“Making mindfulness of the body our friend”

“Making mindfulness of the body our friend”

A reflection on practice by Annie Nugent

So many of us live in our heads.  When we are caught up in the world of thoughts, emotions and fantasies, believing their content and taking them personally, we experience the corresponding suffering that they bring.

One way to support ourselves not to suffer in this arena is to remind ourselves – as it says in the Buddha’s teachings – that “there is a body, just to the extent necessary for mindfulness and clear understanding to arise.” The Buddha said that, without mindfulness of the body, there is no possibility of freedom from suffering. This doesn’t mean that freedom from suffering is in the body; it means that the mind is attending to something that is grounding, something tangible which helps us to disengage from the story in the mind that had swept us away.

Once this simple acknowledgement that “there is a body” is established, we have redirected our attention from the mental activity that we were caught in. We actually get in touch with the experience of the body, which will support a growing steadiness of mind to bring about the understanding of the changing nature of sensations and breath. The understanding following from this is that the thoughts and emotions that had caused us so much suffering prior, are also impermanent.

We are told that when the Buddha’s attendant, Ananda, was grieving the loss of his dear friend Sariputta, he described his emotions in this way: “When the noble friend Sariputta had gone, the world was plunged into darkness for me…” Then he added that after the Buddha had also passed away, “there was no friend like mindfulness directed to the body”.

This is good advice for us too.  Can we take our cue from Ananda, especially during times when we are troubled by thoughts and emotions, and make mindfulness of the body our friend?

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