Know thyself

photo by Mary Jarvis

apolloKnow thyself -Temple of Apollo, Delphi

Some people behave as though their bodies did not exist. They ramble around preoccupied by their thoughts like so many absent-minded professors. Yet it can be such a joy to be physically aware. If we concentrate on what we are doing physically even the simplest sensations–our feet on the ground, the air on our skin–can become rich and absorbing.

pic by Bennie Shapiro
Everybody together.

When we bring awareness to the body, our actions begin to assume a certain harmony. Our bodily expressions gain grace and dignity. We become calm and relaxed–our whole approach to life slows down. But though we slow the pace, we don’t get less done–in fact we achieve more, because this is a more efficient way of working. Paying attention to ‘the basics’ makes us effective; it puts us more in control. Bodily awareness brings us into the present moment. It allows us to address ourselves more fully to what is happening, right now. So it makes all our time available for use.

Whenever we lose this sense of ‘being in the present’, our bodily movements become clumsy and muddled. Sometimes children are delightful examples of this. We may see them chattering, standing on one leg, the other curled around it, writhing their hands or rubbing their ear at the same time. Running headlong through a room in pursuit of something, they may suddenly stop in mid-flight as a new idea occurs to them. They may even trip over themselves, attempting to do two things at once. They hardly seem to know what they are doing with themselves physically. (Adults are not so different; we are often just better at disguising our confusion!)

Without losing our natural spontaneity, or becoming robot-like, we can aim to cultivate deliberate, clear movements in all our everyday actions. Awareness of our physical movements can bring a more aesthetic sense into anything we do. Whether we are opening a drawer, closing a door, rising from our seat, picking something up or putting it down, physical awareness produces a calming, maturing effect on the mind. We can always choose to act in this clear way if we want, even if we are very busy. Mindfulness of our body will enable us to develop bodily skills–postural awareness and ways of moving–that will preserve our health as well as our state of mind. In some circumstances, such skill could even save our life. Unawareness can be dangerous–accidents are usually caused by unawareness of one kind or another. Through mindfulness, we can avoid straining our back by thoughtlessly trying to lift a heavy weight; we can save ourselves from catching a chill through not noticing that we are feeling the cold.

Change the way your move your body...and your whole life starts to change. Inside out. Bones to skin.
Change the way your move your body…and your whole life starts to change. Inside out. Bones to skin.

Body and mind are of course closely linked; we can learn something about our mental life simply through observing our bodily movements. Our body has its own ‘language’–its physical expressions communicate directly how we are emotionally. Perhaps facial expressions give out the most obvious messages, the ones we are most likely to notice. But the way people hold themselves physically can also communicate moods–we immediately sense their joy, their affection, interest, uncertainty, or aggression. If we see the joyful spring in someone’s step we know instinctively, without thinking, that they are happy. We immediately sense that something is wrong when a friend is bowing his head and rounding his shoulders. Sometimes we ‘don’t know what to do with our hands’, feeling restless without knowing why. So we may put our hands in our pockets, strike a ‘cool’ pose, or fidget. We don’t usually notice these things consciously, but if we observe ourselves, we may begin to see that our body language is expressing feelings and emotions that we had not even realized were there.

Source: kamalashila Meditation

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