What if using the body to ground us in meditation feels intense or overwhelming?

A student asks:

In the Confidence book [one of the books from Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training] it emphasises the body as a way of tapping into confidence – could you say something about how to practice when physical sensations are more intense or overwhelming?

Lama Shenpen responds:  

In The Heart of Meditation and Discovering the Heart of Buddhism [courses in the Living the Awakened Heart Training] we are talking about body awareness as a way of settling the mind into being present, awake and aware – it’s a way of anchoring the mind so that it is not flying off everywhere as thoughts and sensations arise.

Yet our knowledge of the body comes to us through our senses. It is our attention to sensations that brings us back to the present and allows us to open out into their spaciousness which is the spaciousness of our being.

If body awareness doesn’t work for you as an anchor or if it doesn’t trigger a grounded or centred response, find another kind of sensation that does.

Sometimes it might be the sound of the wind in the trees or of a babbling stream or the rhythm of the waves on the shore.  Maybe it is looking out into the sky or at the things around you that bring you back into the present moment.

It is possible to listen or see from the heart – the heart responds to the sense of presence and being in the present – attentive awake and aware. Gradually all your experience will share that same quality but to start with find something that comes to you naturally. Then confidence and trust can build from there.

Student:

In the book you seem to be talking about our body in two different ways. On the one hand we are being encouraged to become more embodied and use our common sense idea of our body to help us feel grounded and centred and less caught up in thoughts. This sense of solidity and groundedness can be connected with a basic (conditioned) confidence.

Lama Shenpen:

Yes, it could simply be a sense of somehow I am stable and not buffeted around by all my thoughts and feelings. That could still be a conditioned, ego-centred kind of confidence but is more likely to be a mixture of conditioned consciousness and the beginnings of non-conditioned confidence.

For example if my confidence is in the ground supporting me, in an earthquake or at death that confidence would fall apart. Yet if my sense of the ground supporting me arises from awareness of the sensations I am experiencing here and now and an awareness that they are all rooted in Openness Clarity and Sensitivity [the qualities our true nature] – that is what they are and what I am and that never changes – then this is non-conditioned confidence.

Student:

On the other hand you are talking about physical sensations as a gateway into Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity. Would you say that the confidence you are pointing to here is a deeper unconditioned confidence in the nature of all experience?

Lama Shenpen:

Yes

Student:

Would you say that we need to focus on the more basic confidence of simple embodiment first, before going deeper into what experience is at all?

Lama Shenpen:

I don’t think it matters but if focusing on simple embodiment is a stepping stone to some kind of stability, it can be a stepping stone to non-conditioned confidence. But we can find the confidence of stability of our experience in other ways. It doesn’t have to be through simple embodiment.

Sooner or later we die and then embodiment doesn’t particularly provide us with stability. It might just cause us to panic as we try to cling on to the stability of a body we have just lost!

Lama Shenpen talks more on this topic in her recent teaching on Confidence, watch the video here.


Lama Shenpen’s students are all studying the Living the Awakened Heart Training – a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training

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