A friend of mine was telling me that his aerobic training sessions were for him “his meditation”, he asked me what is the difference with what I do.
As a teacher of mindfulness meditation with over twenty years of practice it is clear that there are many different ideas and expectations about what meditation is.
Meditation, a not very satisfactory translation of the pali word bhavana, means mental development where one has to distinguish two kinds, development of Tranquillity and Concentration and development of Insight.
The word meditation evokes in each of us a response based on one of the three basic human characteristics i.e. the acquisitive, the averse, the confused. Each one of us tends to have one predominant way of responding to events, objects and people though all three characteristics can manifest at different times.
The aquisitive type will tend to find that “the world is all beautiful”, so meditation is seen as a beautiful, serene and peacful activity filled with love, light and a sense of perfection. The averse type on the other hand tends to see the world as “an unkind, painful and cruel place to be”, so meditation is used to withdraw from the world and to isolate oneself from it in a rather harsh way.
The confused type tends to swing between the two states of the aquisitive and the averse and is filled with restlessness and anxiety, a sense of not belonging and no place to rest. Meditation is seen as a means to calm and pacify the strong feeling of unease and therefore becomes the one and only reliable point of reference.
Meditation is primarily a mirror that reflects who we are without distorting the picture. Ideally one needs to be instructed and guided by someone who has been trained and who is practising. Teaching oneself is not the best and surest way, since we tend to see life through one of the three main characteristics our view is not whole but already distorted. A teacher will help see the whole picture while knowing how to guide based on your characteristic.
Students at first often believe that meditation or a meditative state is something that one day will strike them as though leaving it to luck or a happy accident.
Mindfulness meditation is a training, a method, one could even say a technique. So like any other technique one needs to be taught the instructions, how to apply them and then lots of practice.
The method is first of all to develop the skill of observing the body in the four basic postures, standing, walking, sitting, lying down and to link this awareness of the body to all life activities.
The meditation starts with the awareness of the body as it is slower and denser than the mind and so can be more easily observed. Through the repeated and consistent observation of the body and its activities, the practitioner will not fail to become more aware of the mental states that accompany the bodily activities.
From the observation of the body and mind one goes on to the training or taming of the body and mind. This means for example that if you perform a certain activity like answering the phone or opening the door your attention (mind) is with the body movement, not ahead of it or behind it. How often while one is doing a simple daily activity like switching on the kettle, the attention is on what has just taken place or on what is about to happen? Training the body and mind means teaching the attention to come back to what is happening at that moment, here in the body, now in this moment, no matter how many times one needs to call the attention back.
It is a not always easy, but simple method. Again this is practised in the four basic postures and in all daily life activities.
The next part of the training is liberating, freeing the mind. The practitioner will now have realized or at least touched on the experience that suffering or dissatisfaction in one’s life is totally linked to the sense of self-identity, me and mine, my views and my needs, “wanting what I do not get and getting what I do not want”.
The meditation practice will help us release our grip, our hold on the “this is me, this is mine” condition. With patience and kindness to this “me”, we gradually become less dominated in our response to the world by the acquisitive, the averse or the confused characteristic.
Over time with lots of dedicated practice and a lot of good-will the four sublime abodes, Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity become our true refuge. A Zen master was reported saying that “if sitting is all that is required for enlightenment then surely all frogs would be enlightened!”
Mindfulness meditation is a training therefore available to all, it is not a gift therefore not to the privilege of the few. All that is required is an honest intention to look into the mirror again and again with a sense of humour and kindness.
The application of Mindfulness Meditation to Shiatsu is quite a specific process that follows the same sequence as the Mindfulness training, that is:
a) Cultivating an awareness of the body in terms of posture, breathing and energy movements
b) Training the body and taming the mind
c) Liberating mind
For the Shiatsu practitioner working with the body and staying mindful of its postures whilst giving Shiatsu is vital.
A posture is like a shape through which Ki flows. If the shape is distorted, for example uncomfortable, tight or holding, the flow of Ki in the giver will also be distorted.
The body is slower and denser than the mind so it is the first object of Mindfulness, to some extent it is also the easiest and safest to work with. Once physical ease in the practitioner is established, working with the attention/mind becomes possible.
“Where attention is, mind is. Where attention is, energy fllows.”
So as the body posture is at ease, the breathing calm neither holding nor forcing, the attention then can rest where the hand touches the receiver’s body. The deeper the attention goes, the deeper the Qi is stimulated. There is no need for great physical weight, only a balanced posture to support the attention/mind. A simple principle of Body-Mind which does not involve thinking only the application of mindfulness of body and mind.
The third principle, Liberating the Mind, is for all of us the most puzzling and most misunderstood. It basically means that the self-identity, “I, Me”, gets out of the way of Shiatsu-giving and that there is no owner to this process. There is Shiatsu giving and the awareness of this process but no owner to be found!
This principle can be experienced in glimpses as it requires a practice of humility and deep letting-go that extends beyond one’s Shiatsu practice to all areas of life. Perhaps for most of us it is an aspiration, but the fact that this principle is unfamiliar does not mean it does not exist or that it is not possible.
The quality of our Shiatsu-Touch is so linked to who we are. As committed Shiatsu practitioners our on going responsibility is to keep investigating and developing our being. Our birthright is to be well and happy and free from fear. The practice of Mindfulness with Shiatsu certainly offer glimpses into this reality for both the giver and receiver.