Unveiling :: Cultivating embodied awareness

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On the morning of the autumnal equinox, I woke to a full moon fading in a clear pale sky. The sun’s reflection glinted orange from the east-facing windows of a house across the valley. A pair of egrets drifted on air currents. Oak limbs and leaves wove a lacy pattern against the light. And a tiny gnat walked on the outside of the window. As I washed up, I noticed the difference of the felt sense on my skin of the water element and the air element. I took a palmful of water and drizzled it, listening to the drops as they fell. Welcome to the senses! Welcome to this moment!

My ears also picked up the sounds of the construction project nearby, the trucks and equipment. That activated a thread of opinion about how I’d rather hear only nature sounds — birdsong would be nice — and then to noticing how my preference yanked me out of the moment into a tangle of self-induced dissatisfaction, a mild but all-too-common form of suffering.

This could have further led my attention into a knot of opinions and even an inner argument. But having just experienced the embodied awareness of the moment, instead of engaging in the tangle of that thought veil, I was able to simply send metta, infinite lovingkindness, to the construction workers: May you be safe. May you have a good day. Recognizing that they too are expressions of life loving itself into being, I was able to stay fully present.

Metta is very effective in dissolving knots in our veils of thoughts. Try it next time you discover you are entangled in one! It’s like a clarifying solution, reminding us of the intrinsic interconnection of all life. If you feel any resistance to sending metta to someone, send it first to yourself to soften your reactivity, then to whomever you are thinking about.

When we send metta to ourselves and whomever we may be thinking about, it brings in the understanding of interconnection. No separate self. Metta is a reminder and a celebration of the interconnected nature of being, how we are all expressions of life. Recognizing this truth helps us see through our veils, and helps us recognize how entangled others are in theirs when they act unskillfully. That activates compassion. We know how it is to be so entangled. And how easily the veils appear, blinding us. How easy it is to be unskillful.

Having my lovely moment of connecting with all the elements disrupted by a thread of preferences, was a lesson in the nature of impermanence. Interconnection and impermanence. If we are paying attention, these vital messages abound in life, don’t they? Take the equinox, for example. It marks the fleeting moment when there are equal parts of day and night in the ever-shifting of the way the earth relates to the sun. The autumnal equinox reminds us that darkness will become more and more a presence. Notice if that thought activates a veil of opinions saturated with emotion. If so, does it feel like a sense of loss or dread or the anticipation of cozy times ahead? Either way, these thought threads pull our attention into blinding veils of future thinking. Wherever they lead, they numb us to the embodied experience of being alive in this moment.

In this Unveiling Series, we are learning how to recognize those veils and how to soften and dissolve them, so that we may be fully alive in this moment, sensate, authentic, and engaged.

We are learning to understand the nature of interconnection and impermanence, not as philosophical concepts, but as the embodied experience of being alive. The Buddha taught that such Wise View is rooted in the reality of every moment, and is the source of both our joy and our ability to respond skillfully to all that arises. If we ignore these two understandings of the nature of interconnection (no separate self) and impermanence, we are unconsciously activating suffering. (Together these are what he called the three marks of existence (Tilakkhaṇa): impermanence (Anicca), no separate self (Anatta); and suffering (Dukkha).)

Veils of entangled knotted thoughts blind us to the Wise View the Buddha taught. If a veil has been activated, simply notice it, and bring your attention gently back to sensations. Take a breath. Release tension. Notice the elements as they make themselves known. Welcome home.

Getting to know the veils, not making an enemy of them nor getting attached to them, is the skill we develop through awareness practice. In regular meditation, we offer ourselves the opportunity to let the veils drop, to experience embodied awareness of this moment vibrating with life, ripe with the gifts of all the elements arising and changing together in an endless dance of being. And we understand that we are not separate, nor stuck in some static state, but alive! Cultivating that awareness is a worthwhile way to spend our time. Its value is beyond measure.

In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, she addresses the power of embodied awareness. For years she taught botany in a classroom and it was a big yawn for most of her students, especially the ones who had never grown anything. So, she changed up her teaching method and took them into the garden and gave them the direct experience that was lacking in all her lectures and charts. Her students used all their senses to explore the plants growing in the soil. What a difference! They were engaged, they were learning, because they were using embodied awareness.

And it’s the same thing with meditation. We can read and hear about it, get caught up in scholarly pursuits around Buddhism, memorize terms, explore the beautiful veil, a tapestry really, of Buddhist thought, BUT, it will never replace the direct experience of meditation. In fact, the veil of Buddhism is embroidered to direct our attention into the spaces between the threads, to frame the moment and the embodied wisdom that comes from meditation. That’s why we meditate, that’s why we go on retreat, that’s how we gain insight, giving ourselves the very messages we most need in order to release the veils and experience embodied awareness of the interconnection and impermanence of all life.

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