5 Guides for Mindful Embodied Happiness
by Laura Musikanski
In the teachings of mindfulness, called the Dharma by Buddhists, there are five guidelines. These are called the five precepts. The guides are intended to help you life your life without causing yourself misery. After all, life is hard enough. We don't need to put stumbling blocks in our own way to happiness. Like the ten commandments, they are still relevant today when understood in today's context. Like the ten commandments, they are easily lost when translated literally or with ancient understandings. Let's do an experiment to see if this is true.
Let's start first the nervous system first. Where ever you are right now, notice the state of your nervous system. Are you tranquil just now, or slightly on edge? Perhaps you feel at ease, but your shoulders have a slight ache, or there is a tightness in your jaw and front of the neck that you would like to go away. Just notice the degree to which your body is tense, tired, uneasy, relaxed, calm or at ease. Now, if you can, close your eyes or allow your eyes to lose focus of any particular thing. Take three deep breathes, making the inhale and exhale last as long as you can. Allow there to be a slight pause between in breath and out breath, without holding your breath. If breathing does not work to calm you, imagine yourself in a place especially for you. Somewhere safe and beautiful. Perhaps this is a valley in the mountains, where you can see everything around you, and there is nothing but beautiful nature. Perhaps it is a summer field, with wind blowing through the blossoms, or on a lake. Allow yourself to be fully there, fully embraced by your peaceful, safe place.
Here, in this place and state of calm, we explore the first guide. This is called the guide to not be intoxicated, or, more precisely, the guide to be calm and aware in the present. With your imagination, envision your nervous system, how it travels your entire body with its nexus in your brain. Now notice how your entire body feels right now, without going into detail about the different parts. Notice how your mind is working, without going into details about the thoughts that are occurring. Bring your imagination again to the nervous system, and envision it.
Now cast your mind to a desire for something to eat, drink or do that will change how you feel. Coffee is an easy one. Remember how it feels to need a coffee. The sluggishness of the brain. How the muscles feel like they are being dragged by some force outside yourself in order to move. Allow your body to be filled with the feeling of the need for caffeine. Now cast your mind to something else, perhaps something a little less socially acceptable that you regularly use to change your mood. A cigarette, alcohol, weed, sex or something else. Imagine the moment when you are wanting or needing it, when you have made the decision to light the cigarette, pour the drink, etc. Now, envision your nervous system with this desire. How does it feel? How will it feel once you indulge? Different? Better? No longer on edge. No longer desiring. The brain will calm down. The body will relax. You'll get some relief.
The first guide for mindful embodied happiness is to train yourself to be calm without the drink, smoke, or whatever your favored intoxications are. It is for relief and ease to be your normal state of being. To get here, think of this guide (like all the others) as a learning process. The way you learn is by noticing as often as you can:
- When you are calm without intoxication, how does your nervous system (and the brain) feel?
- When you are desiring something to change your mood, how does your nervous system feel?
- How does your nervous system feel once you have partaken of your favorite intoxicant?
- Does indulging in the intoxicant really make things better in any lasting way?
This may be the hardest of all the guides, but if you cast your mind to the times when you were calm and not wanting to change your state, you will see that in those moments you had a capacity to be present and loving, and you were less likely to do things you regretted later, or wish you had done differently or not at all.
The first guide is in the head, specifically the brain and nervous system, and it is to be calm, without intoxication, and so to be present in the moment.
|credit for image Dr. Clancy https://clancy-ent.com.au/procedures/microlaryngoscopy/|
For the second guide, we go to the throat. The throat is where we speak from. Bring your attention to your throat, specifically, to your voice box. If you cannot envision your voice box, put you hand on your throat just below the chin where a little bump is. Just feel into that part of your body. When you speak, words are formed by all different parts of your body. A sight or sound may give rise to a thought, or something someone says may trigger a feeling in your gut and memory buried somewhere deep inside you. The mind and body work together to form words, but the words come out through the voice box.
Keeping all this in mind, imagine what your body feels like when you hear words or sounds that feel good. Someone saying they love you, someone reassuring you, a pet purring or happily panting. Then bring to memory how your body feels when someone says something hurtful or mean to you. Without going into it, remember how the mind starts to think, and remember the feeling in the body. Likely the shoulders tense, maybe the right arm too, in a reflex to strike back. Maybe it feels like the wind has been knocked out of you.
Now imagine how it feels when you say unkind things or speak in anger, even if you feel it is justified or needed. Again, without going into it, remember how the blood rises or how a sense of strength, conviction and righteousness fills the body when you speak out of indignation, anger or fear. Last, bring your memory to times when you said words you know were loving, kind and healing. Perhaps this was to a small child or pet. Remember how these words effected your body, and how you felt while and after you said these words.
The second guide in the throat, and it is not speak lies, or more precisely, to not use words that cause harm. One of the keystones in following this guide is learning that any words, when spoken in any shade of anger or fear, from indignation to rage, concern to terror, can cause harm. This does not mean that you don't speak to stop harm coming to yourself and another in the moment when not doing so would be harmful, like yelling stop when someone is about to crash, but that you train yourself to refrain from any speech that could cause harm.
To follow this guide, you train yourself to first notice how you are feeling before you speak (or email, text, tweet, or message), and when you are feeling a shade of anger or fear, you stop and ask yourself, could these words cause harm? If there is any chance they could, then you train yourself not to say or send them by first noticing the harm they cause when you say or send them anyway, and later, as you learn, by not sending or saying them. As you are learning this guide, you will find that you will say or send words you should have known were harmful. When this happens, you learn this guide more deeply by reflecting on the feelings of shame and regret, without punishing yourself. When you reflect on these feelings, you learn how to predict when future words would be harmful and refrain from speaking or sending them.
For the third guide, we go to the heart. The heart is the home of love and life. We go to the heart because this guide is to do no harm. In Buddhism, it is the first on the list, and is taught as not to kill any living thing. This way of teaching is often interpreted as being a vegetarian and not going to war, but Buddha is said to have ate meat when it was given to him (he even is said to have died in his eighties from eating a meal of bad meat) and most people do not get to control whether there is war or not. Instead of struggling over how to interpret this precept from Buddhism, we can understand this guide in a different way by going to our heart.
In our heart, we know when we are hurt and we know when we are loved and loving. Bring your attention to how your heart is feeling right now. Imagine it pumping blood, taking in the blue blood starved of oxygen, pushing out the red blood full of oxygen, over and over. Now bring to mind a time when you were safely and fully in love. It does not matter how that love turned out, just keep your mind on the time when you felt completely in love. It may be when you fell in love with a partner, when you were a child or just had a child, or a memory of a cherished and long departed pet. Allow the feeling of love to fill you, and sense how your heart feels. Feel the expanse of the heart, how it feels big it is in your chest. Breathe into that expanse, not allowing the mind to wander away into thoughts, but keeping it focused on the expanse of the heart. Close your eyes and stay with that feeling as long as you can.
When you recognize that the memory is gone, perhaps because your mind strayed, you fell asleep or something disturbed your thoughts, bring your mind to the opposite. Remember a time you felt betrayed, hurt or heart broken. Without going into the details of the memory, notice how your heart feels right now with this memory. Were you betrayed? Did you feel stabbed in the back? If you did, it was in the heart region, because in the heart is where we feel betrayal, hurt and heart broken. We feel it in other places too, but the core of the feeling is in the heart. That is how it feels to have harm done, and that is how it feels when we do harm.
From the heart we can learn to follow the third guide: to do no harm. It is at the center for all five guides, and so we put it between the other four guides and situate it in the heart. To follow this guide, you train yourself to become more and more attuned to your heart. As you learn to recognize the pain and harm others do to you with their actions and words, or inactions and silence, you learn also how to recognize when your actions, words, inactions and silence are doing harm.
To use this guide in your life, you can use the golden rule, and ask if you would want to be treated the way you were treating someone else. If you are not sure, have a habit of treating yourself harshly, or expect yourself and others to be tough, you can use a different form of the golden rule, and ask yourself if the other person would want to be treated in such a way.
For the fourth guide, we go to the belly. The belly is the most vulnerable part of our bodies. This may be because when animals eat each other, they bite into the belly first. Bring your attention to your belly. When you do this, you may have a reflexive feeling of shame, or fear. Maybe your belly is a place in your body you do not want anyone to touch or look at. Or maybe you feel proud of your belly, or feel that your power comes from your belly. Allow your attention to rest on whatever your feeling is about your belly.
Next bring your attention to your stomach. How hungry are you? Does bringing your focus to your stomach bring rise to an idea that a little nibble of something would be nice just now? Or did you just eat, and feel full, or eat too much and feel stuffed? Perhaps you are hungry and have decided not to eat for a while. Notice how feelings of being hungry rise, and then pass, and then you feel satiated for a little while without eating anything, and then feelings of hunger rise again.
The belly is where want comes from. Someone who can't be satisfied, in food, money, success or anything else is said to have an insatiable appetite. We depict greedy people as having big bellies not because of body size, but because want that cannot be satisfied is symbolized in the body as a belly that can never be full. A more apt description might be a skinny belly that no matter how much it takes in, cannot be filled.
When you eat too much, you have discomfort. If you eat more than too much, you will have pain in your belly and wish that you had not eaten so much. When you eat too little, or starve yourself, you will also feel pain in the stomach, and desire for food will dominate your mind. If you and your loved ones are starved too much and for too long and survive starvation, you will likely find yourself unable to feel you have enough, no matter how much you have.
If you eat when you are hungry, and eat until you are satiated and not more, you will not be possessed by thoughts of food, or find yourself always trying but never able to fill a metaphorical empty belly. This is the same for all the other things in life. When you work to have enough money to buy the things you need, and then rest instead of working more to buy more than enough, you take from yourself and the world no more than what is needed. Similarly, when you collect enough things to have the objects you need to enjoy your past times, and then spend time enjoying yourself, instead of collecting more than you need or confusing collecting things with enjoying yourself, you take no more than is needed. Conversely, you do not deprive yourself of food, things, or ways of enjoying yourself in healthy and harmless ways because it is not ecologically sustainable.
The forth guide is to take only what is needed to be healthily satiated. This guide has been interpreted as not stealing but it is possible to take something without stealing and do harm. This is the case with excessive consumption, use of natural resources, and manufacturing of things in harmful conditions. This is why we go to the belly to follow this guide. To follow this guide, when you are going to eat, buy, or use something, you ask yourselves if you need it, how much of it you need to be satiated, and if it will bring you joy. You can also ask yourself if you do not need it, or if not having it will bring you sorrow. You ask these questions lightly, without judging yourself harshly for needing things, and seek for the answer in a feeling in your belly. You give yourself permission to have enough of everything, and set a boundary for yourself for having too much. You can do this with everything that buy, consume, use and dispose of; seeking always to have just enough to be satisfied, and never so much that you are too full.
The fifth guide is situated in the loins. It is a guide for our sexual nature, our strongest drive. This drive is so overpowering that if we do not train ourselves to manage it, we make a mess of our lives. It is a confusing drive, because speaking openly about it is forbidden in many circumstances. To understand this guide, first bring your mind to the area of your body we call the groin. Noticing the feeling in the groin, notice the energy in this area. Now, bring your mind specially to the part of your groin that identifies your gender to you. Putting aside your sexuality, bring your mind to your gendering organs, and allow your mind to rest on awareness of your organs as organs. What ever gender you were born, and what ever gender you identify as, without getting carried away by thoughts of gender, notice that you have gender organs. Next, bring your mind to the feeling of life in your organs. Notice what that feeling is for you, whether desire, lack of desire, or any other feeling. Notice how quickly the mind goes to thoughts about what is or is not desired, or memories and fears, and bring your mind back to the sensation in your loins. Notice how strong the feelings and thoughts are, whether positive, negative, or numbness.
The fifth guide is to use our sexual nature in ways that are loving and never do harm. This guide means we do not violate, force or exploit someone into a sexual act, or behave in oppressive or biased ways against people because of their gender, gender identification, sexuality or choice of partner. It also means we do not use our sexuality in ways that are unfair or manipulative. This guide applies to all genders of all sexual orientation. We can explore this by contemplating our assumptions about our own gender, both the dark side and the good side, and about other genders, both the good and dark sides, and by ultimately realizing that each of us encompasses all of these aspects, good and bad. When we see our assumptions more clearly, we put ourselves in better state to make better choices about how we act.
To follow this guide, we also contemplate deeply how our sexual drives and gender assumptions effect our actions and ask ourselves if any of our actions are disrespectful or harmful to others. This does not mean we do not take direct action to protect someone who is being violated if they are clearly needing help, or if they are being harassed and have expressed a desire to be protected. It also means that when we act to protect, we do not do so in a way that causes harm when no harm is necessary, do not exact revenge on someone because of their gender, or justify harming others based on gender or sexual orientation. We treat women, men, trans, gender fluid, non-binary, and all other genders without intent to harm, and with intent to be loving, kind, and caring.
The five guides are:
From the brain and nervous system, to be calm and aware in the present.
From the throat, to not use words that cause harm.
From the heart, to do no harm.
From the belly, to take only what is needed to be healthily satiated.
From the loins, to use our sexual nature in ways that are loving.
When we follow these five guides, we are less likely to create misery in our lives. We are less likely to do things we regret, and that cause harm to others and to ourselves. We sleep better. We need intoxication less. We treat ourselves better. We eat better. We exercise in healthy ways for us. We are better friends and lovers. We are more likely to find happiness.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Laura Musikanski