Body: A Matter of Life by Shaila Catherine:
Mindfulness of the body is one of the most fundamental approaches to meditation. And I think just about any mindfulness course you take is going to emphasize developing an embodied equality of awareness. Because naturally so, this needs to be emphasized, because we so often spend our time lost in thoughts. Even during that last meditation, did you find yourself thinking, did you forget that you were sitting? Did you lose touch with this very simple experience of sitting?
But when I suggested, when I remembered, when I suggested to feel heat, could you feel it? Yeah? Coldness? Pressure? Maybe some point of pressure somewhere in the body? Some sense of resistance or the supported posture different than the pressure? Or softness or hardness, roughness? Did anyone feel roughness? Roughness is a little harder when we’re sitting still. We tend to feel roughness when we’re moving. Yeah, you take your shoes off, you walk across the carpet.
It might be soft, smooth, it might be rough. But you will tend to feel it when we’re rubbing against something. If you want to feel roughness, just rub, you know, your teeth at the top. Maybe there’s a little roughness there if you rub your tongue against it. And the opposite of that might be smoothness where it might be inside of the lip.
Can you feel a difference between roughness and smoothness? They’re sensations. It’s as simple as that. Hardness, heaviness, lightness, softness, smoothness, heat, cold, supporting, pushing, basic, tangible elements. I’ve been practicing in some traditional Buddhist meditation systems that emphasize what are called the four (4) elements, and in Ancient India, these four (4) elements were conceived of as the element of earth, water, fire and wind.
Earth refers to the solidity of things. That sense of, perhaps this body feeling like it’s something that occupies space and it somewhat has a mass to it, and as such it has the properties of earth, is to feel the weight of it, the heaviness, you know, just hold at your arm. And I’ll just keep talking, and you start to feel the earth element, right? The heaviness of it. After a while, it’s going to start to feel heavy. And if you—you can put it, that—and then just wiggle your finger.
It probably doesn’t feel so heavy. It may feel a little light. There might be sometimes, in our bodies, we might just wake up and then we feel so heavy. At other times, we might—there might be a little buoyancy, and we feel quite light. So, the mind itself can sometimes feel light and heavy and the body can sometimes can feel light and heavy.
So, part of the earth element is this aspect of heaviness. Lightness. Lightness is really just the less heaviness in this system. Then, we have hardness. Do you feel any hardness in your body? If not, just press your teeth together for a moment. Okay, that might be pushing.
But it’s also—you can feel hardness. Or just feel your nail. It’s kind of hard, and internally, we can sometimes even just tune in to a sense of a skeleton and sense that the bones are actually harder than the intestines. They’re softer. And sometimes, in the quietness of meditation, we can tune into subtle aspects of the body and feel differences of hardness and softness. And softness is considered less hardness. Another aspect of the earth element.
Then, we have the roughness and the smoothness aspect of the earth element, which I already spoke about. These six (6) characteristics are not esoteric qualities that you only will know if you sat in the cave meditation for twelve (12) years. We all know them, right? So, the discerning or the recognition or the knowing of the earth element is something that we can do anything and it’s bringing ourselves in touch with some specific aspects of the body. We also know the fire element, don’t we?
Heat and cold. If you didn’t feel any heat at all, just hold your hands together, and after a few minutes, you’ll start to feel some warmth there. Or even better yet, just put your hands under your armpit, and you’ll feel some warmth there. Or in the back of your neck, under your hair, if you have long hair. Well, there’s ways we can just—if we’re not tuned into physical sensations, there’s ways we can start to learn to be, to try to find it.
And then once we find it, we can then start to look for that in other places. Some people who come to meditation and are quite disconnected from the body, because they have just never paid attention to that round. Other people like athletes, performers, will be very attuned to their body and then the slightest change and shift will seem very vivid to them. Some people will be very attuned to their emotions, and other people won’t be. There are things that we, each of us, have developed a sensitivity or a clarity towards and there are other aspects of our experience that we might be less familiar with. So, tonight’s session is focused on the body.
Oh, there’s another characteristic that I wanted to emphasize. The wind element. The wind element is the pushing, and the supporting. The pushing and supporting. We might feel that very much in the posture. If we’re not supported, we’ll collapse down. But, nevertheless, there can be this pushing, this movement.
You might know that when we kick our foot forward. Or when we reach. Any kind of movement is the wind element where there’s a pushing. But sometimes, we feel that in the body through various kinds of tightness, tension, pressure. We might feel it in digestion, there’s a pushing through the intestinal tract. There’s a gas, if you ever have gas, you can feel the gas sometimes pushing. Cramping.
All of that in Ancient India was conceived of as aspects of the wind element. So, these are the tangible elements that we can feel. Earth, fire, and wind.
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