Tuesday, December 02, 2008

about discomfort: teaching the body

Buddhist teaching is that humans suffer all the time, although much of the time it’s so low-grade we don’t notice. Even when we get what we want, nothing is perfect, so we feel some discomfort. When we’re sitting for a long time, we get pain in the knee. Or we itch! Also, we know we’re going to die. All kinds of reasons for discomfort. Here’s the formula:
pain (physical or psychological) + resistance = suffering

Every time the mind and body tightens against pain, the level of suffering grows many times greater than it would have been. If we can teach the body to fully experience the pain/discomfort WITHOUT resistance, suffering is reduced and finally goes away completely.

How to do that, when resistance is primal? The amygdala sends signals of fear, resistance, retreat, etc., before the reasoning brain has a chance to consider the issue. How to train a part of the body that doesn’t respond to reason? What we do is, we sit for a long time. The mind quiets down, so that the wordless primal functioning is able to “listen” with as little interference as possible from the reasoning, chattering brain. When pain arises, we greet it with equanimity, not resistance. We let it be. We “watch” it as it plays itself out, if it does. If it doesn’t, we stay fascinated with the intricacies of its throbs or twitches. The body resists as long as it can, and finally gets tired. It lets up on its resistance a little. The suffering lessens. Gradually, the primitive brain begins to get the idea that suffering increases with resistance, decreases with acceptance. The level of whole-body resistance drops, sometimes very quickly, and the pain actually dissolves into a wave of energy. That energy then becomes available in the same way that eliminating psychological repression makes a person more lively. Gradually, one becomes sheer energy, not tightened lumps of resistance.

written by Fleda Brown, who gives credit to her teacher, Shinzen Young.


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