The vehicle in which we navigate this life, our personal identity and material existence, is the body. The fields of feeling, physiology, memory, habit, the maintenance of relative equilibrium, motility, our conscious and unconscious adaptive strategies for meeting every circumstance are there, in the flesh.
With its delicate yet seemingly definite boundary, it obvious we are separate, that there is an immutable boundary between our interior and exterior life. As a temporary collection of energetic process, providing what for all the world appears to be the differentiation between self and other, the body is our personal home, our platform and our refuge.
In the body we write our history in time: our negotiation with gravity, injury, trauma, aging, self-care, aspiration, defense, success and failure. It is all there, from the values anchored in our bones to our story written deep in the sinews, to perpetual turning and re-turning, compensations, aggression and retreat, drama and restraint. We wrap our selves in the record of our actions like the accumulated rings of a tree, layering the extremes of love and loss, pain and recovery, solitude and connection, triumph and tragedy, learning and resolution, the ways we adhere to–or veer away from—our most precious integrity are all there.
The body-mind continuum is an endlessly fertile topic of investigation, testing and speculation. For practical purposes, we indulge the idea of separation as a matter of convenience for the sake of distinguishing between body and mind, as if there’s some reality to that view. While mind may operate independently of the body, there is constant interplay with the causes and conditions arising in our physical experience, forming and reforming the identity under perpetual reconstruction. In the process, mind is reflected in form. The body speaks its mind. How could it be otherwise?
In our time-bound reality, body is telling the story we tell ourselves about who we’ve been, who we are and who we will become. Physical reality and the dynamics of body-mind are the obscurations of samsara, the realm of suffering. They are luminosity objectified. We are emptiness itself manifesting as us, in plain view. We are Being manifesting as an infinite number of beings, just in time.
There is no real separation, of course. In the blissful stillness and dynamic motion of timeless awareness, there is no distinction between mind and body. There is no distinction between being and doing. In that condition, mind and body do also remain distinguishable from each other. How can they be both in union and divisible, simultaneously? Because mind and body are only convenient labels for modes of attention. Even in the gnosis of dharmakaya luminosity, cognitive process is still possible. Dwelling on the concept of time is also possible. In other words, a choice is still available to entertain duality within non-duality….or vice versa.
Practically speaking, what does that entail? Form is our anchor, grounding us in time. From the moment of birth, we have a past, a present and a future. From the moment of consciousness, the ways we may spin out of the present moment and into the past or future become increasingly complex, automatic, unconscious, untamed and, ultimately, less accessible to conscious intervention without disciplined mental practice, physical practice, or both.
In short, as we know too well, what was once the map becomes the territory. Our view and our choice become reified. Our identity is literally made into new and limiting material. Whether it’s default pathways in the brain or structural limitations in the musculoskeletal system, the way we see the world becomes the world we see. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Being able to recognize and unwind our selves from that reified story, the inaccessibility of awareness, the ignorance of Being, is integral to our spiritual development. It is not only a way of piercing cognitive limitations, building new neural pathways, but also of discovering a physical architecture of Being, the harmonic of freedom itself, a character of mental and physical synergy reflecting greater freedom in the specific sense Buddhism most often speaks of freedom: freedom from the extremes of duality.
I prefer to speak of freedom in the ultimate sameness of the relative and the absolute, of nirvana and samsara, of duality and non-duality. The union of body-mind and awareness cannot be denied. That is the Dzogchen view.
True embodiment becomes a journey into the present moment, peeling away layers of accumulated disequilibrium anchoring us in time, shedding the self-induced entrapments of asymmetry, torsion, equivocation, self-delusion, the foundations of attachment to inequality and conceptual linearity, until the true dimension of our imprisonment in time is bared. The journey of embodiment is the discovery of the body-mind as a micro-economy, of being as a fractal of Being. Embodiment is gaining a measure of equanimity, dropping ever more skillfully into a vast stillness between past and future in which we discover the nano-detail of that economy, also known as the bardo of everyday life.
That journey includes the physical resolution of mechanical disturbance and life-long strain embedded in liminal tissues, the endless cross-talk of opposing impulses, movement limited or repeatedly thwarted, with associated adhesions deep in the connective tissue matrix, anchoring and enforcing our learned behaviors, limited views and self-imposed rules.
Sitting in stillness strongly connects us to the relative universe, reinforcing our beliefs or at least our attachment to a binary view, even as we endeavor to see through absolute differences to reveal the essential sameness of all phenomena. In finding stillness of being, our mental activity comes to the forefront of awareness, along with the constant activity of proprioception, kinesthetics, our relative comfort and discomfort and the minor dramas of the ongoing redefinition of that state.
Is that drama really so minor? We may fail to notice much about our movement in the same way we barely notice much of our mental activity. True freedom in the body comes with addressing and unraveling crossed purpose, just as settling into the present moment is to see through appearance into the heart-essence of everything.
What we experience in the body when we deliberately still all movement is not merely a rising awareness of shifting strain, appearing and disappearing. We experience the deep and ongoing structural conversation, the low chatter of subliminal neuromuscular homeostatic mechanisms. We experience the mind transfixed by form. The very existence of such mechanisms is that universe of form, the negotiation of polarities, the antithesis of emptiness, the suffering of samsara.
The practice of meditation is coming into Presence, which requires coming into the present, generating a new economy of being expressed as the infinite potentiality of Being. Negotiating that re-union is to pull back the curtain obscuring the true body, the no body of dharmakaya. Part of that experience is a return to unburdened presence, leaping into the union of mind and awareness, the union of form and formlessness, the union of sameness and difference. This is Dzogchen. These polarities only exist in time, the ongoing drama of cause and effect. This is suffering.
As no bodies, we are mere “viscous porosities.” We are neither solid nor liquid, only temporary aggregations of multiple life forms, structural elements (collagen), an energy interface (ATP), a replicative blueprint (DNA), communication networks participating with the environment in the creation and exchange of sugars, heat, moisture, negotiating evolutionary dynamics, even light transformed by chlorophyll into nutritive material.
We exist in a trans-corporeal world as individual contractions, adrift in the atmospheric ocean, “intra-acting” precariously with the planetary system, each according to our geography and culture, fractals of “co-constitutive” reciprocal relationships between the macro-economy of planetary change, biology and the micro-relationships by which we live every day, relating to other life forms.
In this vast and dynamic matrix, not only is the presumption of a unique identity flimsy; the presumption of a unique identity anchored in a discrete timeframe is equally flimsy. We are products not only of our ‘personal’ stories, but also of family stories, the social story, the historical tale of our tribe, our culture, a nation swimming in archetypal forces in a perpetual dynamic with myriad other social, cultural and national entities. We are constantly under their influence. Inter-being inter-acts; we make each other and, imperceptibly, are made by all others, including the non-human.
We share in accomplishments and failures, evolution playing out in uncountable nesting contexts. The ghosts of the past, the aggression, greed and indifference we have committed our selves and allowed to be committed in our names are always present. We are parties to the calculus of limited resources, manipulation, dominance, convenience, distraction and the pursuit of short-term comfort. As Bayo Akomolafe might say, the demons under the national bed will never be completely silenced until they are fully heard. We own them all. They are us. However subliminal they may seem, they still surge into awareness, arresting us from time to time. Now is (always) one of those times.
Dropping into the body in meditation, we prepare for nothing. We invite nothing. If the clarity of luminosity, timeless awareness arrives, we are fortunate. We may experience moments of liberation, loosening the bonds of time. Having entered that realm, even briefly, there is no going back. True opening is the dissolution of imagined boundaries, never to be fully reconstituted. Now we know and cannot un-know. In timeless awareness, the body disappears. To say it another way, timeless awareness cannot exist without full embodiment, which is the dissolution of time, mind and body, subject and object.
In timeless awareness, cause evaporates; there is only effect. Linearity disappears. Analytical mind collapses. Inequality is transformed into the timeless equality of all phenomena. There is no imbalance to distract us. We are transfixed by the incomparably vivid streaming brilliance of limitless creation, without beginning or end. Bewilderment and confusion dissolve into overwhelming compassion. There is no ‘self,’ except as a momentary narrowing of attention. All that remains is the continuous dissolution of appearance into the vast space and infinite potentiality of emptiness, the potentiality of Being expressing itself as everything and anything.
Appearance and emptiness are in union. Appearance is not emptiness, nor is emptiness appearance. Appearance is not other than emptiness, nor is emptiness other than appearance. They are not two, nor are they one. No identity exists here; there is nobody. Imbalance, structural tension and all internal conversations anchored in time disappear. There is no body. All of it is instantly reconstituted simply by firing up the engine of samsara: desire. And yes, desire is irresistible. There is no relative existence without it. Desire is inescapable. That is samsara. In timeless awareness, however, desire is none other than stupendously comical foolishness. That is the Great Perfection.
When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. —Longchenpa (1308-1364)
©Gary Horvitz, 2019