Buddha and the Snake: Embodied Meditation
There is a greenish, copper-tinted garden sculpture hanging on the sidewall of my balcony. She is a Buddha, a dakini, sitting in meditation on the roiling bodies of five cobras, the nagas. Their hoods and heads rise up around her, forming a canopy behind and over her head. Almost every time I look at her directly, I am stirred.
The dakini speaks to me of the double helix of life and death. I see the mysterious potency of form arising from emptiness and dissolving back to emptiness again. I am called to feel how this occurs, simultaneously, always, in each moment. She calls me back to the fundamental exploration of what I am, what This Is that is going on here.
She also represents, for me, the interpenetration of my own two basic spiritual practices: Continuum and sitting meditation. After thirty years of following my curiosity about the nature of reality, and my need to work with suffering, I find myself spiraling around these two arts, with a healthy amount of therapy and spiritual inquiry practice for balance.
Of course, there are many ways to meditate. My sitting tends to constellate around practices arising from Buddhism. Although meditation is traditionally thought of as a sitting practice, it feels to me that almost anything can be meditation. Any practice or activity that is intended to open the way to the truth in the direct experience of the moment, that fosters the willingness to follow whatever spontaneously surfaces, and that has a container that allows the process to come to fruition within the security of a container, can serve as a kind of meditation. Art, organizational development, cooking—all can be meditation.
Continuum is, among other things, a deep, powerful moving meditation, that for me serves as a counterpoint to sitting meditation. When used in tandem, rotated, played with, Continuum and sitting meditation inform each other. They become extensions and mirrors of each other, intertwining just as the two snakes spiral around each other in the caduceus.
Continuum brings the vitality of the body to sitting practice. The deeply sensual expression of eros in the feminine qualities of Continuum sparks the stillness and spaciousness that can arise through sitting. The constantly moving flow of biological intelligence that Continuum accesses brings the dynamism of the life force into the inner space realms that are the domain of sitting meditation. Woven together, Continuum and sitting meditation create a potent context for opening embodied consciousness.
Continuum as Meditation
Continuum practice includes different uses of breath, sound, and fluid movement to encourage us to open, follow, and explore fluid intelligence by immersing in the body as the field of inquiry. We use the sensing capacity of our biology to open consciousness by refining and expanding our ability to feel, and to follow the movement of that feeling as it unfolds.
For example, we might use a particular breath or an odd shaping of the mouth to create an unusual sound. The breath and sound spark energy. That energy is a movement. The movement causes sensation. As we breathe and make sound, the energetic frequency of that movement begins to shift the whole organism—the body/mind/energy—into a slower and slower vibration, finding a more natural biological speed than that created by the pace of daily life in Western culture. Thus, relaxation can then ease in, and more sensation becomes available. Awareness opens with increasing subtlety and pleasure. In the internal landscape, the field of sensation spreads and time begins to suspend. Awareness drops into moment-to-moment experience. Attention begins to shift from a technique to open the body’s tissues, a “doing,” into simply feeling the flow of sensation, of energy, of a streaming that is cellular and spacious.
From this feeling, absorption in direct experience can arise. The separate self that was directing activity, focused on doing, becomes that which is moving and feeling, shifting and radiating. There is stillness and there is also movement, simultaneously. What will happen next—what bubbling or vibration or heat or settling will arise, what texture of feeling or spaciousness, light, sound—is unknown. There is an experience of being that is moving, yet without doing. Being becomes an effortless unfolding.
Personal history, personal image dissipate into the moving, dissolving, and creating of the flow of form. As in sitting meditation, almost anything can arise along the way—thought, emotion, varieties of sensation, stillness—and, as in sitting meditation, layers of awareness, habitual repetition, reactivity, numbness, diversion peel away, freeing us to discover again a depth of presence.
With many spiritual practices, including some sitting meditation work, more value is often placed on transcendence—a kind of leaving the body, the earth, form—than on the direct, moment-to-moment experience of the body and form. Practitioners seek an experience of spacious emptiness or refined states of light and sound. Those states are wonderful, blissful—and valuable—and yet they can foster a kind of longing to transcend, to be out of the body.
This longing is mirrored and supported by the history in Western culture of denying and disregarding the body as the sacred ground of eros, except in the narrow, sexual context of tantra. The Feminine—body centered, unpredictable, fluid, ever-changing, loving, sensual, wild—has also been denied and disregarded. In contrast, Continuum as meditation becomes a direct experience of presence that includes the body. Continuum rides and rests on the current of eros in the body, bringing eros, and the deeply feminine, into the practice of meditation.
Continuum calls the practitioner to explore the opening of living presence from within the body, from within form as it moves. Continuum practice seeks a directly lived experience of the body moving and transforming. Refined states arise, but they are grounded not in an escape from body but in the aliveness of breath and sound and movement, in the livingness that is the constant change and flow of form. There is an inherent unpredictability that keeps inviting the mind to relax and follow eros.
Eros here is the pleasure of sensation, the devotion to tending the sensuality of our biology, which is the doorway to a direct experience of the truth of who we are. In following eros, we discover a loving that is the nature of movement. Fear contracts; love eases and expands. Fluid movement opens, coaxes, seduces us into feeling how love moves.
When we encounter contraction during a Continuum session—from fear, discomfort, anger, or pain—we use the experience of sensual pleasure to support our venture into feelings that are unknown or difficult. We acknowledge what has arisen, the contraction, the fear, the discomfort, but rotate back to rest in the comfort of what is pleasurable, cultivating that pleasure as ground and resource. As we learn to trust in our ability to care for ourselves in this way, we increase our capacity to “feel” our way into new territories of sensate experience. We are increasingly able to be with and be in that which may have been repressed or denied, that which is painful or uncomfortable or fearful, as well as that which is remarkable and beautiful. This makes possible new experiences, bringing alive subtle nuances and feelings.
As in any meditation process, as each new venture is met and felt, confidence rises, and with it our willingness to explore further. Eros is that creative drive, the love that urges us toward new experiences and expressions. It is also the love that unconditionally accepts and attends to whatever arises in our explorations.
Sitting and Moving—Moving and Sitting
In this way, Continuum and sitting meditation are both means to inquire, experiment, and discover what it means to be alive, what reality is. Both are alchemical processes of containing energy and being with whatever arises in that container, all in the service of discovery and exploration. Both practices work with attention in the moment, and both can be useful ways for beginners to start to focus inward. Experienced practitioners can benefit from using them in tandem and also combined, one flowing from the other.
For me, sitting is an easier way to collect attention and work with thought and emotional patterns. Inquiry, in the form of questions such as “Who Am I?” or “What Is This?”, can more easily be held and seen in subtle responses and openings once mindfulness has been concentrated. The emphasis on the stillness of the body supports the focus of attention.
Continuum, on the other hand, is a more direct way for me to actually feel energy shift and move in my body. The insubstantiality of thought becomes apparent as it drops away or flits on the surface when I am breathing and moving. In Continuum, I feel the visceral fullness of energetic reality as my body flows.
I find sitting to be useful when I have been overstimulated, and I need a strong container of stillness in a more stationary posture that supports attentive wakefulness. At other times, I find I become unconsciously attached to that still form; I become frozen. In those moments, I need the sensual aliveness that comes with the breath, sound, and movement of Continuum. I need to be called back into the sensate world, with its pleasure, pain, and unpredictable shifting and changing—all still contained within the impersonal world of creative flow defined by the “dive” of Continuum.
There are times when I find I also repress or deny uncomfortable emotions when I sit—a kind of attachment to spaciousness arises. The same can be true when I move, but often, once I begin to move, the emotions come to the surface and flow through. Yet sometimes I find it important to stop and simply sit with those emotions, to see through them to the beliefs that underlie their apparent fixity.
Thus, both practices can become stuck in form. Each can be used as an escape from the other—yet they inform and enrich each other. Continuum is an exquisite practice of supporting and affirming the goodness and the reality of our sensual existence, our inextricable interconnection with and within the environment. Through Continuum, we discover that we are living, moving threads, currents within the larger body of the natural world. To swim in Continuum is to taste that knowing directly. At the same time, as we explore even more deeply through Continuum, we also find that which is discovered and affirmed with sitting: we are also space. There is no movement without space. We work with the paradox of sensing space, of moving within space and as space, of discovering the richness of the felt experience of being that emptiness.
In that paradox, within the context of a particular Continuum exploration, we often come to stillness and sitting. The sitting is part of the overall flow, dipped into and then moved out from, a part of the whole current. Thus, Continuum actually includes sitting alongside the unpredictable, embodied flow. It brings us into embodied inquiry and fosters the exploration of embodied meditation.
One Intimate Whole
One of my own deepest drives is for intimacy and connection. At core, we all want real contact—to see and be seen, to know and be known. We want this with ourselves, with others, with nature, and within our daily lives. We have an often- unconscious intuition that we are all connected—and a longing to know, feel, and experience this truth directly and consciously. In this context, we can see suffering arising from a mistaken or too-limited identity that creates a sense of separateness. When I know myself only through my personality within a familial or cultural definition, I get caught in the narrowness of that identity. I view myself as separate, as not connected. Trapped in that perspective, the desire for connection translates into strategy and manipulation, to see how I can get what I want and need from “the other.” Conflict then arises between all the separate parts—between different internal emotional states and between myself and others I see as external, like family members or work mates.
Meditation, both sitting and Continuum, offers a way to restore connectedness and open relationship. In meditation, we set aside time to enter the sacred dimension in which, in the nature of our practice, all is included. There is no goal except to be with what is. The connection with self and body is restored as the field of intimacy to be explored. Personal healing can then take place within this shift of attention to the larger inclusivity. As each thing arises to consciousness—thought, emotion, sensation, resistance, grasping, comfort, bliss—there is a continual discovery that not only are all included, but each rises, moves, and dissolves within the largeness of being. Each impulse, thought, feeling can be intimately known and accepted, and when so met, it can move, change, and dissolve. There is an intelligence to that movement that is far greater, far more powerful, than our attempts at conscious strategizing.
Yet nothing is predictable or fixed. In meditation, we learn that intimacy rests upon alive, real, moment-to-moment contact. Each moment of connection can only arise from not knowing what will come next. Insecurity and fear also become part of the ongoing movement, and we meet those also. In the process, we learn that all elements of experience arise and then settle back into a spaciousness that holds everything, always. We increasingly taste the reality of the Unconditional as we follow the lead of our fluid intelligence.
This touching into direct experience, actually being the flow that is paradoxically also the still eternal, fosters trust in the unknown. It reinforces our capacity to be open and tolerate our vulnerability in that openness. We develop faith in our ability to move with and receive, directly and intimately, the experience of life unfolding. As we experience our bodies becoming porous and open through the breath, sound, and fluid movement of Continuum, we begin to feel ourselves as currents within the environment. We find we are a part of the environment, unified with it. We come to know this as a shift into a larger and more inclusive identity, that of a oneness with life itself. We fall in love, more and more deeply, with the visceral, sensual, direct experience of living.
From this practice, daily life becomes known as sacred. The body, and all that we are, is revealed as sacred—and each encounter, each lived moment is an opportunity for intimate contact with the unknown to be the movement of revelation, of embodied presence.
Continuum and sitting meditation, then, are doorways into experiencing the Mystery of the One, access points that can be explored together or separately. Using these two practices together offers a unique avenue to heal and uncover deep, felt sense understanding of our connection and intimacy with Source.
Opening to and exploring embodied experience as the entry into the mystery that is the nature of Source is a lifelong pursuit. The path is unknown, discovered in each moment’s life movement. There can be confusion, unsettledness, pain, and despair on the way, as well as illumination and bliss. We need reassurance and inspiration to keep us steady and on course. Buddhism speaks of taking refuge to help us on our path. Continuum also offers refuge.
The word refuge brings me comfort. It evokes shelter, protection, aid. Buddhism offers three refuges, the three jewels, all of them deeply comforting, leading me to relax and settle. The first jewel is the Buddha, the practice of taking refuge in our true nature and in the nature of reality. The second is the dharma, taking refuge in learning and abiding in the laws or principles of the way things are, how things work. The third is the sangha, taking refuge in each other. We take shelter, find help and comfort in the community, in those who mirror and support our particular spiritual practices, but also in the larger community, as we learn again and again that we are all in this together. Each of these refuges has its counterpart in Continuum practice as well as many other spiritual practices. These “refuges” of the nature of reality, of the way things work and the support of community and our ultimate oneness with each other, provide the foundation upon which we can depend.
We live in a culture where the pace of life is intense. Change is endemic, even reaching to the basics of planetary weather patterns and all of the consequences spilling out from that. As we struggle to find balance between adjusting to the continual forward thrust of global culture and finding ground in the moment, relaxing into what actually is, cultivating compassion and well-being, we actually find refuge in the touchstone of our practice. It becomes a resource to call us home, centering us in our bodies and in the eternal aliveness, providing a taste of the underlying peace that can be found right here, right now.
When the Buddha realized enlightenment, he reached down and touched the earth. We are the Buddha who sits in meditation, and we are the life force of the earth, the fluid intelligence and energy of the snake as we move with Continuum. We are the unique living body that is streaming, and we are the Eternal. When we open to the mystery of exploring this truth in our body—each day fresh, each day willing to see what’s here today—we literally re-member the truth of our existence. We are then truly available again for new inspiration, to be informed and carried by the intelligence of the whole. Our bodies become our resource, the doorway to the dimension of absolute potential, the ground from which we arise and the fluidity that expresses itself effortlessly and continuously in form.
When we return from that dimension, we bring back into our busy lives an infusion of peace and creative power. We are reassured, informed, inspired, opened again to the possibility of Being, in and with our world. Our meditation practices, the woven tapestry of Continuum and sitting, become the tools and resources of our transformation into conscious Being. That recognition of Being is a healing of ourselves, a gift and immense service to the whole.