February 2, 2013 Judy Guma Tretheway
Meditation begins for most of us with a desire to free ourselves of stress and tensions in our lives. For others it is also an earnest desire to encounter some aspect of ourselves or the energy around us that resonates in a greater harmony or holds forth a wider perspective. In either case we desire to slip away from that aspect of ourselves that dominates our lives (which many call “ego”) for a period of time.
I’d like to invite you to explore the relationship between your spine and your ego. In particular, the way in which we can detach from a self-centered perspective using fluid spinal movements.
Our spine holds us up. It shores up our sense of self. Its energy helps us “stand for something”. It gives our being “backbone.” Important contributions in our becoming who we are and will be; and, this being full of ourselves, is the opposite of the spaciousness of quiet emptiness that can fill us as a result of meditation. To ease ourselves from a strictly person centered focus and invite an open meditative perspective; the spine can serve as a bridge rather than an obstacle.
Shaking and undulations of the spine are instinctive animal behavior to shed stress. When we want to shift away from the ordinary stresses of our physical existence, we first allow that desire to take hold of our mind and activate our will. Then with either a prescribed pattern of spinal movements or spontaneous intuitive releasing movements we can open up the nervous system to our desire and release blockages and clinging stagnant energy. Caressing the spinal column with mindful movements invites the desired calm to pervade all the pathways coming and going from the spinal column, coming and going from all aspects of our physical nature.
Then whether we choose a sitting, standing or laying down form of meditation, the nervous system will find it easy and natural to transition from fluidity to stillness. The spinal/nervous system can be gently coached into stillness with progressively smoother and slower movements, or deep, gentle relaxing breath patterns. This invites the body into stillness, the same way traditional practice of progressive relaxation open up a path inward.
Think for a moment of rocking and patting a traumatized child. At first the baby is anxious, tense, restless, full of its story of the dramas of its life. You can see the holding of tension in it spine as it arches or cringes crying out for help and release. You can feel the tension as you pick up the child and begin to walk, pat and rock the baby offering an alternative, offering a fluid pattern of movement for the tensions to release through. With time and easy fluid movements, the release comes, and the nervous system releases its story and surrenders into your holding and flowing. The child no longer needs to define itself by its anxiety or pain; it finds rest in just being.
When a calm energy pervades the spine, it pervades the nervous system. When the body and the ego are comfortable and calm, it can open to and even invite a fresh potential or possibility. The openness to receive allows the meditative experience to unfold.
When we invite ourselves to meditate, we are asking that internal sentry that guards our life with fear and wariness, to take some time off. When we select a safe, quiet comfortable place; when we invite the tension and anxiety out of our spine with some fluid spinal exercises; then we have gently offered ourselves (our ego) a break. This need to hold ourselves together disappears, and we can find a vastly larger sense of self or sense of resources that is available to us in the stillness.
If the self centered aspect of ourselves decides that it is time to meditate and puts out a “plop yourself on the cushion and just do it” attitude; this is an attitude of domination and is disrespectful of the organic processes. Pressing through tension with force tends to create more of the same, or build up resistance and resentment.
Try this entry into your meditation practice: Notice your decision to practice. Smile at the opportunity to be something different for a period of time. Welcome your body into a practice of fluid movements to release any spinal tension. Play with movements that bring forth a calm and open feeling. Ease yourself into your chosen meditation posture, with a straight, yet relaxed spine. Rinse through your spine one last time with a wave of awareness from the head down into the earth releasing any residual blockages or sticky energy, tensions or stiffness. Detach your awareness from your spine and proceed into your chosen meditation technique.
------ The above essay was stimulated by reading Carol Anthony’s chapter “I-Ching Meditation” in A Guide to the I-Ching.
She suggested that before we begin to meditate we do “a few light exercises that loosen up the back. These help to counteract the effects of stress on the body. Stiffness is often the body’s way of expressing fear.” (p.303) She elaborates later drawing from Keeping Still ( I-Ching # 52) which “suggests a technique to defeat the ego in the image of bringing the nerves of the backbone to quiet. When these nerves slow to a standstill, the ego ‘disappears.’” (p306) … “and we attain a clarity of view that enables us to bring ourselves into harmony with the universe.” … Achieving quiet requires that we allow activity – the inner static of restlessness – to subside. Once this has occurred we become detached form all bodily concerns.” ( p 304) … “When these nerves slow to a standstill, the ego “disappears.” This ego is the self image – all the ideas we have adopted about ourselves which shore up our sense of well-being. (p.306)
Judy Guma Tretheway
Wisdom Healing Qigong