How Somatic Meditation can help us abandon left-brain thinking and wake up
He now acts as President and Spiritual Director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation, a meditation community that he co-founded in 2005. Along the way, he has authored many scholarly publications on the history and traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
Below is an excerpt from his newest book, The Awakening Body, which focuses on the somatic aspects of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices.
The Awakening Body is about the practice of meditation when it is approached as an essentially somatic discipline—that is, when the body rather than the mind becomes the fundamental arena of meditation practice. What might it mean to engage in this type of “Somatic Meditation”? Most simply put, rather than trying to develop meditation through our left-brain, thinking mind in a “top-down” manner, as is the case with most contemporary approaches, Somatic Meditation involves a bottom-up process. In this bottom-up approach, we are able to connect with the inherent, self-existing wakefulness that is already present within the body itself. In contrast to contrived, conventional approaches that emphasize entry into the meditative state through the intentional thinking of the conscious mind and by following conceptual instructional templates, maps, and techniques, Somatic Meditation develops a meditative consciousness that is accessed through the spontaneous feelings, sensations, visceral intuitions, and felt senses of the body itself. We are simply trying to tune in to the basic awareness of the body. Put in the language of Buddhism, the human body is already and always abiding in the meditative state, the domain of awakening—and we are just trying to gain entry.
This kind of meditation is in many respects quite different from what is conventionally understood as “meditation” in our modern culture. Meditation approached as a somatic practice consists of two aspects. The first involves paying attention to our body, bringing our conscious intention and focus to and into our physical form. Sometimes we pay attention to individual parts of our body, even very minute parts; other times, what we are attending to is our body—or our “soma,” as I prefer to call it—as a whole. Sometimes our attention will be on physical sensations, other times on body-wide events and patterns, others again on the subtle energies that flow through our body, other times the spatial environment of our body, other times still on the physical boundary of our body, the envelope of our skin.
The second aspect of Somatic Meditation is exploring—with openness and acceptance and without any prejudice, judgment, or conscious agenda whatsoever—what we discover when we are paying attention to our body in this manner. This is no simple thing, especially since our entire conscious life as humans is typically maintained and protected by the “ego thing”—bynot paying attention in this open and unrestricted way. Rather, we habitually direct our attention away from our body and its raw, infinitely expanding, unprocessed experience to our thinking mind with its labeling, judging, contextualizing, and narrativizing of more or less everything our body knows, thus severely limiting and hiding from our conscious awareness what is actually, somatically there…