The Body Scan, and Susan’s Reflections
“The world is a better, more welcoming place.”
I have been a dedicated meditator for about twenty years and both the actual sitting meditation and the philosophy of Buddhism has affected my life profoundly and I am very grateful to have stumbled upon this path and to have had the determination to follow it. When Ross Clark, a dear friend and member of my sangha, suggested that I take his MBSR program on-line, I was willing to give it a try, but not sure that I needed a program that was about stress reduction. I did not feel particularly stressed. After all, I was a meditator.
The heart of the MBSR program is a forty minute body scan, where you are guided to relax your body, starting with your toes and working up to the top of your head. After the first week I dropped the idea that I was not stressed. It was painful to spend forty minutes finding out that I was so controlling and tight that I could hardly stand it. Rather than sinking into the mat, I was vibrating with tension, what felt like inches above the mat. Ross encouraged me to continue and now that I knew the state my body was in, I could hardly claim that the practice was superfluous. Week after week, month after month went on like this. I did not see any improvement. Meditation teaches you patience, if nothing else, so I continued on faith. On faith and Ross praising my courage and it did take courage.
In desperation I began to get creative. I imagined that I was drugged and had no choice but to relax. That helped a little. Then I imagined that I was floating in space, my body connected to my mind by a chord, but separate. John Kabat-Zinn, in the guided meditation, encourages you to sink into the mat, but I was able to sink into the velvet midnight blue of space. I had been vibrating above the mat, and that was the way I had to go, into the air and not into the mat. Finally I had a breakthrough and was able to end the session light and floating, the tension in my body dissolved. Such a wonderful feeling. Not yet at home in the world, after all I still had to use the concept of being in space, but not fighting the world or trying to control everything either.
After this, my body scan practice became easier, although not as easy or as euphoric as my original breakthrough, but I could feel the change in my body throughout the day. Christmas arrived, a time of great stress for me, the acid test to see if the body scan had helped. It was like a total transformation. Instead of not being able to sleep at night, I drifted off easily every night. Instead of fretting and worrying about what presents to buy, I was confident that my love and care would lead me to the right gift. When we took the decorations down, I remarked to my husband that I was sorry that Christmas was over and he said it was the first time he had ever known me to really enjoy Christmas. Which really meant enjoying my friends and family to the fullest and feeling totally present, instead of being lost in stress and worry and feelings of inadequacy.
How can a simple body scan accomplish so much? That I do not know, although I am sure there are reasons. Obviously the body is connected to the mind (even if I still have to pretend to separate them during the body scan). When I relaxed control of my body, I was able to relax control of my mind and that is when you can go with the flow and in my case, stop being so bloody neurotic.
Now I look forward to the forty minutes that I spend on the body scan. I have suspected my sitting practice or at least the body scan has become my practice. This has been the best thing to happen to me since falling in love. In fact, it shares much in common with that wonderful practice. It is a miracle. I still have moments of stress, still get excited, but I feel different. I feel lighter, I feel at home in my body while feeling more grounded.
The world is a better, more welcoming place.
Happy New Year.