Offered by Cole Mannella on Thursday, March 25, 2021
Arriving home in our own body
Many of us have been looking for help. But so far, we have not found it. When you come to Plum Village, you are offered the practice that helps you find home. The practice is very concrete. Home is not exactly located in space and time. Everywhere you go, you can find your true home. That is why in Plum Village, we speak of “I have arrived, I am home”. This is the first fruit of your practice.
In principle, every breath can bring you home. Every step can bring you home. You are not looking for home somewhere else, somewhere in the future, but right in the here and the now. If you practice well, you can arrive home with every breath and every step. Many of us have been able to realize this. We feel comfortable in our true home. Every breath and every step can bring us to our true home.
When we practice mindful breathing, we focus our attention on our in-breath and we bring our mind home to our body. We have to try to make our body a home. Are you in conflict with your body? Do you hate your body? Have you made acquaintance with your body? Can you feel at home in your body? Our body is a wonder of life. Every one of us is a flower of the garden of humanity. But perhaps many of us do not know how to take care of the flower of ourselves, of our body.
There are many reasons why you have abandoned your body. In your body, there may be feelings and emotions that are unpleasant. You have painful feelings and you have painful emotions but you do not know how to handle them. There is a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of despair, and most of us want to cover them up, pretending they are not there. You pretend that the feeling of loneliness, despair, anger and fear are not there. Those of us who do not feel very well inside, in order to forget that, we go to look for something to eat even if we are not hungry at all. We are using food to cover up the suffering inside. And there are those of us who turn on the television or go to the internet to look for something, hoping that with these films, with these music, you can cover up the suffering and you can survive. That is the main characteristic of our civilization now. We don’t know how to handle the suffering inside of us, that is why we try to cover them up with consumption.
We know that when an animal living in the forest is deeply wounded, they know what to do. They stop running to look for something to eat or running after an animal. They know that it is not wise to do so. The animal finds a place and just lie down, doing nothing. That animal knows clearly that that is the best way to heal because they don’t have a doctor, they don’t have a drug store, a pharmacy. The animal lies down to heal for a few days and only after the animal is healed, then it stands up and finds something to eat. We human beings, we used to have that kind of wisdom but with the modern age, we have forgotten. We don’t know how to rest anymore. We don’t allow our body to rest, to release tension.
The first thing we need to do is to go home and recognize that we have a body. Your body is a wonder. When you spend two hours with your computer, you forget entirely that you have a body. And when your mind is not with your body, you are not really there, alive. In the teaching of the Buddha, you are only alive when your mind and body are together. Your mind becomes an embodied mind. And how to bring your body and mind together? Just breathe in mindfully. When you breathe in mindfully, you bring your mind back home to your body. It takes only two or three seconds. And there, your body and mind are united. The fruit is called “the oneness of body and mind”, and that can be realized by just one in-breath.
In the here and now there is so many wonders of life. First of all, our body is a wonder of life, and the air we breathe in is a wonder of life, and the rain is a wonder of life, a flower is a wonder of life. Everything surrounding us is a wonder of life. When we go home to our body, we have a chance to recognize all these wonders of life available in the present moment. If we do well, all of these become our true home.
In Plum Village, the monastics program a bell of mindfulness in their computer. Every quarter of the hour the bell is invited and they stop working, thinking. They go back to their in-breath and out-breath and they come home to their body. They feel they are there, truly alive. They enjoy mindful breathing at least three times and smile before they continue their work. You may like to do the same. You may download the bell of mindfulness from the Plum Village website and it will remind you to go back to your body from time to time, to be alive again. Life is short.
When you are home in your body, you may notice there is quite a lot of tension and stress in your body. We have been working so hard. You have allowed tension and stress to be accumulated in your body. You have not been kind enough to your body. That kind of awareness was born when you go home to your body. Recognizing the tension and stress in your body, you would like to do something in order to help release the tension, to reduce the amount of pain in your body. And that is possible. The Buddha provided us exercises that help us to release the tension in our body.
The third exercise of mindful breathing is:
Breathing in, I am aware of my body.
Breathing out, I smile to my body.
This is an act of reconciliation with your body. You smile to your body: I am sorry my body, I have been neglecting you. I have allowed stress, tension, pain to accumulate in you, my body. The Buddha was very practical.
Breathing in, I am aware of my body. While you are breathing in, you come home to your body. You recognize that your body is a wonder. And when you breathe out, you smile to your body. Your smile can bring relaxation because smiling is an act of love. In your face there are many hundreds of muscles. When you are angry or worried, your face is tensed, using a few hundred muscles. But if you know how to smile, you can release the tension in the few hundred muscles on the face. That is the virtue of mindfulness. Mindfulness can create moments of peace, moments of joy, moments of relaxation, moments of happiness. That is the third exercise of mindful breathing. Being aware of your body and smiling to your body. You are so kind to your body. You are making your body part of your true home.
The fourth exercise of mindful breathing described by the Buddha is:
Breathing in, I allow my body to release the tension.
Breathing out, I release the tension in my body.
While you are in a meditative position, you can do that. In meditation, you have to be relaxed. You don’t fight or struggle during meditation. You allow your body to relax. You enjoy every minute. The first thing you do in meditation is to allow your body to rest and relax, to be in the here and now. You allow your body to recover, to heal itself. With the practice of releasing tension, you give your body a chance to heal. Your body has the power to heal if you allow it to do so. The way to do it is to rest, to release the tension. Remember when you cut your finger, you don’t have to do anything, you just wash it and your body knows how to heal. You have to believe in the power of healing of your own body. We have to authorize our body to heal.