Sitting Steady in the Storm

Sitting steady - somatic practice

Every news story, every conversation has the potential to knock us off centre.

We’re living in very wobbly times.

Even turning on the TV or the radio for a minute sends an unsettling surge of cortisol through the system. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can launch tsunamis of unsteadiness into us.

Corona virus, the US elections, the Siberian permafrost. Every news story, every conversation has the potential to knock us off centre.

This is the worry… that I’ll forget my interconnectedness

And it stops us helping one another. When I’m wobbling I’m not in a great place to lend a hand. And when I’m panicking, it’s hard to enquire about others. When I’m numb from so much instability, it’s hard to care.

From a Buddhist point of view, this is the worry. Not that I’ll be upset or wobbly or stressed. But that I’ll forget my interconnectedness and fall into the pit of self-absorption.

We are trained to feel more about what the news tells us than what our very own bodies are telling us

The craziness of the situation is particularly bonkers, because all this information is not real. We have no real idea of what it’s like to be one of the 100,000 people with Corona Virus (unless we have it). Nor can we feel the impossibly complex reality of the climate catastrophe in our limited minds. We won’t ever really understand how 328 million US citizens will vote.

Yet it’s a curious fact that we are trained to feel more about what the news tells us than what our very own bodies are telling us.

Since when did a single human being have to solve every world crisis?

I spend a lot of time at work trying to get clients to watch less news. There are a number of people who are completely addicted to rolling news, online articles and twitter feeds. Driven, it seems, by a sense of having to know everything, to worry and solve every world crisis.

But since when did a single human have to do that? It’s actually the role of a divine being or a God to know and concern herself with all beings across the planet .

That would be the arrogance of thinking ourselves divine

In Tibetan Buddhism there are beings known as Bodhisattvas who have assumed a power and omniscience that allows them to know the suffering of all sentient beings in order to help. But we are not that kind of bodhisattva yet. We are are flesh-and-blood humans. When we’re omniscient and celestial beings with omnipotent power, then we can busy ourselves with helping the whole world. Right now we can steady ourselves, relax and be more modest.

In this limited human form no one can be expected to worry about 7.6 billion people. That would be the arrogance of thinking ourselves divine. But it’s not a rogue egomaniac that thinks like that. That is what rolling news, 24-hour-coverage and the social industry expects of us all the time:

The weight of the unreal world has left us too wobbly to deal with reality

“You must understand, solve and worry about the whole world’s problems. You should also look and sound perfect when putting forward your solutions.”

It’s an inhumane burden.

And, of course, it completely incapacitates us. We stress about 7.6 billion people (not to mention the animals and the insects and the birds) and we are left unable to speak to our colleagues at work. The weight of the unreal world has left us too wobbly to deal with reality.

Stop. Stop feeling responsible. And just feel

But there’s a simple fix.

Stop. Stop feeling responsible for the world. And stop feeling responsible even for yourself. Just feel. Feel into the experience that you can work with. The experience you can stabilise. Which is your own experience of your body.

Tantric yogis have long-known that the power within the body is what nourishes us and allows us to connect out to the world. The thinking mind is a paper-thin subsitute. More often than not the thinking mind drives us out of the body into thin air. In the direction of Fox News, CNN, InstaStories and TikTok. And to mad-making instability.

There is a middle ground. It is the playing field for somatic practice

Buddhism teaches that everything is impermanent. Everything is impermanent. But impermanence is not the same as impossibly unstable. My body will get old and die but that’s not a reason to not inhabit it for 50+ years. Some day I will draw my last breath but that doesn’t mean I’m not breathing in and out at the moment.

Impermanence does not cancel out the cause-and-effect of karma. Just because something doesn’t last, doesn’t mean it is free of consequences. The three bottles of red wine you drank last night didn’t last. But they do have an effect.

There is a middle ground between the truths of ‘everything is impermanent’ and ‘everything matters’. It is the playing field for somatic practice.

Each of us has a steadiness and wisdom in the pit of our stomachs that can anchor us in every moment

What we do with this body does matter. More precisely, what we do with this body from moment-to-moment matters. We can chose to continue wobbling to the beat of the news cycle or we can chose to stabilise and find some respite in our bodies.

Each of us has a steadiness and wisdom in the pit of our stomachs that can anchor us in every moment. Learning how to rest in this inner space while sitting still and enjoying it is the hallmark of somatic sitting practice I’m teaching a lot this year. And now, in this twinkling of the historic eye, we need to train ourselves to rest in the stability of the soma more than ever.

What’s good about this is that it’s not an abstract thing. It’s the opposite of abstract. Sitting still and feeling into the one certain thing, the one thing we can feel: the body. This is a tonic for the wobbly mind.

The body is the reality we inhabit and that’s where heaven lives

Tantric yoga stretching back to the time before the Buddha saw this. The body is not just a ‘bag of sin’ to be cast off when we head to heaven. The body is heaven: in the sense that the body is the reality we inhabit and that’s where heaven lives. Spread out through the ‘islands, hidden in our blood’.

This expansive sense of the energy in our body – not as an idea but as a blissful experience – can be so healing. After decades of living in the 24-news-cycle of the thinking mind, the REALNESS of the body’s energy – what the Tibetans call the energy wind flowing through the meridians and channels of the subtle body – can feel utterly exhilarating. The sense of the energy wind being comfortably and stable in the ‘home’ of the lower belly is profoundly comforting. It brings peace in a crazy world.

Cut through the delusional web of news and actually reach out with our human hands and help

The Tibetan lama Tsoknyi Rinpoche says this:

Ideally the subtle body is in balance. The channels are open, the wind is centred in its ‘home’ and blows freely in the channels, and the sparks of life flow easily. We feel a certain lightness, buoyancy, openness and warmth. Even though we may have lot planned for the day or face a long drive or maybe an important meeting, we feel calm and confident. We look forward to whatever the day ahead presents: a state of being which could be called ‘being happy for no reason’.

And this is what we need in the hullaballoo of the present historical moment. Not just stillness but energy. The feeling of being ‘at home’ in our bodies which allows us to cut through the delusional web of news and actually reach out with our human hands and help. Just that, just that.

[Click HERE for a free guided meditation introducing the simple somatic sitting practice.]

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  • Anna Peck says:

    Sounds like you had quite a day.

  • It’s so difficult not to be anxious when the media bombard us, so constantly, with disastrous news of one kind or another. It would be great to experience a little calming influence. I shall, therefore, be ” sitting the Downs” with you and Ben( in my imagination, I’m with you) via your Mindsprings TV video. It’s my favourite meditation tutorial.
    Sending love, as always.
    Patti X

  • Jane Davis says:

    “What would you be FEELING if you weren’t THINKING about that?” What would you be FEELING if you weren’t talking about that?” These words (from one of my therapist friends about what she sometimes says to clients wound up about non-issues as a stand-in to avoid…themselves), came back to me as I read your thoughts about what being fixated on the news can do to us. What is obsessing over 24 hour news or over Trump or Joe Biden or Coronavirus standing in for? In any case, I’ve been meaning to respond to your blogs since summer and hope to touch on some of what you have been saying at another time–you’ve conveyed many powerful ideas. (I moved to Ithaca, NY in summer and that took up an incredible amount of energy). BTW, Namgyal Seminary Institute of Buddhist Studies is in Ithaca.) In any case, some people ask why people become so upset when a celebrity dies–e.g., Princess Diana, and now, here in the States, basketball legend Kobe Bryant)–and become more involved in thinking about that than about their own lives or loved ones? Maybe people (maybe all of us at some time) need to be asked, “What would you be feeling if you weren’t thinking about that?” I have more to say but I’ll leave it at that.

  • Jane Davis says:

    And now that Coronavirus has come to my neighborhood…It’s like the ultimate mindfulness challenge. Anyway, one of my colleagues sent me this, a quotation of Elders of the Hopi Nation that people might find useful:
    “This is The Hour…”
    “You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
    Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.
    And there are things to be considered:

    Where are you living?
    What are you doing?
    What are your relationships? Are you in right relation?
    Where is your water? Know your garden.
    It is time to speak your Truth.
    Create your community. Be good to each other.
    And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
    This could be a good time!

    There is a river flowing now very fast.
    It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
    They will try to hold on to the shore.
    They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

    Know the river has its destination.
    The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river
    Keep our eyes open and our heads above the water.
    See who is in there with you
    And celebrate.

    At this time in history we are to take nothing personally.
    Least of all, ourselves.
    For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

    The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
    Banish the word “struggle” from your attitude and your vocabulary.
    All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

    We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

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