did you find?

This varies from person to person, but most people notice an effect. Generally, people find that dropping the chin makes it harder to breathe into the chest, and the breathing shifts to the belly. When we breathe more into the belly, the mind can become calm, but sometimes it becomes dull. Most people find that when they raise the chin the opposite happens. It becomes harder to breathe into the belly, and it’s more natural to breathe into the chest. Chest-breathing tends to promote mental excitement. In the balanced position, it’s easier to use both the chest and the belly in order to breathe (although of course we may have habits that favor one or the other manner of breathing).

A few people have reported the exact opposite of what the majority of people notice: as the chin goes up they breathe more into the belly. I’d love to know what’s going on there.

2. Let’s repeat the previous experiment, but this time notice the degree of light or dark that we perceive internally.

Try it with the head in a normal position. Notice how light or dark your internal experience is.

Then drop the chin. Notice how light or dark your internal experience is. Then come back to neutral.

Then raise the chin, and notice how light or dark your experience is.

Often our light sources are above us, so it’s not surprising that when the chin’s up our experience is brighter, and when it’s down our experience is darker. I don’t think there’s anything mystical about this. It’s possible that there’s some kind of blood-flow issue involved as well, though, since sometimes I think I can detect this change even in the dark. It’s quite possible that this is wishful thinking, however.

All the same, this physical effect of seeing more or less light has an effect on the mind. One of the traditional remedies for sleepiness in meditation is to open the eyes, or to visualize light, or to look at a source of light. And often meditation halls are slightly darkened in order to produce a calming effect. So the angle of the head, by adjusting the amount of light we perceive, may also affect our degree of alertness.

I think this is all important to be aware of because we need all the help we can get in being mindful. It would be most helpful if we could maintain a balanced position for the head during meditation (and in the rest of our lives). But we can watch for the chin drifting out of alignment and gently bring it back to a point of balance.

Sometimes I’ve used head position as a tool, however, by deliberately putting my head out of alignment. When I’ve been overcome by sleepiness in meditation I’ve sometimes consciously raised my head a fraction of an inch. The head still tends to start dropping as I nod off, but I have more time to catch it on the way down because it has further to go! Basically I catch the chin falling from a raised position to a normal position, and bring it back up again. I’ve never tried going that far in the opposite direction; in other words when I’m overexcited I don’t tend to drop the chin down below a normal position. Maybe I should try that. Usually, I just bring it back to a point of balance, and use other techniques to calm the mind.

So, what did you find it trying out these two experiments? Is there anything else you’ve learned about the importance of head position in meditation?

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A back tip for meditators, or how to sit with more ease

Two stacks of cookies

Can’t seem to find a comfortable way to sit in meditation? Here’s something really simple to try. It’s actually a mindfulness practice in itself. It’s a way to balance your natural ability to relax with the forces of gravity to find a well-aligned posture that’s effortless and free. I do this myself at the beginning of every sit, and find it really helpful.

For a visual cue, imagine your body as like a bunch of children’s wooden blocks, stacked one on top of another. It can rise up pretty high, as long as you place each block squarely on the one below. Gravity exerts a pull straight down the middle of the stack that keeps it well-balanced.

Doing this in effect also creates an upward flow of energy that allows you to stack the blocks up high – certainly higher than if you piled them crooked. So even though we think of gravity as a force that pulls downward, when it’s used well you can think of it as creating a natural upward lift as well.

We can do the same thing with our bodies. If we stack our spine so that each “block” is squarely placed on the one below, we can sit upright with ease, without having to use a lot of muscular effort to hold us up. Gravity keeps each part of the body rooted on the one below, and we find an effortless way to rise up sitting.

If you normally slump, you might think that slumping is more comfortable. And for longer periods of sitting, it probably is better than trying to hold yourself up straight. But that kind of holding is a perfect invitation for back tension and pain. And it’s NOT what I’m talking about here.

Here’s how to do it. Think of your body as like that stack of blocks. It’s actually four blocks as follows:

  • Hips
  • Mid-torso/waist area
  • Upper back/chest
  • Head

So let’s start by aligning the hips. First we need to find our sit bones. If you’re not sure where they are, try sitting on your hands. You’ll immediately feel a bony protrusion from each hip digging into your hands. Those are your sit bones.

Now try this experiment. Start by tilting too far forward on those sit bones. I mean to the point where you feel way off balance. Notice the muscles in the back of your pelvic area engage to try to hold you up. Obviously you won’t want to sit like this for long. Now let’s try going too far in the other direction – too far back. And notice how your abdominals engage. Again, it’s not how you’d want to sit for long.

Now try rocking back and forth, from too far forward to too far back, in smaller and smaller increments. Each time you pass through the middle, you’ll probably feel a spot where all your muscular effort lets go, and everything feels free and easy. Try rocking around that center point a bit until you find it by feel. Don’t try to analyze or think this through. It needs to be felt. That point is the most effortless, upright position for your hips – for YOUR body.

See also:

Now let’s work on the mid-torso/waist area, doing the same thing. Try bending forward at the waist, compressing the front of your stomach and rounding out your back. You’ll be slouched forward – and it’s probably won’t be comfortable for long. Now try arching your back in the other direction, opening up your belly area and arching your back. Again, it’ll probably feel like too much. Now try swinging back and forth between those two extremes in gradually smaller increments, passing through the middle point where it feels easy. That middle is where your mid-torso is stacked most optimally on your hips.

We can do the same for the upper back/chest area. Try alternating between having your shoulders slumped forward vs. pushed back. Find that easy spot in the middle that’s just right.

Then the head. Alternate between your chin being dropped forward and tilted back (please be careful not to tilt too far back – you don’t want to injure it!) For each, we’re looking for that spot in the middle that feels easy but also firmly placed on the “block” below.

Now check how your body feels overall. Does it feel light and at ease? Does your spine seem to float and lift upward without effort? Don’t try to check in a mirror to see whether you look straight. This isn’t about how straight you LOOK, but more how it FEELS. We’re aiming for the balance point between a felt sense of ease on the one hand and lift on the other.

Keep in mind that the balance point isn’t something you find once and for all. Your body is a dynamic organism, constantly shifting and changing. What you’re sitting on, or even your mood can affect what feels best in the moment. So you’ll want to stay alert to these shifts, and adjust as needed to ever changing conditions. If your comfortable posture seems slumped, don’t worry about it. If you keep working in this way, your posture will likely straighten gradually over time.

If you approach your sitting practice in this way, you might find yourself mindfully interacting with your body and surrounding conditions in a sort of dance with your present experience. It’s your reality, as experienced through your body. And as it turns out, that’s THE most direct way possible to experience the present moment – through one of your senses.

I invite you to try it. It has woken me up to a whole new world of experience. Maybe it will for you too.

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Be the body

As a kid, I was really out of touch with my body. I hardly noticed it most of the time, and when I did, I prodded it like a mule to do a better job of hauling “me” – the head – around.

This approach helped me soldier through some tough times. But there were costs. Many pleasures were numbed, or they flew over – actually, under – my head. I didn’t feel deeply engaged with life, like I was peering at the world through a hole in a fence. I pushed my body hard and didn’t take good care of it. When I spoke, I sounded out of touch to others, emotionally distant, even phony; my words lacked credibility, gravity, traction.

Because of these costs, I’ve worked with this issue and come to appreciate the benefits of being aware of the body, coming down into it, inhabiting it – most fundamentally, being it.

For starters, being the body is simply telling a truth. What we experience being – thoughts and feelings, memories and desires, and consciousness itself – is constrained, conditioned, and constructed by the body via its nervous system. The fabric of your mind is woven by your body.

Further, being aware of your body and its signals gives you useful information about your deeper feelings and needs. Tracking your body’s subtle reactions to others also tells you a lot about them.

Coming home to your body helps you feel grounded, and it gives you reassuring feedback that you’re alive and basically alright. It’s exhilarating to feel the vitality of the body, even sitting quietly, and to experience the pleasures of the senses.

In particular, experiencing your body as a whole – as a single, unified gestalt in awareness, with all its sensations appearing together at once – activates networks on the sides of your brain. These lateral networks pull you out of the planning, worrying, obsessing, fantasizing, and self-referential thinking – “me, myself, and I” – that’s driven by another neural network in the middle of the brain. Consequently, abiding as the whole body draws you into the present moment, reduces stress, increases mindfulness, and lowers the sense of self to help you take life less personally.

How?

First off, a caution: for some people, it’s disturbing to experience being the body. In particular, this is understandable and not uncommon for people who have chronic pain, a disability, or a history of trauma. If this applies to you, try these practices carefully, if at all.

But for most people, it feels good and brings value to be the body. And there are numerous ways to deepen the sense of this:

  • Let your attention wander through your body, like a gentle scout investigating its sensations.
  • See what it’s like to sustain awareness of your body for at least a few minutes in a row – and longer if you want. You could keep paying attention to your breathing, or to the feelings in your hands while doing dishes, or to the sensations in your feet and legs as you walk the dog.
  • While doing everyday activities, routinely bring attention back to your body. What’s it feel like to be a body: answering the phone … watching TV … driving … typing … lifting a child … sitting in a meeting … stocking shelves … loading a truck … crawling into bed … ?
  • As you speak, try to be aware of your chest … stomach … hips … arms and legs … hands and feet. How does this change your communicating, especially about things that matter to you?
  • Experiment with sensing the body as a whole. Try to be aware of all the sensations of breathing in the torso, all of them present in consciousness as a unified whole, moment by moment. Let attention widen and soften to receive the whole torso as a single percept. In the beginning, it’s natural for this sense of the whole to last for only a second or two and then crumble; simply keep trying to regenerate it, and it will become stronger with practice. Next, open to a larger whole: all of the sensations of breathing throughout the body, appearing all together in awareness breath after breath. Then, see if you can go all the way out to include all body sensations, not just those of breathing.
  • For a specified time – even just one minute – find a comfortable seat, let worries and plans fall away, and simply rest. Be aware of breathing and let everything else go. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be. Just sitting, abiding as a body breathing.

Wherever we go, whatever we’re doing, there’s always a doorway to a deeper sense of presence and peace: being the body.

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For better sex, meditate!

Maureen Salamon: “Am I pretty enough? Am I doing this right? Should I be going to yoga?”

These kinds of anxious, self-judgmental thoughts often run through some women’s minds as they have sex, experts say.

But a new study says “mindfulness meditation” training — which teaches how to bring one’s thoughts into the present moment — can quiet the mental chatter that prevents these women from fully feeling sexual stimuli.

“Rather than feeling it, they get caught up in their heads,” said the study’s lead author, Gina Silverstein, who was a student at Brown University in Rhode Island at the time of the study …

Click to read more »

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Bodhi art: reclaiming the body with Buddhist tattoos

Buddhist Marcus Hartsfield, showing the Buddha tattoo covering his entire back

People often ask me why I get tattooed and why I have so many. I have 40 tattoos, including one that covers my entire back. I have also been branded and pierced in various locations on my body. I started out with a small tattoo paid for by my best friend as a 25th birthday present. He said, “I want to give you something that you can never get rid of!” I continued to get tattoos regularly, a couple times a year and at one point every six weeks. For many years, I was not conscious of any particular reason for being continually tattooed. I liked how they looked; I actually liked the pain and the feeling of being tattooed. When I was first tattooed, they were not so trendy and I guess I was trying to look like a “bad ass.” Some of my tattoos have deep personal meaning and some are meant to be funny or merely decorative. All of them have been done by Tex at Authentic Tattoo in San Francisco.

I later discovered, in the course of my own personal psychotherapy and introspection, that there were reasons why I modifying my body to such an extreme. It would take hours to go into these, but to summarize, I was subjected to various forms of abuse as a child, was bullied in junior high school, survived cancer with two surgeries and six months of chemotherapy and struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for many years. These factors, particularly the abuse and the cancer treatments, caused me to feel that my body was not my own. Being tattooed has helped bring me back to my body: to quite literally mark it as my own and take ownership of it. It no longer belongs to those who abused me or to the doctors and surgeons. Being tattooed is certainly not the only way I truly inhabit my body; Zen Buddhist practice — especially zazen — and yoga, certainly help me in this regard.

Several of my tattoos are what you’d call “Buddhist tattoos,” though I get the impression that tattoos are generally frowned upon in Zen. I once asked my teacher what he thought of so-called “Buddhist tattoos.” He furrowed his brow disdainfully (or so it seemed to me) and said, “What about invoking Bodhi-mind?” Well, that stopped the conversation before it even began. I got all of the Buddhist tattoos I will discuss after I got into recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and re-committed myself to Zen practice. The top half of my body is devoted to more serious or sacred themes, the bottom half to more profane or irreverent subjects. I don’t remember doing this consciously, that’s the way it turned out.

I have two koi, in a Japanese style, on my forearms. They are not exactly Buddhist, but they were the first tattoos I got when I got sober. I have a Dharma wheel, a Tibetan “Knot of Eternity,” a Daruma and several texts: pieces of Buddhist scripture and a Buddhist poem.

The text tattoos are:

1. A poem:

Satori
Don’t think
That it will be glorious:
That momentary burst
Of radiance
Illuming all.
Nonsense
It is more like
Losing your mother
In a large Department Store forever.

I have always loved this poem yet I do not know wrote it.

2. Dharma Hall Discourse #53 “Nothing is Hidden,” from the Eihei Koroku (Extensive Record) by Eihei Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen:

“Directly it is said that not a single thing exists, and yet we see in the entire universe nothing has ever been hidden.”

When I first read this piece, I had the most incredible sensation and had to sit down. I could barely speak for half a day.

3. An important quote from the Genjo Koan by Dogen.

“Here is the place; here the way unfolds.”

Another one of those “gob-smacked” moments.

4. A verse repeated several times during the Full Moon Ceremony in which we Zen practitioners repeat our Bodhisattva vows:

“All my ancient twisted karma,
from beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
born through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.”

I get chills just thinking about saying that verse, and I usually weep at that point in the ceremony. This helps me free myself from the incredible amount of guilt and shame I carry at times — my “ancient twisted karma.”

5. The Robe Chant from the morning ceremony after the first period of zazen at Zen Center — the point at which the Priests put on their okesa and the lay people put on their rakasu:

“Great robe of liberation.
Field far beyond form and emptiness.
Wearing the Tathagata’s teaching,
Saving all beings.”

The Daruma tattoo is especially dear to me. Daruma is a wobbly Japanese toy, a version of Bodhidharma, the mythic founder of Zen. The image is that of someone who keeps getting up when knocked over. While struggling to get sober, I would fail like most addicts and alcoholics tend to do. My teacher would repeat the Japanese Proverb, “Fall down seven times, get up eight. Like the Daruma.” Once, during an evening at Zen Center, my legs had fallen asleep while in half-lotus position. I was probably hung-over or had taken a few pills, and I did not notice. I stood up for the ceremony, staggered, and started to topple over — right there in the Buddha Hall. My teacher leapt over, cat-like, and caught me. He held me until my legs woke up and I could stand on my own. Everyone was staring at me, and I was deeply mortified. My teacher said, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” The zendo erupted in loving laughter and my shame faded quickly.

Other Buddhist tattoos are the lotus and Bodhi leaves on my chest. The symbolism of the lotus, flowering beautifully from muddy water (although perhaps it’s even more beautiful to think of it growing from sewage), holds special meaning for me, given my life experience and background.

While it’s definitely not Buddhist, I have Oscar Wilde’s prison number, “C.3.3.” tattooed on my arm. When I was a very lonely, bullied, and abused teenager struggling with my sexual orientation in rural Tennessee, a kindly retired schoolteacher gave me “The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.” Wilde got me through those dark days. Reading about Wilde’s trials for “gross indecency” and his subsequent imprisonment and ruin, began in me an interest in social justice and political activism, especially for LGBT rights. To me, one of the worst aspects of the legal action against Wilde was the way his writings were used against him at his trial. I could never fathom the gross indecency of using an artist’s own art against him. The Prosecutor famously said, “There could be no worse thing [than Wilde’s homosexuality]”. Really? Really??? But, I digress…

My back is covered by an exact rendering of the Buddha on the main altar of San Francisco Zen Center. The statue is a priceless and ancient Gandhara Buddha from a formerly Buddhist region in Afghanistan. This statue has very deep meaning for me. It is not an Asian Buddha at all; it is Western, with a European face, done in the Greco-Roman style because Gandhara was a Greek outpost at the time the statue was carved. For years, this fact was lost on me as I sat in the Buddha Hall and struggled with the idea of this “Asian” religion, feeling like one of the people I would criticize when in a dark and hateful frame of mind: “…silly white cultural vampires and spiritual materialists, trying to adopt some Asian religion because Asians are superior to us and more spiritual than us Westerners….” (pretty harsh judgments, no?). But, it hit me one day that this Buddha I was sitting in front of was Western, like me, and that Buddhism is not about race or culture, but about something universal that is in all of us.

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Meditation beats dance for harmonizing body and mind

The body is a dancer’s instrument, but is it attuned to the mind? A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that professional ballet and modern dancers are not as emotionally in sync with their bodies as are people who regularly practice meditation.

UC Berkeley researchers tracked how closely the emotions of seasoned meditators and professional dancers followed bodily changes such as breathing and heart rates.

They found that dancers who devote enormous time and effort to developing awareness of and precise control over their muscles – a theme coincidentally raised in the new ballet movie “Black Swan” – do not have a stronger mind-body connection than do most other people.

By contrast, veteran practitioners of Vipassana or mindfulness meditation – a technique focused on observing breathing, heartbeat, thoughts and feelings without judgment – showed the closest mind-body bond, according to the study recently published in the journal Emotion.

“We all talk about our emotions as if they are intimately connected to our bodies – such as the ‘heartache of sadness’ and ‘bursting a blood vessel’ in anger,” said Robert Levenson, a UC Berkeley psychology professor and senior author of the study. “We sought to precisely measure how close that connection was, and found it was stronger for meditators.”

The results offer new clues in the mystery of the mind-body connection. Previous studies have linked the dissociation of mind and body to various medical and psychiatric diseases.

“Ever have the experience of getting home from work and realizing you have a blistering headache?” said Jocelyn Sze, a doctoral student in clinical science at UC Berkeley and the lead author of the study. “The headache probably built up throughout the day, but you might have been intentionally ignoring it and convincing yourself that you felt fine so that you could get through the demands of the day.”

Increasingly, mindfulness meditation is being used to treat physical and psychological problems, researchers point out. “We believe that some of these health benefits derive from meditation’s capacity to increase the association between mind and body in emotion,” Levenson said.

For the experiment, the researchers recruited volunteers from meditation and dance centers around the San Francisco Bay Area and via Craigslist. The study sample consisted of 21 dancers with at least two years of training in modern dance or ballet and 21 seasoned meditators with at least two years of Vipassana practice. A third “control group” was made up of 21 moderately active adults with no training in dance, meditation, Pilates or professional sports.

Participants, who ranged in age from 18 to 40, were wired with electrodes to measure their bodily responses while they watched emotionally charged scenes from movies and used a rating dial to indicate how they were feeling.

Although all participants reported similar emotional reactions to the film clips, meditators showed stronger correlations between the emotions they reported feeling and the speed of their heartbeats. Surprisingly, the differences between dancers and the control group were minimal.

Researchers theorize that dancers learn to shift focus between time, music, space, and muscles and achieve heightened awareness of their muscle tone, body alignment and posture.

“These are all very helpful for becoming a better dancer, but they do not tighten the links between mind and body in emotion,” Levenson said.

By contrast, meditators practice attending to “visceral” body sensations, which makes them more attuned to internal organs such as the heart. “These types of visceral sensations are a primary focus of Vipassana meditation, which is typically done sitting still and paying attention to internal sensations,” Sze said.

The study was published in the December 2010 issue of Emotion. In addition to Sze and Levenson, coauthors are UC Berkeley psychologists Joyce W. Yuan and Anett Gyurak, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

via UC Berkeley News

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A leap of faith

child placing its hand in an adult's hand

Learning and growing as an individual is a do-it-yourself project… up to a point. Sooner or later, there comes a time when we need to take a risk and leap into something new and unknown, beyond our control. Sunada shares a recent experience and how it reinforced her understanding of faith.

One of the things that Westerners tend to find appealing about Buddhism is its emphasis on rationality and self-reliance. A lot of the Buddha’s teachings are very much about taking ownership of our lives. Meditation, study, and living by the ethical principles are all about objective, self-directed efforts that help us grow as individuals.

This is all accurate… up to a point.

To me faith means I don’t need to be so much in the driver’s seat of my life. I can let go of control to something I don’t entirely understand.

Here’s the irony. The more I practice in this self-directed way, the more I’m growing in faith. To me faith means I don’t need to be so much in the driver’s seat of my life. I can let go of control to something I don’t entirely understand. And there are forces greater than me that I can tap into to my benefit. So what’s that all about?

I’d like to share with you something that happened yesterday. I participated in a voice workshop in which I sang a solo in front of a small audience. Many of you know that musical performance anxiety is one of my biggest fears. I’m OK performing with a group, but solos are a completely different matter.

It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life. On the one hand, music has always been my passion. I’ve been told by many people that I have a lovely voice. I’ve also been told I have a gift for communicating with an audience, and really enjoy doing so in other contexts, like speaking and teaching. But I didn’t get much encouragement as a child to pursue music – in fact got DIScouragement from some key people in my life. So that’s how my “I’m not good enough” demons came into being. Even though I know better in my head, those inner voices still taunt me, decades later.

I can put my boat [in the river] and try to paddle against the current, or I can let go and harness its energy so it carries me where I want to go.

For years, I did all the objectively “right” things. I’ve taken music lessons of one kind or another for my whole life. I studied music in college. I honed my technique by practicing diligently. I figured that if I felt more confident technically, I’d feel more self-assured as a performer.

That was true… up to a point.

But yesterday, I took some leaps. When the nerves started tensing my body up, I breathed more deeply, and lower into my belly. I put my trust in my body — and its ability to calm me down. I focused on the story I wanted to tell, and what emotions they brought up. I put my trust in my feelings — and their ability to connect me with my audience. When a difficult passage came up, I dropped more deeply into my present experience. I put my trust in my breath — and its primary role in supporting and gliding my voice through the tough parts. When my fear threatened to shut me down, I looked it in the face and risked being even more open. I put my trust in my authentic self, flaws and all — and how my willingness to be vulnerable makes me more engaging.

I’d known all these things in my head for years — that they were the best ways to get through an attack of nerves. But this time I really did it. I took a leap of faith.

It’s not a blind faith. I’ve put effort into learning about the nature of the river. I now feel I understand [it] well enough to feel confident in putting my trust in [it].

For me, my faith grew out of the deepening of my awareness. The more I learn about the nature of my body, my breath, my feelings, and the world around me, the more I see how they are not really in my control. They all have a certain energy about them, a way of moving and flowing that I can tap into, but not own. I suppose they’re like the flow of a river. I can put my boat into it and try to paddle against the current, or I can let go and harness its energy so it carries me where I want to go.

Faith is like putting my trust in that river. It’s not a blind faith at all. I’ve put effort into learning about the nature of the river – in this case my body, breath, and so on. I now feel I understand them well enough to feel confident in putting my trust in them.

I also know that they are part of forces in the world far greater than this small self that I think I am. To fight against them is futile and self-defeating. It makes so much more sense to give my trust to those larger energies, and let them carry me along. And what I’m seeing is that by doing so, they take me to places I couldn’t have gotten to on my own. That was certainly the case when I sang my solo yesterday.

It makes so much more sense to give my trust to those larger energies, and let them carry me along… by doing so, they take me to places I couldn’t have gotten to on my own.

I’m sure we all have situations in our lives where we’d like to do more and be more. And it’s likely we’ve taken many of the objectively “right” steps to try and get there. This is all well and good. We need to understand ourselves, our situation, and how to make our way through them. It’s a positive and constructive way to go about it.

This is all good… up to a point.

But then we come to the end of the path. We see that we have a choice. We can either stay stuck there doing what we’ve always done, or take a leap of faith into the river. And those are our only options.

So this is my understanding of where the Buddha’s path leads us. First, take responsibility for ourselves — make our own efforts to understand, to grow in awareness, sharpen our skills, and learn how the river flows. But at some point, take everything we’ve learned and put our boat in the river. Sure, it might be a rough trip. But we understand the river and ourselves well enough to ride it out. The more we do that, the more our confidence in that greater flow grows. With that faith, we’ll go much farther, and faster, than we ever could on our own.

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