Relation With the Body

Continuing our theme of “In the Shadows”, Anna Ayse describes how her childhood experience of pain caused a disconnect between body and mind, as a method of survival, and how Buddhist practice, over time, was  the catalyst for a deeper understanding of ‘reality’, bringing greater harmony and a sense of wholeness into her life.

Wind from the Sea-Andrew Wyeth
Wind from the Sea -Andrew Wyeth, 1947, National Gallery

As a fifteen year old teenager I wrote in a dairy entry that my greatest wish in life was to become as transparent as fine cloth.

That wish was born out of the experience of the body as dense, dark, heavy, claustrophobic. It was born out of the experience of being trapped in this limited form that was being judged, mistreated, medically probed, jabbed, grabbed, pushed and pulled; that was being restrained  by plaster casts, by cold hard gripping metal drilled into it; that was being subjected, many times over, to the deep slicing of the surgical blade, slicing-drawing broad, indelible lines of considerable yardage, creating intricate cord like scars, with a halo of crude stitch marks, as scattered grains of rice. I would often dissociate and retreat from the body so as not to feel the pain that was being inflicted on it. To this day, it does not come naturally to say “my body”, although perhaps it is partly for different reasons now then it was in the past. This type of detachment from the body is a mode of survival, induced when the current experience is felt to be too overwhelming, when the current experience is existential terror.

A few years after writing down my greatest  wish in life and as a slightly older teenager, I traveled to a Buddhist monastery to learn to meditate, lead by a deep intuition that the key for realizing my life’s wish and overcoming the shadow world of the body, may lie there. It was surprising to learn that Buddhists deem a state of detachment as something desirable, something to aspire for. It would long remain a mystery as to why.

Localization in the body

The experience of being localized in the body is a difficult conundrum to crack. Our senses seemed to reinforce that “I” is localized “here” behind the eyes and the world is localized “over there” outside “I”, creating the dichotomy of self and other, the duality of subject and object. Ideas like “a healthy mind in a healthy body” reinforce the belief that we are localized in the body. This mainstream belief is challenged when the suffering becomes so excessive that it forces a disconnect. Existential terror induced at an early age is one of the causes for such a disconnect. It results in a debilitating state of affairs. Nowadays, terms are used like childhood trauma and PTSS. Information and research in that area can help understand the impact of certain experiences, even though solving the root cause falls in the spiritual domain.

The Immovable One

Acalanātha, The Immovable One (J: Fudō Myō-ō) 1199–1399, Art Institute Chicago

Becoming established in the unmoving, unflinching presence of Zazen meditation – vividly personified by Acalanātha, The Immovable One – makes it possible to face debilitating states.

It took about 35 years of remaining present in the experience of being trapped in this body, being in chronic pain and in existential terror, to realize the simple, glaring truth: the body is within “I”, not the other way round. The erroneous belief that the self is trapped in the body, and shares the limitations of the body is a contraction and that contraction is at the root of suffering.

The unbound state

The body being within “I” is glaring because it is our direct experience all along. All that we know of the body is bodily sensations, that is, how the body feels on the inside and sense perceptions of how it appears on the outside. Both sensations and sense perceptions arise within the space of awareness, the space of stillness. This collection of bodily sensations and sense perceptions we call “my body” is an activity within the space of stillness, which is the true “I”. The activity of bodily sensations and sense perceptions is the contained, not that which contains. Ignorance, that is the ignoring of this truth, cannot obscure it completely. Even in the midst of deep suffering, the truth remains as the deep wish in the heart to be free of the contraction, to be free of the belief of being a limited entity. The truth can never be erased and always remains as the deep wish to dissolve the contraction and return to our true home, the unbound state.

Effortless detachment

Coming back to detachment, the disconnect caused by suffering shatters the belief of being localized in this body but it does not eliminate that belief altogether. Even without trauma, the experience of being a limited entity and the wish to overcome that limitation is a form of disconnected detachment. The detachment the Buddhist teaching speaks of is not a disconnection, rather it is the natural outcome of seeing the truth of the matter, which is: the true self does not share the limitations of the body. The body is not an entity in its own right. Seeing it for the activity it is, seeing that the body cannot impact the self, puts the body in its rightful place in the wider perspective. This natural detachment is effortless and intimate.

Old habits

It has been about seven years since the realization of what was obvious all along. I am still processing the implications of this major shift. The ingrained thinking, sensing, feeling based on the belief of being a body, of being a limited object in time and space, are conditionings that have deep roots. These patterns have been reinforced over a lifetime, are still reinforced in the world. The work of reexamining these ingrained habits whenever they arise, aligning them with the truth and allowing them to dissolve is a long process. Some conditionings laid very early on at the time of infancy may never dissolve completely as the imprint is too deep. That is okay. It does not obscure the inherent transparency of the fine cloth.

This article is a brief write-up about an ongoing, non-linear process, Who knows it is of benefit to others.

Dew on the Grass
%d bloggers like this: