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Embodying Mindfulness

By Matthew Daniell

(Published in the Newburyport Daily News on August 21, 2020)

I was speaking to a friend recently, and our conversation, although friendly, was becoming increasingly less sympathetic and connected. My friend kept saying that they had a vision of how a particular situation should be. This friend could see the outcome that they desired. I kept bringing up other points of view and the conversation went nowhere.

Isn't this how the world finds itself in such a mess much of the time? Some people have a vision or view of how it should be, or was, or will be, and others have a different view. The two don't meet and we stop really listening. Voices may become louder, and the sense of self-righteousness - me vs. you, ours vs. theirs - gets stronger. Then all we want to do is win, and we have answered the mindfulness question "do you want to be right or happy" in just one way. We think that right makes might, but so do they, and as Gandhi pointed out "an eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind."

We are living in a time when such ways of being are heightened. What is and will be the result?

When we get locked into our own view we tend to believe the thoughts we have, and identify with them in a narrow way. The consequences now, and historically, are plain to see. Clinging to our thoughts, blindly believing them, is so deeply ingrained in us that we literally can't see or experience another way of being.

It can feel like we are perceiving and living from the place in our heads behind our eyes; quite literally it can feel like we are "stuck in our heads." But it doesn't end here; thoughts fuel emotions and sensations in the body. These three can form a toxic brew of reactivity.

The Zen Buddhist Paul Reps wrote a book that had the title On Having No Head. This points to the clear invitation in the Buddha's teaching on mindfulness: shift the attention from thoughts in the head into a fuller awareness of sensation within the whole body. We do not deny thoughts, but we are no longer preoccupied with them.

I lived as a volunteer cook for years at a large meditation center. It was a fishbowl way of life. With so many people living and working closely together lots of different agendas, emotions, and personalities were on display. Sometimes it was wonderful, sometimes tough. There was a sign in one of the halls I would pass often that said "got body?" This was a little reminder to come into a fuller sense of being present in an embodied way. When I did this it made a difference. It still does.

When we pause and practice being present in the actual experience of our bodies and our senses, it can give us some calm, and a simple joy in being alive. When we get "out of our heads" and then look at our own views and those of others we get a different perspective. We may even find room to live with more empathy, kindness and clear-headed compassion.

These are deeply challenging times. When present moment awareness is embodied and strong it creates a subtly different way of perceiving and being. Living mindfully creates new possibilities in a very simple and direct way. We need new skills to embrace new realities.

Embodying mindfulness is a skill that can be learned. If you would like to learn more please visit us at IMCNewburyport.org for a wide variety of mindfulness practice opportunities.