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Part 4 in Body Series

Updated: May 24, 2023

Body As Refuge

The current sub-theme of the Body series, with which the Tuesday evening sitting group is practicing, is Body as Refuge. As you may know, both the body and refuge play very instrumental roles in the Buddha’s path to awakening. The body as the first establishment of mindfulness and refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are two foundational examples.

Life is hard and unsatisfactory--not all the time, but frequently enough. It’s hard in the ways that things don’t go the way we want them to. Our bodies get sick, or our hearts get pained by some event. It’s unsatisfactory in that even the good times eventually change, leaving us with just this present moment. What to do about this? This is the human dilemma. We look for refuge from this challenging situation we call life. That in itself is not a problem. It’s where we tend to try to find refuge that becomes problematic. We look for comfort, for refuge in food, work, relationships, entertainment, rabbit holes on the internet--or just plain keeping busy. The Buddha calls these attempts False Refuge. False because, in the end, they don’t work. We don’t find the relief we are looking for--just distraction, addiction and stress.

Fortunately, the Buddha also talked about True Refuge--that is, something that actually offers the heart and mind the relief it is looking for. In general, this is spelled out as refuge in the Buddha (awareness), Dharma (teachings of the Buddha, the nature of things) and Sangha (the community of practitioners). Particularly, as the Buddha often pointed out, mindfulness of the body can often be a refuge from the torments of heart and mind. For starters, the body is always present and with us. It’s never not available to take refuge in! The body also doesn’t tell stories. These happen in the mind: stories about the future and about the past; scary stories, fearful stories, anxious stories. These all happen in the mind. When we bring our awareness to the body, we are, at least temporarily, freed from this level of suffering.

Cultivating a somatic (meaning feeling the body in a tactile way) relationship to the body is how we practice mindfulness of the body. It’s also how we take refuge from the suffering that occurs when we identify with the stories in our hearts/minds. Even if the sensations that we feel in our bodies aren’t necessarily pleasant, they are almost always easier to be with than the difficult mental habit patterns that incessantly roll through the heart/mind. We can’t be aware of two things at once. By definition, if we are feeling our bodies, we are not lost in the mind-made world. Body as Refuge. What a relief!

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