Mindfulness of the Body as a Wise Refuge

Mindfulness of the Body as a Wise Refuge

A reflection on practice by Tempel Smith

When we practice mindfulness meditation, we most often start with guiding our attention to our own immediate bodies. Students of mindfulness become aware of the simple sensations of breathing in & out, and then expand mindfulness to include all body sensations. We can also become aware of our bodies in stillness & during daily activities. From a steady foundation of mindfulness of the body, many aspects of the Buddha’s teachings ripen into the experience of true happiness & liberation. Mindfulness of the body becomes a refuge for developing compassion & wisdom.

The Buddha described this in one discourse called “The Six Animals” (SN 35.247). He gave the image of six different wild animals tied to each other by ropes & all struggling to find familiar safety from their own perspective. An alligator wants to run to the swamps, while a monkey wants to run to the trees. These six wild animals are an analogy for our five worldly sense doors (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and somatic sensory) plus the sense door of mental activity (thoughts, images, inner voice, etc.). When there is no central reference point such as our breath, our attention is endlessly pulled in six different directions, only to become fatigued & scattered.

Mindfulness of the body becomes a central pillar or post, like tethering these six wild animals to a column, showing us a different kind of happiness & contentment. Our senses show us the world, yet we don’t need to compulsively chase tastes, sights, sounds, or thoughts, trying to capture them. Instead our well being comes from having our bodies ground us like a pillar. Strangely, as this happens, our senses relax & become clearer. The taste of food, for example, becomes more exquisite as we rest in our bodies & receive the flavors.

When our senses no longer pull us outward, causing us to become ungrounded, we experience a deep turning in mindfulness. We find peace within ourselves & are able to receive the world more fully through our senses.

Illustration by Barry Bruner, Tricyle Magazine Summer 2007

See more about Tempel Smith