In the mindfulness tradition the first pillar is the body.
We can work skillfully within the sensations of the body as a way to steady attention and develop greater focus and presence.
In this podcast, I invite you to kick back and enjoy this talk that includes inspiring stories, quotes and wisdom.
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FULL TRANSCRIPT [The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]
Welcome to “The Wisdom of the Body.”
So the name of the game is presence. And the more present we are the more rich and the more deep and the more meaningful our life becomes or the activities that we’re doing become or our relationships become. Mindfulness is one of the great ancient sciences that provides a path. It provides strategies and practices as a way to help us grow our presence, to develop greater focus, concentration, and just overall mental powers and a more whole heart.
“Presence is not some exotic state that we need to search for or manufacture. In the simplest terms, It is the felt sense of wakefulness, openness, and tenderness that arises when we are fully here and now with our experience. You’ve surely tasted presence even if you didn’t call it that. Perhaps you felt it lying awake in bed and listening to crickets on a hot summer night. You might have sensed presence while walking alone in the woods. You might have arrived in full presence as you witness someone dying or being born. Presence is the awareness that is intrinsic to our nature. It is immediate and embodied and perceived through our senses.”
In this podcast, as we talk about the wisdom of the body, presence can be felt and it can be experienced through our senses and through this vessel of the body that we live in, the body that we inhabit. The greater your presence, the greater your awareness. And the greater your awareness, the more that your consciousness really begins to grow. Awareness is a mindful recognition of what is present right here and right now.
As you’re listening or reading this podcast, you can treat it almost like a meditation, where you’re not doing a bunch of other things while you’re listening, that you’re really experiencing the fullness of the teachings that are coming through right here, right now. Because it’s so easy to just be doing other things, to be multitasking. It’s also easy where our attention begins to leave the present moment. We start thinking about something that happened earlier in the day, something that we have to do later in the day. And again, what happens is is we begin to miss out on the beauty and the blessings of what’s happening right here right now. So it’s about this simple knowing of what experience is happening.
And so that means, are you aware of what you’re experiencing within your body on a moment to moment basis? Because if you look closely, there’s a whole constellation of sensations that are arising and passing away. And then if you look deeper and more closely into those sensations, you begin to notice different sub strata qualities of those sensations. Some are pleasurable, some are challenging, some are neutral. Sometimes pressure, sometimes temperature, sometimes location, sometimes movement of sensation. There’s so much that’s happening when we begin to quiet the mind, to steady our attention, and to become aware of what we’re feeling within our body.
Consciousness, by nature– consciousness is clear. It’s transparent, it’s timeless, and it contains all things in the manifested universe. But it’s not limited by them.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
So we can talk about this. We can read about these practices. But ultimately, we have to put these practices to the test, that these mindfulness techniques– and really, the great teachings of of the Buddha were not even meant to be a religion or a philosophy. It can be a religion for many people but the Buddha really intended for these to be a way of life, a way out of suffering, and a way of living with a more clear mind, a more compassionate, kind heart.
“The church says the body is sin. Science says the body is a machine. The marketplace says the body is good business. The body says, ‘I am a fiesta!’”
The fiesta is happening. The party is happening within your body. And again, the invitation is, “Can you notice that? Can you be attuned to the miracle of your body?” It’s so easy to take it for granted, right? It’s so easy to to be looking for miracles in all the wrong places. There is no greater miracle than the fact that your body is happening right here, right now. And although it it seems concrete and you’re made of all these muscles and bones on a deeper level, it is just a fiesta, a pulsating moving energy.
The human body is nothing short of amazing and magnificent!
You have 50 to 100 trillion cells in your body and each cell is like a little person. And that cell needs nutrition. It needs to function. It needs to survive. It needs to eliminate waste. It does many of the same things that we do as human beings. They’re like little people. And every several seconds, 50,000 cells in your body die off. And at the same time, 50,000 new cells are created. So on a deeper level, the body is arising and just passing away on a cellular level. Things are appearing and then things are going away. It’s regenerating and constantly dying and renewing itself. The cycle of life is present within your body.
Now get this.
There was a 1 in 400 million chance that you were even born. So the fact that you are here, the fact that you are alive, this is a gift!
This is a huge victory. 1 in 400 million chance that you came into this world. The breath flows in and out naturally. The body knows what to do with the food that you put into the body, to the beverages that you drink. You don’t have to think about these things. There’s this whole infinite domino effect of transactions happening within your body you don’t have to govern, you don’t even have to worry about. This life force, this vitality, this intelligence is taking care of it all. And that intelligence is striving, striving to bring you, endlessly, back to balance or, in science, what we might call homeostasis.
A few months ago, I was traveling and I went to the grocery store and I got this little plastic container of pickles. I was, for whatever reason, jonesing for pickles. That evening, in the hotel, I was having a really hard time getting the lid off this jar of pickles. I got frustrated and I just yanked as hard as I could at the jar and it ripped my whole entire fingernail off my left index finger. Totally came off. My finger was spewing blood. It was not pretty.
It was such an interesting science experiment to watch, over the course of about three months, the nail grow back. And it used to be, when I was younger, I would totally take this for granted. But now, it was the most magnificent thing. It was like watching a tail on a lizard regenerate itself. And now the fingernail is back and it looks just as good as ever.
“Don’t look for the miracles, you are the miracle,”
Relax into the intelligence that exists, the wisdom that exists within your body. You can embrace both the challenging and sweet experiences in life.
We also encounter this duality within the body, right?
Some days we feel really strong and healthy and energetic. Other days we may be fighting a cold, we may be sick, we may have gotten a diagnosis on autoimmune disorder or even cancer diagnosis. And that these things happen and we can easily label these situations in life or these sensations we often feel within our body as being good or bad, wrong or right.
There was an old farmer and a son that were very poor and the only possession they had was a single horse. One afternoon, the son forgot to lock the stables and the horse escaped. The one possession they had was now gone. They went from poor to poorer. And when the neighbor of the farmer heard about this, he came over to offer support saying, “I’m sorry you lost your horse.” But the farmer, he was wise and so he told the neighbor, “Well, who knows what’s good or what’s bad?” Then a few days pass and the horse came running back and brought 10 other horses with him. So now they went from having just 1 horse to 11 horses. When the neighbor heard about this, he came over to congratulate the farmer. And again, the farmer replied the same way. “Who knows what’s good or what’s bad?” A few weeks later, the son was training one of the horses and got kicked off the horse, landed really hard on the ground, and shattered his leg. Again, the neighbor came by to offer support and condolences. And the wise farmer again replied, “Well, who knows what’s good or what’s bad?” A month after the accident, an army came through, on their way to fight a war. They were going to fight a battle and were looking for soldiers to fight. As much as they wanted to recruit the farmer’s son, they couldn’t. His leg was still broken. He was crippled. But because he didn’t go fight in the war, his life was saved.
So in the end, who knows what’s good or what’s bad? And when we’re in the event or the experience where we’ve lost our one possession or we’ve fallen off the horse and broken our leg, it’s so easy to get frustrated. It’s so easy to fall into a state of despair. But wisdom and mindfulness teaches us to step back and with a spacious attention to hold it all — the good, the bad, the challenging, the easy, expectations fulfilled, expectations not met. And to be in a more neutral state of mind that says, “Well, who knows what’s good or what’s bad?”
As we become aware of the body, we can experience what we often label as good or bad. We can see sensations often fall into one of three categories. Either they’re pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. So we feel these categories of sensations all the time. We feel them all the time when we’re in meditation.
Some meditations feel amazing and blissful and maybe we’re having an out of body experience. And other meditations, we’re just like, “God, how long is this going to last? This is so incredibly tedious.”
Why is it important to be awake, to be wise, to be mindful within your body?
Well, number one, to be awake in the body is to be awake right here and right now. You know that if you’re present within your body, if you’re watching sensation that’s happening within your body while you’re in traffic or you’re standing in line somewhere, you know you’re not going to past or future in your mind. You know you’re in the moment, you’re in the NOW, which is the most powerful place you could ever be.
Number two, all experience has to come through the domain of your body. The experience you’re having on a moment to moment basis your entire life is always coming through your body. So when you’re paying attention to what’s happening within your body, you’re therefore paying attention to the experience that’s happening right here, right now.
One Buddhist instruction says, “Don’t do anything that takes you out of the body.”
There’s a lot of meditations out there that force an outer body mystical experience. But the Buddha’s great revelation is that you don’t have to leave the body, you can use your body, you can use this physical apparatus that you reside in as the place to become awake and enlightened right here, right now.
Now guess what the one thing is that pulls us out of our body, that disconnects us from our body.
That one thing is stress. And stress is one of these things that causes the mind to ruminate on things of the past such as, “God, why did this person do this to me? Why did I make that dumb decision?” Always thinking about these thoughts that have happened in the past and at the same time worrying about the future. “What happens if this falls through? What happens if I can’t pay my bills?” Although there is a time and a place to learn from our past and to plan for the future, most of us are perpetually living in these places non-stop.
Stress causes you to narrow your focus and to focus in on the thing that’s stressing you out and everything outside of that goes away. So we begin to magnify and amplify the stressor in our life and we can’t disconnect from it. This pulls us out of our body. We’re no longer in body.
A lot of people that have had very traumatic experiences, whether that’s abuse or violence, they’re disconnected from their body. Part of the healing of the trauma is slowly titrating back into the sensations of the body.
Also, the more wrapped up within technology we become, the more addicted we become to our devices. And the more we’re giving our attention to these devices, the more this disconnects us from our body. We have to make sure we have healthy boundaries with our devices and not allowing them to overly consume us because that’s going to ultimately disembody us.
Let’s talk a little bit about the consequences of disassociating from the body. What happens?
Number one, you’re going to experience fatigue and exhaustion. When you are disembodied, this takes energy away from the body. When you’re in a state of stress, you’re taking energy away from digestion, you’re taking energy away from regenerating your cells, building good quality tissues in the body. So you’re going to feel tired.
Number two, when you’re disassociated from the body, you’re going to feel anxious. A lot of people that have chronic anxiety and anxiety disorders, are disassociated from the body. They’re not present. They’re stressed out.
Number three, addictive behavior. We’re going to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, things to numb us out so that we avoid what we’re feeling. Because we get to a place where it’s too painful to deal with the stress or the trauma. So we try and disconnect from it, we try and distract ourselves, and we fall into these dangerous traps because of our aversion.
Number four, we get cut off from our power. Your core, your abdominal area, in the ancient traditions, this is where your power resides. And we get disconnected from it. And when we get disconnected from it, we live in a chronic state of fear. We’re always worried; we’re always scared. We become hyper vigilant. We’re moving through our lives, through the world, and we’re constantly looking at things as if they’re a danger to us. And we’ve lost our power.
Number five, we become more reactive. More reactive to our kids, more reactive to our significant others, more reactive to our co-workers. Again, we’re stressed out. So we’re no longer able to respond. We’re disembodied so we just react. And there’s no power within that. We become a slave and a prisoner to this limbic area inside the reptilian brain that’s simply reacting to other people’s reactions. And a lot of the inflammation we have in our society, in the world, is because of this reactive behavior.
“Health begins with firmness in the body, deepens to emotional stability, then leads to intellectual clarity, wisdom, and finally, the unveiling of the soul.”
I love this quote because it speaks to the importance of taking care of the body through exercise, through good quality nutrition, treating the body in a healthy, loving, respectful way. And this opens the door where the mind benefits, our heart, our emotions benefits, our intellect benefits, and finally, this goodness, this gold that resides within us. The gold of spirit, the gold of purity, the gold of benevolence can now fully be seen because it’s no longer stifled by the stress and the worry and the fear and the toxicity of the body, the mind, and the heart.
So your body is the gateway to those deeper dimensions. And those deeper dimensions, in the yogic tradition, are called the five koshas.
Children, babies, kids, are naturally awake in their body. They are super embodied. But as we get older, as we grow into adults, the tendency becomes we begin to neglect and abuse our bodies. We’re making bad food choices. We’re not sleeping enough. We’re putting things in and ingesting things into our body that are not good for ourselves.
You even see this a lot with professional athletes, they’re paid so much money to deliver at such a high level but they do it at the expense of the health and the wellness of their own body. You’ve probably heard that golden rule, “The harder you are on something, the faster that you wear it out.” So having practices within our life, whether that’s yoga and massage and getting enough rest and, again, eating well, these are all very important so that we take care, right? We take care of this body, that is magnificent, that is a gift. Motivational speaker Jim Rhon said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” This is it. This is your real house. This is your real home. This is your vehicle. Take care of it. While you got it, take care of it.
Now, when you disassociate with the body, things become frozen. Things become hard. As we begin to bring mindful attention to these painful, stagnant, hard, and locked up places in the body, we begin to transform them. It’s almost like ice. The light of awareness is like the sun that begins to melt the ice. It begins to liquefy and eventually it evaporates. This is why at the end of a meditation you often feel much lighter. When you’re observing these sensations that arise within the body, you’re not reacting to it but you’re just simply watching it, that awareness begins to unstuck what is stuck in the body. So now you begin to create more freedom, more lightness, and more openness.
One of my meditation teachers, Jack Kornfield, says, “The body is the container for all that’s possible for freedom and joy.”
I’d like to finish with a story from Jack Kornfield. This story is from his book, “No Time Like the Present.” He writes about a Yale University surgeon named Richard Seltzer. Richard Seltzer tells this story of love.
“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face post operative, her mouth twisted and palsy clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed, with religious fervor, the curve of her flesh. I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor from her cheek I had to cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. ‘Who are they?’ I asked myself. He and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily. ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘It will be. It is because the nerve was cut.’ She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. ‘I like it,’ he says. ‘It’s kind of cute.’ All at once, I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with the gods. Unaware of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth. And I am so close, I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate her, to show her that their kiss still works. And I remember that in Ancient Greece, the gods appeared as mortals and I hold my breath and I let the wonder in.”
All right, you guys. That is it for this episode on the wisdom of the body. Thank you again for tuning in!
Let’s finish now with the ultimate prayer.
“May we bring strength where there is weakness.
May we bring courage where there is fear.
May we bring compassion where there is suffering.
And may we bring light where there is darkness.
May we be ultimate!”