|Publisher:||New World Library|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
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Living with Embodied Awareness
There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.
— FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
I still remember the first day I stepped foot into a meditation center in East London back in 1984. I walked in clumsily, with my white mohawk, my gaudy post-punk disheveled attire, feeling out of place and not knowing what to expect. There I was, a figure of agitation, not comfortable in my own skin, restless and impatient. What I saw stopped me in my tracks. It wasn't as if anyone was doing anything special. People were simply going about their day: arranging books in a library, sweeping the meditation hall, and preparing flowers in the entrance way. However, what took my breath away was the quality of presence in which they moved. There was an air of grace or dignity in how they went about their activities. They exuded a sense of relaxed ease that was quite unfamiliar to me. I didn't quite know what it was, but I knew they were on to something, and I wanted to experience it myself.
The scene felt so ordinary I could have easily overlooked it. In retrospect, I realize that part of what I was witnessing was embodied presence. People who are at home in their own skin, who are connected to themselves and their physical experience, embody a sense of ease, groundedness, and connectedness. The appearance of my overcaffeinated, anxious, angry self in that meditation center was like a storm meeting a serene ocean. It has taken me many years to begin to grow my own way into that beautiful, embodied quality.
One of my favorite pastimes is to watch modern dance. I relish how trained dancers move in their bodies, turning their bodies into living dynamic sculptures. Their movements are artful expressions of living with mindful embodiment. It's as if their bodies are filled with presence, which of course they are. Even seeing a dancer simply walk across the stage can be spellbinding because of how present they are within their own skin. They are poetic reminders of how to move, live, and breathe with an embodied presence that is alive, graceful, and vibrantly here.
Of course, we don't have to be a trained dancer to discover this. Anyone can learn to inhabit the body with awareness. Right now, as you are reading, what do you sense in your body? Become awake to every physical sensation: of your skin against your clothing, of your body against your chair. Can you sense the warmth of your belly and feel moisture on your skin or the wetness of your eyes? With mindfulness, we can be present to our ever-changing inner landscape and its shifting tides. We can sense the fluid energy of the body, which can be experienced as vibration, tingling, expansion, contraction, spaciousness, or pulsing electricity. One of the mysteries of embodied attention is that as soon as we call to mind a particular part of our body, it comes alive with sensory stimuli.
Our bodies are a canvas upon which emotions, feelings, and moods are painted. Emotions are physiological phenomena; we feel them in the body. Right now, attune to the radio broadcast of your body's mood. Can you name what you are feeling? Can you feel the impressions that emotions make in your body? Take a few moments to become intimate with your heart's terrain and where you may feel particular emotions in your chest, belly, or other part of your body.
As well as being host to a whole panorama of beautiful feelings like joy, love, and awe, our bodies also contain emotions that are not so easy to be with, like anxiety and sadness. As much as our bodies can be a source of delight and pleasurable sensory experience, our bodies also hold painful and difficult sensations, which is why we so often tune out from our somatic landscape. However, even if what we feel is unpleasant, with mindfulness we can bring attention to it and stay curious, exploring whatever may not be easy to be with.
Unfortunately, in today's world, our attention is often scattered, distracted, and anywhere but in our bodies. We are less like modern dancers and more like Mr. Duffy, the protagonist in James Joyce's short story "A Painful Case," who "lived a short distance from his body." Smartphones, computers, and video games keep us lost in our heads. We focus on screens and digital devices that often seduce and mesmerize us, taking us away from the physical sensory present. This makes the practice of mindfulness even more necessary, as well as more challenging, because in its fullest sense it is an embodied awareness that requires us to inhabit our bodies.
I luckily had access to a sense of embodiment early in life, as many kids used to. I was born before the computer revolution, and as a child, though I enjoyed Space Invaders and TV, these were no competition for playing outside. I had the good fortune to grow up near the woodlands and seashore of my native Northumberland in northern England. I remember a childhood of skinny-dipping in streams in summertime, swimming in the cold North Sea breaks, and lying in the middle of vast golden fields of wheat, engulfed by the warm smell of grain and the buzz of flies. From an early age, I learned that nature invites us into our physicality and into the pleasure of opening one's senses to the richness of the natural world.
Nature still remains my daily portal to an embodied presence. Every day I make sure to go outside, whether to gaze at the morning sunrise, to kayak on the San Francisco Bay, or to hike among redwoods and eucalyptus groves, inhaling their fragrant scents. The physical sensations of being outdoors — warm air on my skin, soft ground underfoot, bright sunlight on the water, rich smells of sea air — help me inhabit my own body. This is the reason I do so much of my meditation outdoors and why I lead people on nature meditation retreats. Inhabiting our senses is a natural, accessible support for embodiment.
Our bodies are home to trillions of cells, with nerves and exquisitely refined sensors that can attune to an infinite variety of sensory experience. These sensations always reside in the present, which is why our bodies are perfect portals to mindfulness. By becoming aware of any one of our five senses, our attention immediately orients to what is happening in this moment. To appreciate the dawn chorus of birds, the sunset, the taste of a strawberry, or the tingling of fear in our belly, we must connect in an immediate way with our surroundings and physical body.
Not surprisingly, there is a growing body of research on the impacts of mindfulness and its relationship to the body. In a 2008 study, researchers found that, after only eight weeks, participants in a mindfulness course reported a heightened ability to observe sensations in the body. So the good news is that even if you feel disconnected from your physical experience, anyone can develop this skill.
The body with its refined sensory apparatus also improves our ability to handle difficulties, so that we can stay aware and connected even when we feel pain or are under duress. The following story from Anne, a meditation student of mine, illustrates this. Anne's husband, Tom, was diagnosed with lung cancer and a massive brain tumor. Tom had surgery to remove the tumor and underwent intense chemotherapy. Though he was miraculously spared from death, he still has cancer and requires routine tests to monitor its growth. Anne shared with me the anxiety she feels before getting his test results: "The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, heart racing, gulping in breaths, dizziness, and thinking that I might be losing my mind." However, rather than run from these feelings, Anne has been practicing embodied awareness, which has helped her cope. As she wrote, "These feelings still come, but I'm not afraid of them anymore."
Here's how she describes the experience of traveling with Tom to get his results:
We are on the bus, and Tom interlaces his beautiful strong hand in mine. I sense the warmth in his fingers. I notice all the places where our bodies are touching as we sit side by side. We are hip to hip on this bus journey and always heart to heart. I close my eyes. I breathe deeply into this feeling of connectedness and then that becomes the emotion. Love. The anxiety has subsided and it has been replaced with love. How did that happen?
It happened because I leaned into the discomfort. I allowed myself to physically feel it. Not the story (the catastrophizing and the "what ifs"), only the feeling. That's the thing with emotions. They must be felt ... in your body. If you avoid, numb, or block them, they don't go away. That clenched stomach, the sweaty armpits, the racing heart — I have learned to embrace them. Stay with it. Don't rush to move on. When negative thoughts try and break in, gently come back to the body, to the breath, to the feeling itself — not the story. Then there's a shift. There's always a shift. That's how this whole mindfulness thing works.
Our body is like a fine-tuned instrument, but it requires our attention to fully realize its potential. Mindfulness is our ally here, in that we learn to turn toward our physical experience, lean into it, and feel from within this ever-changing topography. The body is also a source of intuition and emotional information that can serve us in the choices and decisions we make. But to optimize that capacity, we have to attune to this inner knowing, which often whispers its secrets and perceptions to us as subtle sensations in the gut or to our heart. Sadly, if our heads are swirling in thoughts, lost in past conflict or future worries, this knowledge will go unheard.
In a similar way, embodied attention can be a doorway to revelation. We tend to think of insight arising only through the mind, with our thoughts, ideas, and perceptions, but the body is also a powerful vehicle for understanding deeper truths. Sages and mystics throughout the ages have described how attuning to physical experience supports this. For example, if we need to grok more deeply how fleeting everything is, no matter how joyful or excruciating, we need only turn to the ceaselessly changing nature of our own body, breath, and sensory landscape to help awaken us to this elemental fact.
Any sensation is short-lived, and often that's what makes it precious. If a taste or delicate fragrance endured perpetually, we would become immune to it. That's why silk flowers become boring after a time. Even the hottest orgasm, or the most intense pleasure, passes no sooner than it arises. Thus, as the poet William Blake instructed, to relish the gifts of pleasure, we must learn not to hold on to them, but to simply appreciate them, knowing they will pass. This allows us to let go no matter how sublime sensations are and frees us from the futility of chasing after every fleeting experience.
Attending to the body also reveals the mysterious selfless nature of bodily experience. Sensations, pleasures, and painful experiences come and go ad infinitum, despite our wishes! We don't own them, can rarely control them, and can neither hold them at bay nor grasp them indefinitely. The endless waterfall of experience teaches us how the body has a life of its own. We are simply guests within our own skin. Becoming intimate with this through an embodied attention, we cease to resist this river of change. Knowing this helps us access a sense of peace within our own body amid the broader changing circumstances of life.
Many practices and techniques can help develop embodied awareness. I find that mindful walking is an expedient method to attune to the body, and here I provide two different types of walking meditation.
Sensory Awareness Walking Practice
For the first, I advocate walking outdoors in the most natural setting you can find, so that all your senses are engaged. You might choose a local park, along a beach, in woodlands, around your neighborhood, or beside farm fields. Simply start walking, without a destination, and open up to your senses. Become aware of and attuned to every sight, sound, smell, and sensation. Be present to touch: in the soles of your feet, on your skin, and the kinetic movement of your body.
Become curious about the physical world around you. What pulls your attention? What uplifts your heart and draws your curiosity? Is it the billowing clouds forming in the sky or the silent spaces between leaves? The trickling sounds of water, the soft air against your skin, or the rich smells of the forest after a rain? When thoughts inevitably arise, or if your mind wanders or you space out, notice this and gently redirect your attention to a direct physical, sensory experience. As you keep returning to the present, notice how that touches your heart and affects your mood, energy, state of mind, and overall sense of wellbeing.
Continue this process for at least ten to twenty minutes. Then, as you transition back to your home, office, or the next activity, try to continue being aware of the physical, sensory world as a support for moment-to-moment mindfulness.
This walking meditation can be done anywhere, inside or outdoors, but ideally in a place where you are alone. Rather than focusing externally, focus internally while walking first one way and then back, taking twenty to thirty slow mindful steps in each direction. As you finish taking thirty steps or so in one direction, pause, then slowly turn around and recommit to staying present to the changing physical sensations of walking as you set out to take more mindful steps in the other direction. Keep walking like this, up and down, as a support for present-moment attention.
While walking, finely attune to the sensory experience of your movements, and as your mind drifts, which it naturally will from time to time, bring your attention back each time to the body. To help sustain attentiveness, focus awareness on the soles of your feet. As each foot moves with each step, feel all the sensations as you lift and place your foot on the ground. Attune to the muscles and bones of the feet and legs as you walk. Keep your gaze downward and your attention focused on your physical, bodily experience, no matter what other sights, sounds, people, and objects you may notice. Let your fascination be oriented to your inner world of movement and sensation, rather than to what is around you.
These practices, once developed, will enable you to stay grounded and present in your physical sensory experience as you walk anywhere, such as while shopping, in your home, on a hike, or even at work. They enable you to develop a continuity of mindful attention that's always accessible. Whenever you walk, simply bring awareness to your physical experience. Your morning walk to the bus or your daily stroll with the dog could be your new venue for cultivating mindfulness!CHAPTER 2
Listening and Tending to the Body
Your body is a temple but only if you treat it as one.
— ASTRID ALAUDA
Matthew, a gentleman in his late sixties, is someone I have know since childhood who was once notorious for not taking care of himself. He preferred to drink beer over water and thought green vegetables were for herbivores, not humans. At one time, he loved to play soccer, and yet he severely disregarded his body, treating it as little more than an appendage to move him around the soccer pitch or to and from the pub. He had trouble holding down permanent employment.
Then, in his midforties, Matthew developed pain from years of bad circulation in one foot. This was made worse by smoking, drinking, and his poor diet. However, he ignored both the pain and the signs that it needed medical attention. Eventually, the pain got to be too much, and he went for treatment, but unfortunately he reached out too late. The infection and circulation problems had festered so long that gangrene had developed, and his leg needed to be removed from the knee down to stop the damage from spreading. This tragedy was particularly sad given that it was preventable, if only Matthew had listened to the signals of his body and taken appropriate action.
Unbelievably, Matthew did not learn his lesson and failed to start taking care of his body. Some years later he developed a similar circulation issue in his other foot, and astoundingly, he neglected the warning signs from that infection, too. Once again, he developed gangrene in the remaining leg, and the limb had to be removed from the knee down. What a double tragedy!
However, the good news is that, after this second surgery, Matthew listened to this wake-up call and began to change his old habits. He quit smoking, and though he couldn't go back to playing soccer, he developed a lifelong passion for coaching high school soccer teams, even into his late sixties. He later found a decent job and became happily married, all of which transformed his previous life of neglect.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "From Suffering to Peace"
Copyright © 2019 Mark Coleman.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
Chapter 1 - Understanding mindfulness
Part 1 Mindfulness / Freedom in the Body
2) Opening to the Mystery of the Body
3) The Body as Portal to Embodied Awareness
4) Listening to and Tending to the Body
5) Working with Physical Pain with Care
6) Finding Refuge in Uncertainty and Change
7) Meeting Aging with Kind Awareness
8) Embracing Death’s invitation
9) Riding the Waves of Pleasure and Pain
10) Understanding the True Nature of Body
Part 2 Mindfulness / Freedom in the Heart
11) Opening to Vulnerability with A Kind Heart
12) Learning to Manage Triggering Emotions
13) Cultivating Self Compassion For Our Pain
14) Developing the Kind Heart
15) Embracing Transience and Loss
16) Living with A Steady Heart
17) Delighting in the Joy of Others
18) Extending Compassion to Others
Part 3 Mindfulness / Freedom in the Mind
19. Working with the Thinking Mind
20. The ceaseless conjuring of what isn’t
21. The Restless Comparing Mind
21a Identifying the Judging Mind
22. The Illusion of Time
23. Shining the Light on Views and Beliefs
24. Knowing Dissatisfaction & Its Causes
25. Understanding the Reactive Mind
26. Learning the Wisdom of Non-Clinging
27. Freedom from Attachment
28. The Changing Nature of Self
29. Releasing Mistaken Identity
30. The Causal Nature of Everything
31. Exploring the Nature of Awareness
Part 4 Mindfulness / Freedom in the World
32. Freeing ourselves from self-centeredness
33. Understanding Our interconnectedness
34. Service in the Word
35. Waking Up to Unconscious Bias
36. Waking Up to Nature as Teacher
37. Being a Steward of the Earth
What People are Saying About This
“This book reveals how mindfulness enables us to manifest our full potential for living from an awakened heart and mind. Mark Coleman’s writing is fresh and engaging, deep and inspiring!” — Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge “In turbulent times, we must develop inner peace from the inside out — and Mark Coleman shows us how. Step-by-step, like a wise friend who is also a world-class teacher, he offers practical tools and penetrating insights for lasting well-being in a changing world. Full of encouragement and heart, this book has great depth and breadth, and it is a sure guide to that highest happiness, peace.” — Rick Hanson, PhD, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom “This book is a direct transmission of wisdom from one of the most well-respected dharma teachers in the field. His ability to integrate kindness into traditional practices of mindfulness, insight, and equanimity is a true gift, and this book is sure to transform the lives of many.” — Kristin Neff, PhD, associate professor in the department of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin “Filled with poignant stories.” — Mindful magazine “Mark Coleman’s wise and clear words draw on his decades of experience teaching mindfulness meditation. From Suffering to Peace is an excellent guide to the depth and breadth of these ancient practices, giving a clear path to bring these principles into every facet of your life. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in deepening their understanding of mindfulness.” — Troy Aikman, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback and FOX Sports broadcaster “As popular as mindfulness has become in the culture, many do not realize that it’s more than simply a way to reduce stress. It’s a profound practice that leads to the highest states of awakening and freedom. Mark Coleman has written an invaluable book that expands the simpler applications of mindfulness practice to reveal its full potential. In addition to giving the reader a clear understanding of the power of mindfulness, From Suffering to Peace offers a treasure trove of practices that allow the reader to develop and realize its true promise. A real gem!” — James Baraz, coauthor of Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness and cofounding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA “From Suffering to Peace provides a beautifully clear wide-angle lens on the transformative power of mindfulness in our daily lives. In the same way that he has explored and loved the natural world, through his many years of practice and teaching Mark Coleman has discovered the inner beauty and spaciousness of our hearts and minds. In this comprehensive work, Mark shares the many insights and practices that so deeply inform its title.” — Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening “Mark Coleman’s new book was a revelation for me, even after having a meditation practice for nearly three decades. While I’ve often thought of mindfulness as a means of turning off my brain, Mark helped me see it’s more about turning on my awareness, which can often act as a gatekeeper for reactivity and judgment. Reading this book will help open the door to your growth and freedom.” — Chip Conley, New York Times bestselling author of Emotional Equations and hospitality entrepreneur “From Suffering to Peace is a comprehensive and accessible look at mindfulness practices that lead to living wisely and with peace. This is an important, useful, and thoughtful book for the often chaotic and distracting times in which we live.” — Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness “This is as clear, comprehensive, and practical a guide as you will ever find for fully understanding and integrating the power of mindfulness into every aspect of your life. Drawing on wisdom and insights from decades of experience as a meditation practitioner and mindfulness teacher, Mark Coleman offers the reader life-changing tools that promote flourishing, lasting peace of mind and freedom. In a meaningful and heartful way, this book delivers on the ‘true promise of mindfulness’ and may well change your life.” — Rich Fernandez, PhD, CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and former director of executive education at Google “Like mindfulness itself, this book is helpful and kind. It is straightforward, comprehensive, and wise.” — Jack Kornfield, coauthor of A Path with Heart and cofounding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA “Mark Coleman, a deeply experienced and kind mindfulness teacher and practitioner, has written yet another clear, accessible, and inviting book. He warmly invites readers to bring mindfulness — the genuine practice and not its watered-down, popularized versions — into all aspects of their lives, by addressing misunderstandings, showing ways around obstacles, and revealing its power in dozens of compelling examples. Mark has brought us a wonderful, refreshing, inspiring, and very personal text that will be useful for many people, new and experienced, on the path from suffering to peace.” — James Flaherty, founder of New Ventures West and Integral Coaching “This eloquent and brilliant compendium is astounding! Mark Coleman has the bravery and deep wisdom to tackle complex and challenging topics — such as the true nature of mind habits, stress, relationships, aging, and loss — bringing clarity and ease to them. He guides us, through embodied attention, to easily access the ‘jewel of awareness’ within us. Mark helps us shift out of our default state of self-absorption to experience joy within a quieter, more peaceful mind. You will find in these pages precious life lessons from Mark’s journey and from the many students whose lives he has touched and guided over thirty-five years.” — Elissa Epel, PhD, professor and mindfulness researcher at University of California San Francisco and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer “From Suffering to Peace offers the wisdom of reflection, the effectiveness of years of teaching, and the rigor of deep personal practice to help guide us toward greater happiness and well-being. This illuminating book invites us into a new way of living that has the power to transform our individual and collective lives.” — Shauna Shapiro, PhD, professor at Santa Clara University “Mark Coleman is a wise, kind, and compassionate teacher. This new offering will be very helpful for both new and experienced practitioners.” — Bob Stahl, PhD, coauthor of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook “This comprehensive guide to mindfulness rounds out the field in an extraordinary way. Moving far beyond mindfulness as a stress reduction technique, it shows us the depth and breadth of mindfulness teachings — including how they can make an impact in the world. Highly recommended for all practitioners.” — Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, author of The Little Book of Being, and coauthor of Fully Present “A true synthesis of ancient wisdom for our modern times. Mark Coleman has succeeded in assimilating and then sharpening the lens on inner awareness that can ripple out into our daily living. A potent balance of explanation with real-life practices, this book will be a go-to for my own studentship and teaching for years to come.” — Janet Stone, Stone Yoga School, based in San Francisco “Mark Coleman’s newest book on finding peace is medicine for our times. With engaging stories and potent teachings/practices, these pages abound with love and wisdom. I have a new favorite to recommend to students.” — Sarah Powers, author of Insight Yoga