“Our bodies already know how to birth true wisdom” Shodo Harada
Lately I have had met many people and clients who are talking about walking right, sitting right, squatting right. They are looking for a technique or rule to follow to feel good in the body. I have a different view of movement and embodiment. I hope it will be informative.
Instead of looking outside for the right way to move or to stand, it is better to realize the place where we feel what is actually holding us up as we stand or sit. I’d like to suggest that we begin to feel our bodies and the environment around us and discover that they are guiding us how to become one with them. To make a simple metaphor, it is kind of like allowing ourselves to float on our backs in water. If we try too hard or struggle or grasp, we will sink.
At first, this will be very disorienting, because it is not the way we normally function. We like to control and think our way through things. But instead of diving out with our awareness to the environment or to our thoughts, we begin to let something come to us. We begin to allow the trees, the ground, this great life energy, the air itself, to come closer to us, and to feel it supporting us.
We are in Chi like fish are in water. We can come to experience this all of the time.
There is no need to look to the filter of the brain to understand how to be in the body. Being in the body will guide us to be more harmonious with it without need of technique or mental understanding. To put a concept onto the body is a mistake. At first when I was in the monastery I had many health problems. I could not breath very well, I was in constant pain in my body. I could not sleep comfortably as my asthma would wake me up in the middle of the night. And in the zendo (meditation hall), I suffered through period after period just trying to get through to a break. I could barely make it through an osesshin (week long retreat), I had so much pain and inner turbulence.
After being at Sogenji for some months and really suffering, I asked the Roshi one day in the hallway, “What do you want from me?” He looked at me and said, “I just want you to get into your body right now.” I couldn’t believe it. And so I set about just doing that as my main point of training.
I noticed that often my body was this foreign thing kind of “over there” and my consciousness was this this other thing which was struggling to tolerate this body and lugging it around. I saw that I was not in my body. I saw that if I was not in my body, anything I did felt wrong. But when somehow I found a way to become one with my body, really feel it, meld with it, then strange things started to happen. With this I had to completely relax. I had to have no idea how my body should be. And I started to feel really good. Like I was running on all cylinders instead of one. I found that my body would begin to direct me how to heal. If I had just pulled something while carrying a heavy table my body would show me how to work it out. If I could listen to it and not try to understand what was happening, this would happen much faster. My body would seal with energy and then every movement was as a unit, rather than some thing so divided. So instead of going in the direction I had been going all my life, which was to understand everything more, I began to go in the opposite direction. I began to allow everything I did to emerge from my body without my understanding, without a mental filter.
This is a funny process, and a scary one! Because at first I felt like a fool all the time! And it is scary not controlling everything form the top (brain) down. Frightening because I felt like I would say the wrong thing all the time. And for my whole life I have been afraid of saying something stupid or doing something stupid!
So it was the opposite direction from what I had always done. Trying to be smarter than everyone all the time! Trying to have a quicker mind than everyone. Being a know it all! But this was like taking the bus to “Dumbville”! And you know what, it completely changed my life!
Over time in Zen training, instead of needing the filter of my brain to function, I could respond without it! If the Roshi called to me in his super deep voice, “Ichigen!” I would charge out of my room and run to him like some wild racehorse. I found that there is a direct way to experience reality prior to mental understanding. Life is actually much more full without using a mental filter. Consider the poem by Seccho:
“As I step slowly along to the sounds of running water, My wandering gaze catches the traces of flying birds.”*
Sometimes on the free day I would go out to the back of the Hondo (Great Hall) where Kyudo (archery) was practiced. In the few hours before the evening bell and mandatory dinner, I would explore movement. Explore what was emerging from my body without a goal, just being curious. Walking around the cleared out gravel arena, below the cemetery in the quiet evening, just feeling my body, allowing it to open up to me, without my understanding, without a should. I had been listening to all of these techniques on how to open the body, how I should walk, how my posture should be, but I wanted to find out for myself what was trying to happen. I really believed that there had to be some base truth that was me which did not depend on a technique. If it depended on a technique, it had to be based on skill. And I truly believed that our basic self is perfect before adding anything on to it. I made a decision to commit to this basic truth even if it killed me.
In this quiet inquiry, finding out for myself what the body needed, my perception shifted more from one of exterior orientation to that of interior orientation. I began to find that if I really got into my body, my perception of what was in my body would extend to the environment around me. So, the trees, the cemetery walls, the kyudo targets, the sounds, they all seem to come from inside of my body. So going inward with my attention, my consciousness imploded to everything around me. What was inside of my body became what had been outside. Embodying this is truly being lived through by a greater power, a true source. This is not easily explained, but I encourage everyone to discover it themselves.
My goal of writing about this is not to give the reader some idea of how one should be in the body, but rather to inspire her to find out for herself what it is that is holding her up, what is this basic life energy which is expressing itself through our form. My hope is that the reader become fascinated with this process. In my work and life these days I am attempting to help people find a different kind of in life. What the Japanese call yugyòzanmai: oneness with the principle of cosmic play. Can they fall in love with exploring who and what it is that is walking around? I am trying to silently communicate this state of mind to each client with my work. I hope to get them to take the time to explore what it is that is holding our bodies up, because it is not our muscles.
Our bodies are great teachers. They are showing us at every moment how to awaken to life if we can just listen. Each person has his/her own process to discover this. It is a profoundly rebellious and independent endeavor. Not for the weak at heart. It is really giving up, and seeing what was there all the time. Most important qualities are to be honest, curious, and courageous. Thanks for reading! I hope this encourages one or two people to go out and explore. You can do it. Thanks for reading. Comments and questions welcome.
*Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) Paperback – July 30, 2010 by