Be held here, beloved
Grounding in body and breath
Grounding ourselves supports us to connect deeply, with the world and ourselves. This is our starting point, as well as a principle we return to again and again. We sit and connect. First with the ground and the sky, then with the environment all around us, then with this breath that keeps us alive, and finally with ourselves through our direct experience as it can be felt right now. We set our course with the intention to simply be here, and be held. Be held by earth and air, and the flesh that we call our body. The essential attitudes we bring to this way of sitting are of deep respect, humility, a willingness to not know, and an intention to let go into whatever can be felt directly through the sensations of our body. Over time, we learn to take a posture imbued with integrity and dignity.
Can we trust the earth to support us? When we sit, we can begin by dropping into the sensations of being held by the earth. These sensations include the feelings of pressure and resistance anywhere our body meets the ground – our feet, ankles, legs, buttocks. Through those sensations we can invite a releasing into the space of the earth beneath us. We might begin to notice that, without realising it, we’ve been subtly bracing against gravity, holding ourselves back. Through surrendering to the earth we connect with the qualities of stillness and stability that the earth offers us. We can begin to intuit these qualities within ourselves. What we can connect with by releasing into the ground is the reality of our deep relationship with the earth. That ultimately we are of the earth, cannot be separated from the earth, and will one day return to the earth.
Can we trust the sky to be a mirror of our own minds? As well as the ground, we can also imagine the sky above, imagine the skull nestling into the blue dome of infinite space that stretches endlessly above us. The luminosity of the sky above helps us open to the luminosity within. When we connect in this way we being to get in touch with the true nature of our own mind. It’s boundlessness and innate clarity, openness and sensitivity. In this space, whatever arises is welcome. Nothing can distract us if we are willing to meet it in this open space of awareness.
By connecting with earth and sky we are opening to the reality of our deep relationship with our environment. There is space all around us, which we sense through the body. Within this space manifests light, colours, sounds, temperature, and smells. We feel fully that we are in the world, are of the world, and are not separate from the world. And when we breath we take in nourishment from the world and release toxins (which are nourishment to flora) back to the world. We are part of an intimately interconnected universe. Establishing our awareness in this way helps us to remember that we are never alone. We can always come back to the world and the support it provides us.
Can we trust the breath and body to become vehicles for deepening awareness? Finally, we can connect with the space between earth and sky, this very body sitting right here, right now. First we may simply drop into the sensation of uprightness, remembering the spine that stretches skyward from root to crown. As we sense into the posture, we become aware of the breath and the sensations coming and going as we breath. There is an energy and vitality to the breath, the natural awakeness that comes when we become more intimate with the sensations of breathing.
Over time we will begin to notice the great variety of sensations that can be felt, be they pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. We learn to abide with these sensations, allowing them to arise and pass away in their own time, in their own way. We slowly develop a steady container in the body, which also conditions a steady mind. By focusing on the breath and allowing the breath to bring us into a deeper relationship with the body, we learn to cultivate a happy, concentrated mind. And we can enjoy these states as fruits of our practice. The steadiness and one-pointedness that we develop become great aids at beginning to see things more clearly.
Establishing our posture in this way helps us to feel fully held. Once we can allow ourselves to be fully held, then we can begin to arrive. And who is arriving in meditation? When we begin to meditate, we are driven, in part, by egoic goals. Perhaps we want to be less stressed or reactive, to improve concentration, or to be more loving, a better person. Although all these are useful intentions, real insight practice begins when we are able to see how even these are still self-centered goals. They may be useful to us, and should not be unnecessarily let go of too prematurely, but ultimately they will not lead to liberation in and of themselves. So it is important at this stage that we are aware of the expectations we are bringing to our meditation practice. This awareness supports us to have a healthy relationship to our expectations, not so that we may get rid of them, but so that we can understand them better, and therefore understand ourselves better.
Buddhist meditation can support us in seeing through the illusion of any sense of a person going anywhere. But in order to do this, first we must fully meet the person who is arriving in our practice now. This includes all the parts of ourselves we are familiar with, maybe even like, and all the parts we are not as familiar with, perhaps parts of ourselves we have never fully faced or don’t really like. Often these less welcome parts of ourselves manifest initially as the hindrances, physical and mental states that get in the way of our efforts to deepen awareness. These include tiredness, restlessness, confusion, aversion, and craving. We either shut down, get squirmy, don’t know what is happening or what to do, get bored, push our experience away, or spend whole meditations wishing we were somewhere else doing something else, anything else!
Yet, if we are able to establish enough grounding, calm, and steadiness in our minds, along with a generous dose of curiosity and love, we will be able to allow all these parts of ourselves into the space of meditation. At first we may have to spend quite a bit of time simply returning to the breath and sensations in the body when we notice we’ve gotten distracted. But over time, we’ll learn how to stay steady in the face of a more and more diverse internal landscape. And when we’re able to meet the mental and emotional states that show up in that landscape, we will also be able to get to know and understand them better. In the light of awareness and love we will see more clearly the conditions that give rise to our habitual patterns, and also how we might begin to liberate ourselves from them.
This work may sound conceptual, but what I am suggestion is not another analytical exercise. This work is, instead, deeply somatic. It begins and ends in the body. When we steady the mind, we are able to notice more clearly how it works. The way our thoughts shape our feelings, and vice versa. All of this is important information, which can give us a clue as to where we might begin to liberate our holding patterns in the body.
For example, when we become aware of thoughts associated with aversion or resistance, we could ask ourselves directly where we feel tension in the body. Then we can bring awareness to that part of the body calling for our attention. We drop the storyline, whatever we are having aversion or resistance to, and simply stay with the tension. We stay with how difficult it is, however unpleasant or irritating. We stay with it, stay with it. We notice whatever sensations may be there, sensations we usually associate with aversion. We listen deeply to what may be locked up in that space of holding. We open ourselves to whatever may be felt there. And finally, we watch it liberate itself in the gentle light of our awareness and love. We unlock the energy bound up there and let it move through us. It’s that simple.
Yet to work this way requires a great deal of self-love, commitment, and conviction. We are working to galvanise our energy so it may be applied to our practice, to gather ourselves up so that we may more fully apply ourselves to the path. We are changing the course of our energies, a course which may be deeply engrained, familiar and even comforting, for a more real existence that, although unfamiliar and perhaps even fear enducing, has the taste of freedom, greater and more liberating than anything we’ve ever experienced before.