Week 1, Day 4: The Body Teaches

This is Day 4 of meditating daily—one hour in the morning and another in the evening. This first week, I am following instruction from Jack Kornfield from his article in The Lion’s Roar called “How to Do Metta.” The first half of the article has been my focus: you cue the feelings by offering the phrases to two beings that you love, then shift the direction of the feelings toward yourself.

As I was offering the phrases last night, I was distracted by my body. The usual complaints ensued. If only I could stop being so focused on [fill in the blank], I’d be able to meditate. After a while of this, I remembered (again, for the millionth time in eight years of practice), that experiencing what I am experiencing is the meditation.

Doh.

I offered my body the attention it requested. A pattern emerged. As I imagined a loved one and offered each phrase, my head would become tense and tight. After observing and feeling this sensation for a while, I’d offer the phrase again. My gut would then feel twisted and tense.

I continued to offer the phrases to my loved ones, watching with curiosity the body’s pattern of reactions. With each new cycle, it taught me more about them.

The head’s tension, I became aware, came from wanting change for the person I was thinking of. “May you be safe,” I would offer. Then the head would tighten and a litany of thoughts and concerns about that person’s safety would arise. This continued as I offered each new phrase. “May you be peaceful and content.” …

The gut’s tension had its own message, also regardless of the phrase. Twisting and tightening in response to a previously unconscious belief that I could digest whatever might keep my loved ones from being safe, peaceful, healthy, at ease.

The beauty of meditating for an hour at a time is that the inquiry can cycle deeper and deeper.

Had I been meditating my previously usual half hour, I would have noticed the patterns of tension—head and gut. Then the meditation would be over. If I stopped at 45 minutes, I would have also recognized the wantings that came with the tensions. Then the meditation would be over.

Sitting for an hour at a time, I can explore these experiences even further. So, I invite myself, when the head tenses, to first watch and feel the tension, then watch and feel what happens when I shift my intention behind offering the metta phrase. “May you be safe” changes from the head-tensing “I need you to accept this offering and make sure you are safe” to “Here is what it is like in this moment as I think of you and offer the phrase ‘May you be safe.’” The head slowly loosens as sensation in my chest warms and expands.

Again, I try this approach as I notice with the next phrase my gut is tightening up. What is it like, I wonder, to change the offering “May you be peaceful and content” from the gut-wrenching “I will do anything to remove the suffering that keeps you from peace and contentment” into “In this moment, here is what it is like to genuinely place a plateful of peace and contentment at your door, then walk away not needing to know the outcome.”

The intention feels intentionally forced at first. Yet with each new cycling, things shift. The automatic responses of the head and gut remain so for now. I’ve tapped into some lifelong conditioning here. But after the old thoughts appear, I’m now also aware of them. And in this awareness, they’ve shown me what they mean. And through this understanding, I now have choice in how I proceed.

What would it be like if you made the choice to sit a little bit longer than you usually do?

What inquiry awaits?

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