The truth is simple, but life does not always follow this principle because it is imperfect. Some religious people only long for heaven and some spiritual people think that enlightenment is something you get to keep once you have found it. But neither salvation nor liberation is that simple. As life is constantly evolving, spiritual growth is also an ongoing process that required constant work.
In India, I went to a restaurant in a state of strong mindfulness. I had just come out of a very powerful ten day Vipassana meditation retreat and my mind was sharp. I ordered a specific meal and sat back to wait for my dinner. When the waiter came with my food I saw that it was not what I had ordered and in my usual habit I said: “That is not what I ordered.”
As soon as I said the word “not” I could see the waiter getting emotional and he immediately went on the defense and said in a rude manner: “I did not make a mistake it must be you, sir.” Now, I knew exactly what I had ordered and in response to this rude and hard energy the waiter sent me, I began to feel my normal pattern of reaction towards injustice in my body. I could feel how my stomach began to tremble and my body to shake lightly.
On a bad day I would have responded with anger but on this day being mindful I just observed my body sensations and the trembling in my stomach. By being mindful of my body and being able to observe its sensations, my mind was free to choose my response and as my mind was peaceful I chose, “You are right, it’s my mistake” and smiled.
I was ready to eat what he has brought me but my lesson of the day was to play itself out. To my surprise the waiter turned around and said: “Ohh, I think maybe you are right, you ordered…” Not only did I finally get what I ordered but I also got a lesson in conflict resolution. It wasn’t that the waiter didn’t want me to eat what I ordered or even that the kitchen was too busy, but simply as most of us he was afraid to admit to a mistake.
Our world has made so much use of the stick that many of us are afraid to admit to a mistake let alone failure, and thereby defense has become the norm of response.
This story was not meant to inspire world peace but to illustrate how the deepest level of enlightenment involves the awareness of our body and mind interaction. Enlightenment is not just in the mind as it is interconnected with the body, and thus, if we are to transform our patterns we have to break them at the root level. This is especially true if we have had a pattern for many years as it through all that time will have manifested itself in our mind as an unconscious body sensation that kicks our pattern into reaction mode.
To be able to discriminate between the experience of the sensations of our body and how we feel about these sensations is critical. The important distinction here is that there is a difference between how our body feels and how we think about this feeling.
In The Mindful Path through Depression this is explained as:
“When the mind instinctively responds to physical sensations with ideas about the body, the stage is set for rumination to begin. Mindfulness provides us with another way to know our bodies, one that will not get us stuck.”
During depression or anxiety the rumination of how we think about how we feel is feeding the tiredness of our body. This is why during depression we sleep a lot and this is also why a depression that begins in the mind can get solid in our bodies.
This body/mind interaction is also the focus of the final level of meditation where the goal is to have a mindful relationship with the sensations of our body. In the last chapter, the aim of the third and last step of the meditation technique was to liberate you from your thoughts by becoming mindful of the change from being your thoughts to observing your thoughts.
But this seed of enlightenment also applies to our body/mind interaction: thoughts can arrive as a response to other thoughts but also as a response to body sensations. Some teachers call this the deepest level of enlightenment because it incorporates the deepest level of the mind where the body and mind meet.
Meditation step four:
When you have gone through step one to three and had a direct experience of your true nature as the emptiness of the stillness of your mind, you are ready for the last step. Here in your meditation, you try to focus your awareness on the very subtle sensations of your body. You may experience gross body sensation such as a pain from the position you are sitting in but try instead to focus your attention on the very subtle body sensations.
When you focus on the very subtle body sensations in your meditation it is almost as if you can feel your body vibrate and each vibration is like a bubble of energy. This is the deepest level and the aim here is to apply non-attachment or equanimity to these sensations and simply observe them as we did with our thoughts in step three. Through non-attachment to your body sensations, you will be able to make a change from being your body sensations to observing your body sensations.
Try this now…
This last step is enlightenment or liberation at the root level because we become aware how the body and mind interact. The whole point of this final step of meditation is to become mindful of the body/mind interaction. As in my story in the beginning of the chapter, a pattern of anger can begin with a body sensation so also our pattern of depression and anxiety can begin with a body sensation. Once we become aware of this, we can as with your thoughts simply observe these body sensations without reacting to them by thinking: “I am unhappy” or “I am afraid.” Thus, without reacting to either our thoughts or body sensations with unhappy thoughts we are able to embrace the emptiness of our sadness and begin the path out of our depression.
This is a more deep level of mindfulness that requires some practice. Personally, I use Vippassana meditation which is a ten day or sometimes three day meditation retreat that takes you deep into the deepest levels of your mind. I do not recommend ten days for beginners, in which case I would begin by practicing mindfulness and the meditation technique in this book or weekly at a place near you.
However, if you have had some experience with meditation and feel confident in emptiness or equanimity, I would encourage you to try this technique for yourself. You can begin by trying out my interpretation of it to see if it appeals to you and then after look at the website here: www.Dharmma.org. You can also google Vippassana or meditation to find a retreat or center near you.