This is Post 15 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
One of the most common misconceptions about meditation is the idea that it is a merely mental activity. Anyone who would characterise meditation in this way has been taught incorrectly. Meditation is more akin to dance than ordinary egoic thinking. We meditate with the body.
But we need a much larger and more sophisticated conception of what the body is, than scientific materialism has afforded us. We need an understanding of the subtle bodies, especially the first four subtle bodies: the Physical body; the Mental body; the Emotional body; and the Volitional body – which may be called the surface bodies. This seeming digression from my thread of discussion about the brahmavihāras is necessary if we are to fully understand the actual experience of the brahmavihāras and embrace them as a transformational processes in our felt experience of resting as Consciousness.
We need ways of thinking about the body that are experientially true – conceptualisations that fit our actual experience. Prior to modern medicine and the domination of our thinking by the Newtonian / Cartesian dualism of a physical body and a mind that is entirely separate, various ancient cultures had very rich and complex ways of imagining the soul or mind/body system.
Psycho-Physical Anatomy – The Seven Bodies
For me, the most experientially true account of our psycho-physical anatomy is given to us by the great meditation traditions of India and Tibet, which identify seven bodies. These seven are the physical body (which we now know from Science to be much more subtle than we had thought – pure energy and empty space in fact), and six subtle bodies, or ‘energy bodies’, or auras. As Carl Jung recognised, the soul cannot be understood unless we conceptualise it as being simultaneously individual and universal. He gave us a vision of the soul that includes a spectrum of experience – the personal, physical and instinctual at one end of that spectrum, and the universal, spiritual and archetypal at the other. This is how we experience ourselves in meditation.
The seven layers of our psycho-physical anatomy are a way of objectifying and conceptualising the paradoxical nature of our range of felt experience when we turn our attention inwards in meditative-inquiry. The range of our experience in meditation is vast – we have the experience of being a person in a physical body, but we also recognise that the core of our experience of self is Consciousness – a non-locatable field phenomenon, that is a unity, and pervades the universe.
The universal Consciousness in which we rest is generally ignored because it is non-personal and felt to be incongruous with our concrete experience of a separate physical body. By seeing the body as not single but seven-fold, and predominately energetic and subtle, we overcome that fundamental incongruity and give ourselves a way of making the universal Consciousness central to our experience, while also emphasising the energetic dimensions in the way we think about our inner life and our health and well-being.
The Mental Body – the Somatic Reflection of the Thinking function
The Mental Body is the second body. It is experienced as (and ‘seen’ by some) as very slightly larger than physical body. This means that the Physical Body rests inside the Mental Body, and is entirely enclosed and interpenetrated by it, and subject to its contents – as all healers, acupuncturists, shiatsu practitioners and applied kinesiologists know very well. All the bodies interpenetrate and resonate with each other to some degree, but the Physical Body and the Mental Body are a very important and very closely related pair.
The Physical Body and the Mental Body exist in polarity with each other – one is yin, or feminine, or receptive, while the other is yang, or masculine, or expansive. Understanding these polarities is of great assistance in meditation. I shall be returning to this phenomena in future posts, and shall be addressing the little known fact that, when we bring the Mental Body into alignment by resting as Consciousness, it is generally experienced as yin or receptive in men, and yang, or expansive in women.
The Thinking Mind is Both Energetic and Neurological
It seems that even though thoughts take place in the neuronal networks of the brain, there is an energetic reflection of thought in the Mental Body. So, as well as the more concrete neurological and hormonal connections between the thinking mind and physical body, there is also a profound energetic one. And whereas the re-wiring of a brain that has been traumatised by fear-based thinking can take a little time, the energetic realignment of our Mental Body, can be achieved relatively quickly if we rest as Consciousness.
The Buddha’s Equanimity practice – Healing the Thinking Mind
This is the power of the Buddha’s Equanimity practice. It allows the Mental Body, and hence the personal thinking mind, to be held in the healing field of Consciousness itself. The transformation that takes place is a purification of the Thinking function, which starts with the Mental Body, and then via its profound effect on the Mental Body, initiates a process in which the dysfunctional wiring of the brain is progressively undone.
When we rest as Consciousness and acknowledge that from a practical point of view the Thinking function is primarily energetic and only secondarily neurological, we open ourselves to a powerful new path of psychological transformation. By choosing to allow the Mental Body to rest as Consciousness and be informed by the field of Consciousness, we do not immediately wash it clean of all its egoic habits of punishment, judgement, justification and projection of the shadow, but we do very concretely initiate that profound process.
Purifying the Mind and Integrating Mental Clarity
When we rest in Consciousness, we may not suddenly experience the perfect peace of the Great Equanimity immediately, but we can open ourselves to it, and we can readily experience a deep sense of Being, and a sense of alignment with a transpersonal healing power. It is as if we can rest under an inner waterfall of white healing light that is running through our body purifying us and washing us clean of the mental negativities that are inherent in egoic thinking. The more we rest in the mental silence and the mental stillness of the field of Consciousness, the more our mind is cleansed by it, and the more we integrate its qualities of objectivity and mental clarity.
Being as the Basis of Identity – Not Thought
Our experience of the Mental Body when we rest as Consciousness, is not primarily one of thought, but of Being. We are still aware of the momentum of our thought processes and of our reflections on our experience, but these are felt to be secondary to the experience of Being. Consciousness and Being are in the foreground of our experience, and thought is arising secondarily, and in that context.
The effect of resting as Consciousness is to fill the Mental Body with the experience of Being. What we experience over time is a new basis for our identity. Our identity is no longer a predominantly a mental construction as the Cartesian error (“I think, therefore I am”) would suggest, but instead is rooted in Being and in the field of Consciousness. It is as if Consciousness stands behind us like a constantly affirming friend, except that we are that Consciousness – we are that friend.