I was recently “setting up” my morning meditation - establishing a strong posture and then relaxing the muscles in my upper body. And, it occurred to me that I was consciously relaxing tension in my body to assist in relaxing tension in my mind. It reminded me that these two aspects of our being are so completely connected. They represent the two sides of stress.

When I experience stressful thoughts, it means that I’m experiencing thoughts that are at odds with reality, with how things are. Either I’m grasping for, wishing for, something that is absent from my reality (e.g., experiencing the feeling of desire or frustration) or I’m resisting reality – wishing that something in my reality wasn’t there (e.g. experiencing irritation, anger, or self-criticism). And, if the resistance concerns the future (real or imagined), then the feeling is anxiety or fear. All of these feelings or emotions represent mental difficulty – that is, tension – with reality or future reality.

And, this tension in my mind very often creates tension in my body – a tightening of my stomach muscles, or in my chest, arms, shoulders, throat, eyes or forehead. Before I started meditating, I didn’t really notice this body tension. But, meditation makes us experts at noticing tension in our body. That’s because when we meditate, we continuously let go of the thinking activity (in the left side of our brain) and make conscious use of the awareness function (in the right side of our brain) – our sense organs. And, since three of our sense organs aren’t operating when we meditate (seeing, smelling, tasting), we’re left with listening and feeling – feeling physical sensations in our body. And, the more we meditate, the better we get at noticing those physical sensations, to being attuned to them.

So, during the day, whenever I have negative thoughts about reality – creating stress - this can often lead to physical tension in my body as well. We are, after all, one integrated entity and everything in us is vitally inter-connected. The beauty of this is that, since we can sense tension in our body much more readily than in our mind, our body “tells” us that our mind is tense too. It’s a wonderfully effective monitoring system which indicates when we are “stressing out” by engaging in negative thinking. While initial negative thoughts can be helpful by indicating possible problems in our experience, continued negative thinking is the source of stress which is so harmful to our well-being, to our physical and mental health.

I am very grateful for this heightened awareness because my body “notifies” me each day when my mind is “fighting with” – resisting or grasping at – reality, and creating stress. And, since almost all of my negative thoughts are unnecessary, I do my best to let them go and turn my attention to more positive topics or objects which stops or reduces the stress. While my morning meditation itself isn’t always pleasant or “blissful”, it certainly makes the rest of my day much more pleasant. It’s a daily strengthening of my awareness capability which provides me with regular dividends. It’s like an “investment” which provides a steady stream of “psychic income”, or feeling of well-being.

Peter Black

Instructor: Meditation and Mindfulness



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