Meditation is a practice that allows us gain agency in our lives. We are training to settle our mind in order to wake up into our life. As the mind is more attentive when relaxed, training to cultivate a relaxed attention allows us to more fully contact our life. We sit in a singular connection to the moment, grounded in the security of earth. From that base, the spine can rise to heaven, allowing the mind to open into the vast sky of awake.
We rise up to settle down. We wake up in order to rest in the moment. These seeming polarities describe what are actually complementary components of the practice. The Taoist Tradition refers to the “Yin” of relaxing into the receptive earth and the “Yang” of rising to heaven in attention. It is stated in the iChing that the alignment of the spine to the center of the earth allows us to reconnect to a universal sense of humanity. The Tao Te Ching posits that disconnection from the earth leaves us wandering as ghosts, blown by the vicissitudes of desire and past actions. At the center of the earth, humanity is connected, clear and complete. On the surface, we perceive difference, distance and disparity.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition meditation is considered a yogic practice. The posture is an asana with the main stretch being the upright spine. Imagine the tailbone as an ancient arrowhead pointed directly down, weighted deep into the earth. Its alignment is plum, neither sticking back nor curling forward. Then feel the spine resting on that base and reaching straight through the body, through the top of the head, describing a line infinitely into the heavens above. Relax upward into that stretch, as though a string was pulling you up, stretching the spine. This is the “Yang” alignment, a vertical stretch joining heaven with earth. It is awake, and tells the lower mind it may relax now, because someone is in charge. Our higher power is engaged and we are awake at the wheel of life. In just two minutes, it is said, our brain chemistry begins to change. We are, in effect, exchanging cortisol for confidence.
With that vertical stretch, the body’s organs and systems gently fall to the pull of gravity and relax into their anonymous work. Contrary to our conditioned thinking, it is actually more restful for the body to to sit upright allowing interior room, than to slump downward, constricting space and creating stress on the internal organs.
Now, without compromising the vertical stretch, allow the body to relax down and open. The “Ying” alignment is a continued opening and relaxing of the body. While the upright Yang posture aids wakeful attention, its attendant downward relaxation allows the mind to fall into the body and synchronize with the moment to moment beating of life. This horizontal opening awakens the mind’s receptive potential, as it opens out into a community of awareness.
In the practice of mindfulness awareness – or, as I call it, Mindful Awareness we develop a synchronicity to the parts. We combine the solar and lunar experience into a fluid synchronized dance of resting in the moment as we open to the experience. The Yang alignment develops mindfulness by rising to a specific detail of our living experience. It’s counterpoint, the Ying alignment, relaxes into acceptance and expands into an awareness of the environment. Yang establishes form and definition, while Yin accesses space and context.
The breathing binds these two components. With the breath we rise up and relax down. We gather in, and expand out. We take in nutrients and release toxins. We gather in the world, and then let go back into it. We bring the mind back to the breath again and again until the mind settles into a peaceful and stable connection to the present, joining heaven and earth.
As with any meditation practice the primary point is the effect on our life. With the posture alone, we are learning to wake up into relaxation, and to relax down into attention. We reduce stress and gain greater ability to rest in the present. SO, counter to our conditioning, we actually gain more focus in life not by focusing, or learning to tighten the mind in concentration, but by opening to our experience we can relax into resting in that experience for longer and longer periods of time. And, we always have the body, and its proper alignments – up and down – to bring us back to wholeness and balance.
And, as a tool the breath is perfect for balancing the yang and yin. For one thing, it is always there. It is reliably in the present. For another, it is lifting us up and relaxing us down into synchronicity with the moments of life. So, we can use this tool, anywhere as long as we remain alive. We can simply breath and with Mindful Awareness training, come to bring the mind and body back into balance by breathing into the tension, relaxing the breath into the body. The alignments will occur naturally releasing tension, and the stress of the stored tension, and breathe in nutrients to lift our mood and relax our mind.
In this way, we bring meditation to life. Training in body and mind awareness, so that we remain in balance with life.