Most of us walk around with pains and tension in our bodies. We may think of this as normal or natural or just part of aging. But it’s possible to move freely without tension if we can heal the division of body and mind. Even if we have some kind of ailment that causes us physical discomfort, we don’t need to have tension around this pain, compounding it. We don’t need to cause more suffering.
How can we bring relief and healing to our bodies? We may think only a medical doctor can look into our body to know what’s happening and heal us. We put all our faith in somebody else. It’s similar to the relationship some of us have to religion. We put our belief wholly into a deity who we believe can save us. But in reality, the basis for healing is to be in touch with ourselves, with our own bodies.
Breathing in, I’m aware
that I have a body.
Breathing out, I recognize
that my body is there.
In that in-breath and
out-breath we find a way to be in touch with our body.
Sickness Comes from the Disconnection of Body and Mind
Can you calculate in how many moments out of twenty-four hours your body and mind are in harmony? Your mind very seldom stays with your body. It has the tendency to wander off.
How much time does each of us spend in front of the computer? We have many distractions that take our minds away from being in touch with our bodies. We actually forget we have a body! How can we not get sick? It’s inevitable.
If we can’t be in touch with our bodies, we can’t really be in touch with our minds. Body and mind are two sides of a coin; we can’t separate them. When the mind is wandering around outside, we don’t really know what’s happening within the mind or the body. We don’t know how to embrace our worry, sadness, and anger, so we cover up our alienation with consumption: reading magazines, listening to music, watching videos, drinking wine, taking drugs, or eating when we’re not hungry. We eat in order to forget. Humans are sick today because they’re out of touch with their bodies and they can’t be in touch with their minds. How then is it possible to be in touch with the source of health, Mother Earth? If you can be in touch with your body, you have an opportunity to be in touch with Mother Earth, your source.
Embracing Our Suffering
Everyone has the seed of suffering inside. Sometimes it slumbers in the depths of our consciousness and sometimes it manifests as a very noticeable energy. When suffering manifests, it’s difficult to feel joy or happiness. The practice of conscious breathing and mindful walking or mindful sitting, can help us handle the suffering inside. Our suffering is not only our own suffering. It carries within it the suffering of our father, our mother, and the many ancestors who have transmitted it to us.
Our suffering also reflects the suffering of our people, our country, our society, and our world. When we understand the nature and the roots of our suffering, then compassion and love can arise. We go home to ourselves and get in touch with the suffering inside and hold it tenderly. This is our practice. We can do the same with our fear. Practising conscious breathing, we generate the energy of mindfulness and concentration. These are the energies with which we can recognize and embrace our suffering. If we don’t have the energy of mindfulness, the suffering may overwhelm us. But if we breathe in and out and allow our body to be relaxed, we can generate the energy of mindfulness and concentration, and with that energy we can embrace and take care of our suffering. You just accept your suffering and hold it tenderly.
My dear suffering, I know you are there in me.
I am here to take care of you.
Suffering and Happiness Inter-Are
There are people who wish to find a place where there is no suffering, like heaven, the Pure Land of the Buddha, or the kingdom of God. We may think that ‘up there’, there is no suffering – there is only happiness. But when we look deeply we see that suffering and happiness inter-are, just as the mud and the lotus interpenetrate each other. A lotus can only grow in mud. If there were no mud, there would be no lotus flower. There’s a very close connection between suffering and happiness, just as there is between mud and lotus. Real happiness is possible when we have the right view of suffering and happiness. It’s the same as front and back, right and left. The right cannot exist without the left; the left cannot exist without the right. Happiness cannot exist without suffering.
Full Presence in the Body
With the practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking, we bring our mind back to our body. When the body and mind are together, we can establish ourselves in the here and the now and we can get in touch with life and all its wonders. So we may like to say to ourselves, ‘Breathing in, I am aware that my body is here.’ Breathing in, coming back to the body, and getting in touch with the body – that is already mindfulness: mindfulness that my body is here and that it is a wonder.
Our feelings, emotions, and perceptions often feel like they’re overwhelming our bodies and minds. Mindfulness helps us to get in touch with all these things that are going on. Body, feelings, and perceptions are objects of our mindfulness. There are many other beautiful things inside us and around us that we can also make the objects of our mindfulness. Every morning when we wake up, we can breathe in and get in touch with the miracle that is life. There are things that are wonderful, that can nourish and heal us. Mindfulness puts us in touch with those things for our own healing and happiness. That is the first function of mindfulness: joy. Mindfulness brings us joy and happiness.
From Peace of Mind, © 2014 by Thich Nhat Hanh, published by Ebury Press
There is an exercise for releasing the tension in the body as a whole and releasing the tension in each part. We can begin by paying attention to the whole body and then different parts of the body. Begin with the head, or the hair on the head, and finish with the toes.
I am aware of my brain.
I smile to my brain.
Use the conscious mind to recognize that a certain part of the body is there. In this way, we can recognize and embrace it with the energy of mindfulness, and allow that part of the body to relax and release the tension. Then you come down to the eyes.
I’m aware of my eyes.
I smile to my eyes.
Allow your eyes to release the tension that is in and around the eyes. A light smile can help you to relax. You can go on to send that smile to different parts of your body.
In your face there are dozens of muscles, and when you get angry or fearful there’s a lot of tension in all these muscles. If you breathe in and are aware of them, and breathe out and smile to them, you can help them to release the tension. Your face can be completely relaxed after just one in-breath and out-breath. Your smile can bring about a miracle.
Breathing in, I smile.
I allow all the muscles in my face to relax.
Then you come to your shoulders, and then your heart. Then to your left arm, and your right arm, always recognizing them with the energy of mindfulness and smiling to them and helping them to release the tension. It’s like scanning the body-not with an x-ray, but with the ray of your mindfulness. You take the time, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, to scan your body with the energy of mindfulness. Smiling to every part of your body, you help that part of the body to relax and release tension.
When we come to a part of the body that is ailing, we can stay there longer. We should spend more time recognizing and embracing that part of our body with the energy of mindfulness. Embrace it, smile to it, and help it to release the tension. Practicing this exercise will help you heal. If you have to use some drugs for a physical ailment, please don’t rely on them alone. When you know how to help release the tension in that part of the body, the healing happens much more quickly. When there’s a physical pain, your mindfulness will tell you that it’s only a physical pain, and with that kind of awareness you won’t exaggerate anything or worsen the pain because of fear and tension.