The Shaman Inside…Join Us…
Over the years we’ve mined the spiritual literature to find the nuggets of instruction that continue to guide us on the path. Not surprisingly, the ones that speak the most cogently all refer directly to the body. Equally unsurprisingly, all of them can be viewed as different facets of the same jewel, different ways of pointing to the same thing, the awakening of embodied consciousness. Here are a few of our favourites:
1) Do nothing with the body but relax. This comes from the 11th-century Tibetan teacher Tilopa as recorded in his Song of Mahamudra. Letting go of the residual contractions in both the tissues of the body and the thought patterns of the mind is the primary gesture on the spiritual path and is entered into through the constant reminder to relax, relax, relax. Playing with upright balance becomes critical, especially in the practice of sitting meditation, as only a body that does not have to fight continually with the force of gravity can truly relax.
2) Fortunate are they who have softened the rigidity within, for they gain access to the universal healing power of Nature. Softening the rigidities within–at the levels of both body and mind–is the constant action of a deeply embodied approach to spiritual practice. This statement is fundamentally identical to the previous statement from Tilopa, but it comes from a very different, and quite surprising, source. It’s cited by the Aramaic scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz and is a much more literal translation from the original Aramaic language in which the historical Jesus would have spoken than the more commonly accepted phrase (which is a highly unfortunate translation of a translation, you get the idea) “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” The practice of embodied meditation gets us back in touch with our felt nature which we find is not only inseparable from the great power of Nature itself but is actually nurtured by it if we can soften our resistance to its influence.
3) As you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body; as you breathe out, breathe out through the whole body. These are the culminating instructions on the breath as recorded in the Satipatthana Sutta, one of Buddhism’s most seminal texts whose words are attributed to the historical Buddha himself. To breathe through the whole body, we need to be able to feel the entire body–every little sensation and cell of it–as a field phenomenon of shimmering, tactile presence and then allow subtle motion to occur at every joint in the body in resilient response to the force of the breath. This extraordinary practice is the subject of my latest similarly entitled book Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath.
4) God [or whatever word works for you] cannot be found in the mind alone, nor in the heart alone, but needs to be felt throughout the entire body. This is the principle of ma’iyya that a young Jalaluddin Rumi was taught by his father who was an accomplished mystic in his own right. Minute tactile sensations can be felt to exist on every part of the body down to the smallest cell. The consciousness that passes as normal in the world at large is a disembodied consciousness in which we often have a great deal of thinking going on with very little awareness of bodily presence. When we give ourselves permission to feel the entire body as an experiential field of sensation, consciousness shifts immediately and effortlessly.
5) To stop your mind does not mean to stop the activities of your mind. It means your mind pervades your whole body. This statement is attributed to the great 20th-century Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki. We can’t use the mind to stop the mind. We can only shift our focus to include an awareness of the entire body, and the mind starts slowing down, even dissolving, automatically.
“The consciousness that I’m most interested in cultivating is what occurs when we truly awaken the body from its slumber of numbness when we’re able to feel every single cell of it as a participatory piece of a long shaft of shimmering sensations. ”
The fullness of the body equates to the emptiness of the mind, and this deeply embodied approach to spiritual practice as expressed through the above quotations is as applicable to the ecstatic dancer as it is to the sitting meditator, as effective for the entheogenic explorer as it is for the teetotaling Buddhist, as potently transformational to sexual partners in a tantric relationship as it is to the practitioner of monk-like celibacy.
The point is simply to keep opening ever more into this full-bodied consciousness, and it doesn’t matter what context you’re doing that in.