Body, Breath and Mind

16 04 2014

I participated in a Naropa-sponsored meditation retreat weekend with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche last weekend. At one point, he described meditating in terms of maintenance of the mind, which explains, in part (*See Note Below*), why so many people suffer so greatly. We rely on our mind for happiness, contentment, emotional stability, kindness, better relationships, creativity, spontaneity, organization, and much more. And if we don’t maintain it, why should we experience any of those qualities? If we do not maintain our car, it will break down quicker, work less fluidly, and make upset sounds more often. So too, if we do not maintain our mind, it will break down quicker, work less fluidly, and make upset sounds more often.

Sometimes, when talking about meditation with friends, others (and myself) will say something to the effect of, “I meditate when I play my instrument, or paint, or go hiking in nature.” I think these are great activities with many benefits. And, in some ways, I don’t think they are as cumulatively affective and effective as sitting meditation, and here’s why. (Note: There are many many many types of completely different meditations. In this post, I’m mostly talking about shamatha, or “calm abiding,” or just sitting with oneself).

When one plays an instrument, for instance, that practice can extend its benefits into other activities in which music or one’s hands are involved. When just sitting, one is sitting with only their body, their breath, and their mind, purely as they are, without any other diversions or crutches, working with three aspects of being a human that apply to all situations. Through sitting meditation, one can develop one’s focus, clarity, precision, resiliency, vigilance, patience, equanimity, understanding, compassion, etc. These developments can carry over and permeate into any instance in which the body, breath, and mind are involved, including, and not limited to, times of art, music, or the use of the hands. Playing an instrument is incredibly valuable, and I think it can develop parts of a person sitting meditation cannot. When it comes to the notion of meditating, I believe the effects of playing an instrument are simply not as all-encompassing or all-applicable as basic sitting meditation. When one removes every distraction which can dilute the pure presence of being… all that is left is the simplest and most fundamental characteristic(s) of all life – the body, the breath, and the mind.

I think anyone can prioritize anything. How do you spend your time on Earth? What do you maintain?

Note: I believe in the truth of what I wrote here; and I also believe that it is much easier to practice what is talked about (the transformation of suffering through meditation) when one’s basic needs are all met, i.e. basic needs of food, clean water, warm shelter, health, being treated with dignity and respect by the police / government / employers / society, and being supported and cared for by one’s family and community, instead of being judged guilty before innocent, and being neglected and/or structurally, institutionally, systematically and personally oppressed. This blog post is not about transforming systems of disregard or oppression – it is about transforming one’s own inner state of being, which is not unrelated to outer, social expressions of human beings.

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One response

9 05 2014
Deborah

Hi Daniel, Interested in many of the same topics you are, I just skimmed through your thesis (will read in depth later) and thought, “I would love to have tea/coffee with this guy!” I am also on a path of embodied spirituality, someone who lives across traditions and is trying to find like-minded souls. I also have been trying to decipher Shaul Magid’s Post-Judaism book and would love to find someone with whom to talk about it. I can fill you in with more info about me via email if you like. Deborah

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