Radical Acceptance: Enhancing your Life with the Heart of the Buddha (pp 93-127)
Learning to Inhabit Our Bodies
“Because of this it was said: “This is the only way, monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely the four foundations of mindfulness.”
Thus spoke the Blessed One. Satisfied, the monks approved of his words.” The Buddha from the Satipatthana Sutta
Contemplation of the body is the first foundation of mindfulness. Often when suffering sets in, we ignore our bodily sensations and pay attention and cling to only our mental objects (judgments, commentary, decision-making, emotions). Brach notes that “Sensations in the body are ground zero, the place where we directly experience the entire play of life.” p. 95. Inhabiting your body with awareness means that you are paying attention to the sensations that arise when you react to an experience. With this attention, you are getting to the roots of your reactivity and free yourself from the trance of the story.
As you pay attention to your body, you realize that “All our reactions to people, to situations, to thoughts in our mind – are actually reactions to the kind of sensations that are arising in our body.” p. 100.
“When we become riveted on someone’s ineptness and are bursting with impatience, we are reacting to our own unpleasant sensations; when we are attracted to someone and filled with longing and fantasy, we are reacting to pleasant sensations. Our entire swirl of reactive thoughts, emotions and behaviors springs from this ground of reacting to sensations. When these sensations are unrecognized, our lives are lost in the waterfall of reactivity—we disconnect from living presence, from full awareness, from our heart.” P. 101
Reacting to Pain without Fear: “Something is Wrong”
When we unconsciously sense pain, fear can arise. A thought arises that something is wrong. Rather than directly experience the sensation of pain, our attention is drawn to fearful thoughts and we are caught in the trance of fear. This trances inhibits a skillful response to the pain. By resisting the pain and wishing to remove it as soon as possible, we resort to temporary measures such as painkillers. “If we accept pain without the confusion of fear, we can listen to its message and respond with clarity.” P. 105. Sometimes by just being with the pain, we note that it is just like every other phenomenon, impermanent, not constant and of selfless nature.
Pain doesn’t have to lead to suffering. When we accept pain as a part of our life, we heed the saying that “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” The fear of pain is often worse than the actual pain itself. The trance of pain contracts us so that we are totally absorbed with thoughts that lead to reactivity. We are not letting the rest of life in. We can recognize the trance when we pause. As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “When you see and feel the sensations you are experiencing as sensations, pure and simple, you may see that these thoughts about the sensations are useless to you at that moment and that they can actually make things worse than they need be.” p. 106-7
When we have been exposed to a great trauma such as abuse in our childhood, the fear runs deep.
“Neuropsychology tells us that traumatic abuse causes lasting changes by affecting our physiology, nervous system and brain chemistry. In the normal process of forming memories, we evaluate each new situation in terms of a cohesive world view we have formulated. With trauma, this cognitive process is short-circuited by the surge of painful and intense stimulation. Instead of “processing the experience” by fitting it into our understanding of how the world works and thereby learning from it, we revert to a more primitive form of encoding—through physical sensations and visual images. The trauma, undigested and locked in our body, randomly breaks through into consciousness. For years after the actual danger is past, a person who has been traumatized may relive an event as if it were continually occurring in the present. Unprocessed pain keeps our system of self-preservation on permanent alert. In addition to sudden intrusive memories, a wide range of situations, many nonthreatening, may activate the alarmingly high levels of pain and fear stored in our body. Our partner might raise her voice in irritation, and the full force of our past wounds—all the terror or rage or hurt that lives in our body—can be unleashed. Whether or not there is any present danger, we feel absolutely at risk and compelled to find a way to get away from this pain. In order to make it through this severe pain, victims of trauma dissociate from their bodies, numbing their sensitivity to physical sensations.” (pp 109-10). The victims dissociate from their bodies in many ways including withdrawal from relationships, addictions such as drugs, alcohol, overeating and severe reactivity. These strategies only bring on more suffering.
Learning radical acceptance to break the trance of traumatic fear is a gradual process. We can start by pausing when we recognize the sensations and then “clearly recognize what is happening inside us, and regard what we see with an open, kind, and loving heart.” Sometimes the pain may be so intense that we need to step back from it for a while. Being persistent is third factor of awakening and so we must revisit our sensations at a later time.
The Practice of Inhabiting Our Body
“We practice by seeing the stories, letting them go and dropping under them into the living sensations in our body.” When we directly experience our sensation, we see that they are constantly changing (Impermanent), unable to provide lasting satisfaction or dissatisfaction and that they are of selfless nature.
HOKUSAI SAYS by Roger Keyes
Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says Look Forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
You just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself as long as it’s interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says that every one of us is a child, everyone is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says that everyone of us is frightened.
He says that everyone of us has to find a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive –
shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.
Wood is alive. Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.
It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home & stare at the ants on your veranda or the shadows of the trees & grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you. Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength is life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.
“When we meet life through our bodies with Radical Acceptance, we are the Buddha—the Awakened One—beholding the changing stream of sensations, feelings and thoughts. Everything is alive, the whole world lives inside us. As we let life live through us, we experience the boundless openness of our true nature.” P. 122
- Reread this talk and reflect on it. Practice inhabiting your body, paying attention to the sensations and getting to the roots of your reactivity.
- Meditate as usual in your daily practice with concentration and mindfulness.