|Reverend Gyomay Kubose (1905 - 2000)|
There was a simple grace in his bearing, a Presence in his slow mindful steps that was astonishing.
It was obvious to me that Reverend Gyomay Kubose, in his 70's at the time, was connected to his body, to the smooth wooden floors of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago -- and to Life itself -- in an entirely different way than I'd seen before.
Conditioned as we are, most of us are "in our heads" most of the time. Although we are always breathing, and our bodies and our sensory apparatus are operating to generate a whole array of experiences, most of this occurs without our full presence of mind. Generally, conditioned as we are in the modern capitalism of Western civilization, the focus of our attention is primarily on the thoughts running through our head.
Fueled by emotional energies, subconscious beliefs, and conditioned filters that we are largely unaware of, these thoughts dominate our awareness in a way that sweeps us along the stream of our own conditioned ego patterns most the time. Mindfulness Practice, both on and off the meditation cushion, offers us a means to expand our range of attention to include a universe of experience that we generally aren't aware of. Without Practice we are liable to "sleepwalk,"only half-awake, through our lives.
Reverend Kubose, most definitely, was not sleepwalking as he dry mopped the floor of the Zendo. I could feel his Presence. He was awake to the present moment, connected with something very special, doing what needed to be done to prepare for Sesshin.
The Theory and the Practice
Last week, in one of the Morning Mindfulness Meditation Circles (Now online on Zoom), I mentioned that I sometimes find it helpful to choose a specific practice intention for the day as part of my morning meditation. Then, in the evening, I reflect on how that intention influenced -- or didn't influence -- my day.
I even listened to my own advice.
Remembering Reverend Kubose's unspoken teaching from years ago, I decided to be especially aware of each time I was on my feel, moving from one place to another. Having practiced formal walking meditation in a variety of forms, my intention was to lower my "center of gravity," placing more of my attention in my belly (the hara or tan tien) and the contact of my feet on the floor each time I was walking, whether I was was just across the room -- or across town.
Each time I got out of my head and place more of my attention in my body, there was a shift. I came more fully into the present moment. As I did, the entire range of sensory experience opened up. As well as feeling my belly and my feet and the ground more distinctly as I walked down the street that day, the sky often got bluer, the crisp air more invigorating, and the soundscape more vibrant.
I love it when that happens.
Although some folks tend to proclaim the superiority of mind over matter, it seems to me that they may have it backwards. Our bodies are a lot wiser than we think. In fact, over the years, I come to see that my "gut feeling" is often more accurate than an exhaustive -- and exhausting -- pro's and con's analysis.
That being the case, my belly and feet decided to stay with this intention for a while. In many magical moments throughout the week, the Pure Land of the Buddha, the Kingdom of Heaven didn't seem theoretical.
In fact, coming to my senses moments ago, I again remembered. I got out of my head and lowered my attention into my belly and feet as I came upstairs.
It just takes Practice.