November 15, 2011

Mindfulness Exercise: Gratitude for the Body

We are currently reading Jan Chozen Bays's How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness at the Tricycle Book Club. Each week in November, Bays will present us with a new mindfulness exercise that relates to the theme of gratitude. The third exercise is posted below. Give it a try and then join us at the discussion to tell us how it goes. Pick up a copy of the book here.

Mindfulness Exercise #3:
Gratitude for the Body

The Exercise
For one week spend at least five or ten minutes a day a day with this practice. It could be during your meditation time. Sit down in a comfortable chair and breathe normally. Rest your awareness in the sensations coming from one body part, such as the eyes. Before you move your attention to another body part, silently say, “Thank you (name body part) for ________.” Leave a blank and see if anything arises in that space. For example, your mind might say, “Thank you, eyes, for seeing things all day long.” It’s OK if nothing arises; just move on to the next body part. Be sure to include body parts that are having difficulty or discomfort.

Reminding yourself
Post the words “gratitude for the body” in critical places, such as on your mirrors, in the area where you meditate, or on your pillow. If you’d rather use an image, it could be a body with a big heart in the center.

A fair number of people have resistance to this task. They keep “forgetting” to do it. Eventually they discover that underneath the resistance lies aversion toward their body. Subtle resentment toward the body can accumulate in the mind, especially toward the parts that aren’t functioning perfectly or don’t meet our standard of perfection, our nearsighted eyes, our stiff joints, our belly fat, our thinning hair, our aching back. Many people do not know that they feel unhappy with a body part until they do this practice.

Other people discover that they would rather be “in their head,” thinking thoughts they can control, rather than practicing mindfulness of the body with all its mysterious and even frightening sensations. What does that short, sudden pain in my head mean? Could I have a brain tumor? There is so much that happens to our body that we cannot control, including getting sick, growing old and dying. We can come to feel threatened or even persecuted by our body. Why won’t it behave as a perfect, maintenance-free, perpetual machine?

Image: from the Flickr photostream of geoftheref

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