Do not be absent minded in your activities, nor so absorbed in one aspect of a matter that you fail to see its other aspects.
From Dogon’s “Instructions for the Zen Cook”
Many of us know from the kitchen experience that if we focus on one side of the meal we are preparing (for example, its aroma or color) and even temporarily forget the others, our checking out from the world into our heads can ruin the whole meal. It’s easy to get carried away and forget to add salt and spices or miss the critical point when we should remove it from the stove.
Burnt oats (not happy): Read my lips, “Eat this!”
I find the same to be true of life: if I choose to focus only on one aspect of it, for example work, I can get signals from inside that something is missing, something is out of balance, that I left home. Still, this is what most of us have to deal with at different points in our lives when one side of it temporarily takes over. In the best case we are aware of what’s happening and can even tell others who might be affected that we will catch up with them once the project is done, the book is finished or we have solved the issue of poverty in the world. In the best case we can come back to the center in time before some damage is done (in yoga, on the physical level, the price of not being aligned is that we either collapse with our bodyweight on one particular part of the body and can get injured or have to resort to great muscular effort to sustain balance.) But even as we let our life on the everyday level come slightly off-balance, we don’t have to be out of balance with the experience of life, do we? We don’t have to go to exotic places or eat exclusive meals in posh restaurants to experience the gift of life, to feel alive.
We convinced ourselves that what we have seen many times is ordinary. We have given it names and decided it holds no mystery. We could not be more wrong! Without engaging in thinking, try to experience what you think you already know inside-out – your body. Bringing attention to your right hand, can you experience the feeling state in it, the many subtle sensations and activities? Can you feel the current of air coming in touch with the skin? If you keep listening in, you will discover all kinds of sensations and vibrations that you were not aware of. Can you feel the beat of your heart in the top of your fingers?
I started investigating the physical aspects of mindfulness on the cushion and in everyday life: standing in line, right before falling asleep, sitting on the commuter train or in a café. So
what does embodied mindfulness feel like?
Will Johnson suggests that embodied mindfulness is about bringing in alignment and balance not only the right and left sides of the body as well as the front and back of the body, but also all our sensory experiences.
“Balancing out in equal proportions the awareness of our different sensory fields ensures that no one field within that experience can become predominant to the detriment of another field…
By paying equal attention to all of our four sensory fields, our mind stays balanced, and the fulness and richness of this moment’s experience comes into clear and vibrant focus…
Through neglecting the awareness of any one of the primary sensory fields (vision, sound, sensations, and mind), we distort the richness and fulness that the present moment inherently possesses and have to settle instead for a more limited and muted version of what’s real”.
– Will Johnson, “Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness”
Boy, that sounds bleak, doesn’t it: “a limited and muted version of what’s real”? Why would we choose to experience life in black-and-white or without sound if we at any time can experience it in full color and with surround system sound?
With the help of the embodied practices like meditation, yoga and trance dance, I’ve learnt to come back to the body and experience the sensations inside each part but mostly when I am not talking to someone. As my fingers are hitting the keys of the key-board as I am writing these lines, I feel the warm sensation in the palms of the hands, somewhat cooler on the outside of the hands and a very tangible throbbing and pulsing in all the fingers – the circulation of blood. Yet I am not aware of my toes and my knees until I remember having them and – now! – hello my toes and knees! But suddenly I am not hearing chirping of the birds outside that I could hear before – I include more of the bodily sensations to the exclusion of something else. Tricky!
An interesting thing happens once we bring our body into alignment and become aware of the sounds, sights, and sensations that we are taking in through the sensory fields of experience – the internal story line stops! Magic! The present moment can broadcast through us without unnecessary disturbances from our side. This is home!
I am going to check out the rest of Jonson’s book as I am interested in learning the techniques (application of relaxation and resilience) that will allow me to observe the workings of the mind without losing touch with the body and the world outside.
An Ordinary Day
To realise true nature, we
study the body and mind of Reality.
Will you have this body and mind?
these grains and beans?
Will you settle for this body and mind?
these vegetables and fruits?
The body and mind of Reality
are not different than this
body and mind right now,
but to know it fully,
we must examine and investigate,
actualized it through and through.
What we really want
Today, as our second weekly webinar was coming to an end, Dosho’s encouragement to actualize the spirit of zazen in everyday life caught my attention. How does this “actualizing it through and through” gets manifested when I cook and eat?
how can I cook/experience a meal employing all the senses?