Thoughts are physical, not mental. Meditation is physical.
Here’s the second understanding I’d love people to take away from this blog (the first). The buzzing thoughts that interfere with happiness and won’t go away when you meditate are not mental or intellectual objects. At root, these thoughts are physical.
Thoughts are physical because life is physical. Being born is physical, death is physical. That which we call real, we call real because we know it physically. How can meditation be other than physical?
When you are angry, your body want to move in anger. It wants to scream, shout, kick, punch, even strangle or stab. When you are happy, your body wants to laugh, to dance, to hug someone. When you are struck down by grievous loss, your body wants to sob, to wail; to be held, to be comforted. When you are in love, you body wants to kiss, to caress, to play and have fun; it wants to fuck.
Far too often, everyday life offers no outlet for the body to live its life. Even when we can find time and place to let the body move, we can rarely do so in the moment when the body spontaneously wants. Joyful, we can dance, but only on Friday night. Angry, we can kick a punchbag, but only in the gym on Saturday. The movements that the body wants to make that it can’t make or has to defer, build up and are stored. Some are stored from everyday life, some, often the strongest, come from childhood.
Exactly these frozen movements are the foundation of the unconscious mind. You can see how that happens if you think of learning a skill like playing the piano or driving a car. At first, as we learn, our movements are deliberated and choiceful. With practice, the movements become habitual and routine; they become unconscious patterns in the musculature. I couldn’t not know how to drive: even thought the ability to drive was deliberately acquired, it is in a way as much a part of my “personality” as my sense of humour. In childhood we learn civilizing skills like how not to cry and how not to be angry. These “skills” become unconscious muscle habits in the same way.
Please be reassured. There’s nothing abnormal, traumatised, or “mental health” about having painful, powerful frozen emotional movements. It is the standard, normal state of all humanity. We mostly aren’t aware, because the tension is so normal.
We feel these stuck movements as buzzing thoughts and ill-defined tensions. We feel long-term frozen emotional movements as misery, as a constant sense of wrongness that you can’t put your finger on. We feel them as emotional behaviours that take us over again and again. For example, someone falls for the wrong type of partner over and over again, knows they are doing it, but can’t stop themselves.
There are of course other categories of emotion and thought activity. Here’s a pretty all-inclusive list of what the mind includes, radical indeed, ranging from national conditioning to your attachment to your body. I’m not saying that the nature of all those things is buried physical tensions. But the drivenness behind the buzzing of our minds, the imperative force that makes it hard to still the mind, is largely made up of physical tensions old and new.
Obviously also the content of thoughts is random: we think what we had for breakfast, the state of the NHS, a funny cat video we saw. What is physical tension is the raw thought-energy, the underlying strong urge to think something or other, anything but be in the here and now.
From this point of view, a rather strange idea becomes plausible. It is that silent sitting, on its own, is the wrong way to silence the chattering mind. The body is filled with frozen anger or sadness from childhood, or with fight-flight emotions from stress at work. The body wants to be angry, to cry, to flee or to fight. And we attempt to bring peace by suppressing the trapped aliveness even more by mindful silent sitting. Since mindful sitting has such apparent authority behind it, it’s indeed hard to think that it might be the diametric opposite of what is useful.
But in my own experience, silent sitting meditation on its own is absolutely the opposite of what is useful. I’ve been meditating for the best part of 40 years, and I’m immensely blessed that I came across Osho’s body-based system of meditation that combines physical expression with silence. I am certain that whatever inner peace I may have found, would not have arisen with 40 years of only silent sitting. Not … remotely. Every single time I do an active-plus-silent meditation I feel grateful for the treasure of connecting with the spontaneous aliveness of the body.
It’s important to know that you can’t do without the silent sitting. Some therapies try! Many dance and catharsis-based types of personal development now exist. Dance, emotional release and such-like activities are joyful, expansive, bring us in contact with the truth of our aliveness. But people already know that. That’s not the point of this post. The point is that there is a synergistic harmony between these activities and silent sitting meditation. Silent sitting on its own, as a meditation method, is for many people hard, doesn’t work, or drives them mad. They first need to inhabit the aliveness of their bodies through dance or catharsis. But right after that, on the spot, you sure do need the traditional meditation. Too many personal development schools create a wonderful opportunity through body movement, then squitter it away by not following it with a structure, such as silent sitting, to go IN. The doors to the treasure house within our being open inwards and they open in silence. And the gateway to those profound inner doors, is through the spontaneous aliveness of your bodies.