Zen Buddhism cannot differentiate mind from body despite the appearance. In fact we all know that chronic pain (body) greatly affects our emotions (mind) and chronic anxiety or depression do perturb the body. There are hundred of medical examples proving that the interconnection between mind and body is reality.
While Zen meditation puts the emphasis on practicing awareness and control of incoming thoughts I would like to talk about awareness of our body. This skill adds yet another dimension to your mindfulness practice.
During meditation proper focusing on our posture (body) will greatly enhance our ability to concentrate on our breathing and thoughts (mind). Zen says “straight back = straight mind” and “still back = still mind”.
Listening to your body will tell you a great deal of your mind and vice a versa. Like a very fine tuned instrument our body always responds to our feelings and thoughts. These signals send by our body are all there to inform us about how its immaterial sibling that is the mind is behaving.
Stiff neck, heart palpitations, knots in your stomach, nausea, feeling tired or the opposite, constipation, lack of libido, no appetite or too much, headaches, etc. are examples that your body is a mirror of your mind. Even if we can pick up these signals we do not always respond and take action properly. In fact we have the tendency to rationalize if not to ignore the messages of our body looking for an escape such as withdral, mood swings, addiction, etc. These reactive behaviors offer no real and lasting solutions. On the contrary such attitude is double trouble with no win solution since these unpleasant physical signals are compounded by destructive and unhealthy habits.
Taking a brief time and learn to be mindful to your body that is 1) what is it telling you? 2) Do you listen to it?
This practice will greatly enhance your wellbeing by initiating preventive measures.
- How do I feel physically? Do I feel pain, fatigue?
- How do I feel mentally? How is my mood, my concentration, etc.?
- Am I still angry with somebody?
- Did I eat too much or not enough?
Most of the time and like a perfect servant our body listens to us. You want to walk your body walks. When you want to play a computer game the body sits down. When you want to eat your mouth opens, you chew and swallow. But sometimes our body doesn’t follow us and says “enough is enough”. This is precisely at this time that constructive action should be taken. Learning to be aware of your body and its limits is one of the best therapy you can offer not only to your body but also to your mind since, once again, mind and body are the same entity. Abusing one will always affect the other.
The practice of mindfulness and Zen meditation implies paying attention to the mind and the body at the same time. We can learn how to control – to a certain limit – our body the same way we learn to control our thoughts and feelings. Trying to see them separately with a dualistic view is detrimental for both of them.
So it is worthwhile once a while to meditate / focus on our body and listen to it the same way we focus on our mind and listen to our thoughts. There is no difference and this exercise will be beneficial for both of them since there is one.
Ven. Ji Gong Sunim.