Your Body Is Not What You Think: Looking Beyond the Physical and into the Energetic Heart

March 6, 2020

This model of a multidimensional body applies directly to the theme of the Deep Heart. I would not write about the importance of the heart unless I knew it intimately firsthand and also understood its critical role in psychological healing and spiritual awakening. If there are, as I propose, layers to the heart ranging from the relatively gross, through the refined, to the transcendent, then many of us will be able to directly or indirectly sense this in some way.

One of the easiest ways to sense the emotional and energetic reality of the heart area is to notice what we sense and feel when we fall in love or, conversely, when we lose someone we have loved via death or a painful breakup. Heart openings are intoxicatingly joyful, and heart breaks are extraordinarily painful. Have you ever wondered why this is the case? Are the opening and closing of the heart purely physiological, or might something else be going on? We will explore romantic love in a later chapter, but for now I’ll just acknowledge the central role that the heart area plays in human relationships and in genuine spiritual openings. The majority of popular songs and a large number of our most compelling stories revolve around love found and lost.

In order to explore your heart in any depth, it’s helpful to sense your whole body with as few ideas as possible. Clear the slate—be open to the possibility that your body is not what you think it is. Rather than approaching your body as a familiar solid object made up of skin, bones, muscles, organs, tissues, and cells governed by neural and hormonal networks, I encourage you to approach it differently—as a field of vibration filled with space.

In the next exercise, you will experience the body as a field of vibration. This meditation is inspired by the Vijnanabhairava Tantra, a key experiential text in Kashmiri Tantric Shaivism that was authored over a thousand years ago. It’s a good idea to record this guided meditation on your smartphone, and I recommend pausing between the steps outlined below for at least twenty seconds. Including the pauses, please allow for at least ten minutes in total. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, sit comfortably, and close your eyes.  

BODY SENSING PRACTICE 

Sensing the Body as Vibration  

Take a few deep breaths and allow your attention to settle down and in.

Feel the weight of your body being held by whatever you are sitting on and let yourself be completely held.

Sense the bottoms of your feet, the tips of your toes, and notice a lively vibration. Imagine it growing stronger, gradually enveloping both feet, and then moving up both legs.

Sense the palms of your hands and the tips of your fingers. Notice a subtle vibration—a sense of aliveness.

Feel it enveloping both hands and slowly spreading up both arms.

Feel this sense of vibrant aliveness growing into your hips and shoulders.

And then into the belly and the chest, including your back.  

Sense this lively vibration moving up the neck and into the head, suffusing the mouth, ears, eyes, and brain. Take your time.

Now let go of any focusing and sense your entire body as a diffuse field of lively vibration. Notice that it is difficult to tell exactly where your body ends and where the so-called world begins. Allow this sense of vibration to extend out into space in all directions: front … back … left … right … up … and down.

Rest in and as this expansive sense of vibrant spaciousness as long as you like.  

Journey into the depths of your own heart with Dr. John J. Prendergast’s guide, The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence.

John J. Prendergast

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John J. Prendergast, PhD is a spiritual teacher, author, psychotherapist, and retired adjunct professor of psychology who now offers residential and online retreats. For more, please visit listeningfromsilence.com.

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Guided Meditation: Accepting Your Experience Just as I...

If you have traveled on the spiritual path even a little way, you have probably come across some version of “love what is”—a reminder that you should accept your experience as it is. However, this teaching easily becomes another injunction. Notice the should in the earlier sentence—it is always a red flag that the judging mind is at work.  

The conditioned mind cannot accept unconditionally. It always has an agenda, even if it is well hidden. It secretly bargains and sends the message, “I will accept you [sotto voce] if you change or leave.” This approach is akin to welcoming guests at your front door while secretly hoping they will exit out the back—the sooner, the better! Guests—our unwanted thoughts, feelings, and sensations—will certainly feel this conditional invitation, even if it is unspoken. As a result, they will be much less willing to enter, relax, and reveal themselves. The result? What we resist, persists. So when your new arrivals show up at your door, put away your timer and share some aromatic green tea and a raspberry scone with them. Settle in and let them tell their stories and share their feelings. They just want to be heard and understood. Once they feel genuinely received, they will be open to a new perspective.

Are you willing to be with your experience just as it is, even if it never changes? This is a critically important checking question. Take a few minutes to inquire with the following practice.

MEDITATIVE INQUIRY

Are You Willing to Accept Your Experience Just as It Is?

Sit quietly where you won’t be disturbed, close or lower your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Feel the weight of your body held by whatever you are sitting on and relax. Feel your attention settling down and in.

Think of a troubling aspect of your conditioning—an unwelcome pattern of behavior, reactive feeling, bodily tension, or invasive thought. Then ask yourself: “Am I willing to accept this just as it is?”

If your response comes from the strategic mind, there will be an honest no. This is good to see. If this is the case, try asking the question a little differently: “Is there something in me that already accepts this just as it is?”

If your attention has settled into the Deep Heart, you will find a yes.

Journey into the depths of your own heart with Dr. John J. Prendergast’s guide, The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence.

Your Body Is Not What You Think: Looking Beyond the Ph...

This model of a multidimensional body applies directly to the theme of the Deep Heart. I would not write about the importance of the heart unless I knew it intimately firsthand and also understood its critical role in psychological healing and spiritual awakening. If there are, as I propose, layers to the heart ranging from the relatively gross, through the refined, to the transcendent, then many of us will be able to directly or indirectly sense this in some way.

One of the easiest ways to sense the emotional and energetic reality of the heart area is to notice what we sense and feel when we fall in love or, conversely, when we lose someone we have loved via death or a painful breakup. Heart openings are intoxicatingly joyful, and heart breaks are extraordinarily painful. Have you ever wondered why this is the case? Are the opening and closing of the heart purely physiological, or might something else be going on? We will explore romantic love in a later chapter, but for now I’ll just acknowledge the central role that the heart area plays in human relationships and in genuine spiritual openings. The majority of popular songs and a large number of our most compelling stories revolve around love found and lost.

In order to explore your heart in any depth, it’s helpful to sense your whole body with as few ideas as possible. Clear the slate—be open to the possibility that your body is not what you think it is. Rather than approaching your body as a familiar solid object made up of skin, bones, muscles, organs, tissues, and cells governed by neural and hormonal networks, I encourage you to approach it differently—as a field of vibration filled with space.

In the next exercise, you will experience the body as a field of vibration. This meditation is inspired by the Vijnanabhairava Tantra, a key experiential text in Kashmiri Tantric Shaivism that was authored over a thousand years ago. It’s a good idea to record this guided meditation on your smartphone, and I recommend pausing between the steps outlined below for at least twenty seconds. Including the pauses, please allow for at least ten minutes in total. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, sit comfortably, and close your eyes.  

BODY SENSING PRACTICE 

Sensing the Body as Vibration  

Take a few deep breaths and allow your attention to settle down and in.

Feel the weight of your body being held by whatever you are sitting on and let yourself be completely held.

Sense the bottoms of your feet, the tips of your toes, and notice a lively vibration. Imagine it growing stronger, gradually enveloping both feet, and then moving up both legs.

Sense the palms of your hands and the tips of your fingers. Notice a subtle vibration—a sense of aliveness.

Feel it enveloping both hands and slowly spreading up both arms.

Feel this sense of vibrant aliveness growing into your hips and shoulders.

And then into the belly and the chest, including your back.  

Sense this lively vibration moving up the neck and into the head, suffusing the mouth, ears, eyes, and brain. Take your time.

Now let go of any focusing and sense your entire body as a diffuse field of lively vibration. Notice that it is difficult to tell exactly where your body ends and where the so-called world begins. Allow this sense of vibration to extend out into space in all directions: front … back … left … right … up … and down.

Rest in and as this expansive sense of vibrant spaciousness as long as you like.  

Journey into the depths of your own heart with Dr. John J. Prendergast’s guide, The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence.

Is What You Seek Actually Already Here?

 

As we let go into the current of truth, it gains momentum, and an increasingly intimate inner dialogue unfolds between our conditioned mind and our unconditioned nature. If you want to cooperate with this process (which I assume you do), it is important to honestly examine your motives.

 

MEDITATIVE INQUIRY

What Do You Really Want?

 

Find a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Let your attention settle down and in, resting in the heart area. When you are ready, ask yourself: “What is it that I really want?” Let the question go. Don’t go to your mind for an answer. Just wait, listen, sense, and feel. The response may come first as a sensation or as an image before it becomes a word. Or it may come first as a word or phrase.

 

Whatever comes, check for inner resonance. Does it ring true for you? Something usually lights up, enlivens, releases, or opens up in the body if you have touched an important inner truth.

 

***

 

It is crucial to be honest with yourself. Usually we have mixed motives. I certainly did. Even as I was highly interested in discovering what is true, I was also looking for approval from others and wanting to survive. Social acceptance and physical safety are fundamental, closely intertwined desires, and we often need to play them out until we see through them. This usually takes time.  

 

If you believe that your happiness depends upon finding the right partner or career, or upon accumulating wealth or power, you may need to explore these options in order to discover their limitations. Conceptual insight—knowing that happiness does not depend upon circumstances—is rarely enough. Your life experience is a vital curriculum, and there will be a number of opportunities to experience its fierce grace.

 

You may be able to speed up this process by asking yourself what you imagine you will gain if you acquire the objects or meet the goals you are seeking. As a thought experiment, complete some of the following sentences that resonate for you:  

 

If I find the right partner, I will feel _________.

 

If I have children or grandchildren, I will experience _________.

 

If I have enough good friends or belong to the right community, I will feel _________.

 

If I have the right job or career, I will be _________.

 

If I have enough money and own a home and nice car, I will be _________.

 

If I have better health, I will _________.

 

If I eat enough delicious food, have great sex, travel to enough interesting and exotic places, and work hard enough, I will finally _________.

 

If I am at the right place at the right time in the future, I will _________.

 

If I discover my soul’s purpose, I will _________.

 

Then ask yourself: 

 

Is it true that what I seek is not already here?

 

If you let your heart wisdom answer, this last question can be a mindbender. The strategic mind will be stunned. If you trust your heart’s answer and act on it, you will master life’s curriculum much more quickly, avoiding some of its remedial dead ends.

 

As intention clarifies, attention focuses.  

 

Of course, we can gain some degree of transient satisfaction if the above if-then statements are fulfilled, but there will always be an underlying sense of dissatisfaction until the Deep Heart is consciously recognized. My teacher Jean Klein often observed that “the object never fulfills its promise.” Certainly not for long. Have you noticed that once we attain an object or reach a goal, the hunt is soon on again? Although part of us enjoys the drama of the chase, it is the respite from the search that we most want—the true homecoming.

 

Once we discover an underlying wholeness in the depths of our being, the relationship to desire changes. We are much less attached to getting what we want and much more grateful for what we have. It is a path of natural contentment rather than willful renunciation. An inner sense of fullness arises that is increasingly independent of circumstances, and we feel happy for no particular reason.  

 

Journey into the depths of your own heart with Dr. John J. Prendergast’s guide, The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence.

John J. Prendergast, PhD, is a spiritual teacher, author, psychotherapist, and retired adjunct professor of psychology who now offers residential and online retreats. For more, please visit listeningfromsilence.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy your copy of The Deep Heart at your favorite bookseller!

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Tools for Cultivating Supportive Friendships & Relationships:

CHRISTOPHE ANDRÉ:

For this toolbox I’d like to put forward a little bit of theory about how we are supported by relationships — that is, to offer an overall look at what we receive from our relationships with others.

The five benefits of relationships. Studies show that social support can be broken down into several families of benefits:

  1. Material support: Others can help us in concrete ways. If I’ve broken my leg, I will be glad if somebody will do my shopping for me. If I have to move, I will be happy to have my friends help me transport the boxes.
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  3. Emotional support: Others are the source of positive emotions; they give us affection, love, friendship, trust, admiration.
  4. The support of esteem. Others can remind us of our value and good qualities, tell us what they like about us, and sustain our self-esteem at moments of uncertainty.
  5. The inspiration of their example: This is more difficult to evaluate scientifically, but it’s quite real, as we have indicated.

The four varieties of relationships. Another important point is that it is helpful to cultivate varied social relationships, just as it is important to have a varied diet. There are four families of relationships, distributed in four concentric circles:

  1. Our intimates: the people we live with, whom we touch and embrace practically every day. This means mostly our family and best friends.
  2. Our close relations: our friends and colleagues, people with whom we regularly have close and regular exchanges.
  3. Our acquaintances: the whole network of people with whom we have a connection, even occasional, and who we keep track of and who keep track of us.
  4. Unknowns: those who we might also have relationships with, depending on our character. This includes people we might speak to on the street, on public transport, in stores. They can also be sources of help or information for us, as we can for them.

Specialists in social relations remind us that it is important to draw sup- port from these four circles — not only from our intimate and close relations—and to sustain our connections with these four relational spheres by giving and receiving help, information, support, eye contact, advice, and smiles. Because the idea is not only to receive but also to give, by speaking to unknowns and maintaining warm relations with our acquaintances, neighbors, and shopkeepers, we do ourselves good. And we embellish the world, improve it, and make it more human!

 

MATTHIEU RICARD:

The importance of social connection. We should choose to live in an environment where people are warm, altruistic, and compassionate. If this isn’t the case in all areas of our living space, we should progressively try to establish these values or, if it’s possible, we should leave the toxic environment.

In this connection, I like to cite the case of a community on the Japanese island of Okinawa, which claims to have one of the world’s highest concentrations of people aged a hundred or over. It appears that the main factor in this exceptional longevity is not the climate or the food, but the power of this community, where people maintain particularly rich social relationships. From cradle to grave, they relate very closely with one another. The elderly people in particular get together several times a week to sing, dance, and have a good time. Almost every day they go to schools to greet the children (whether they have familial links with them or not) at the end of the school day. The elders take the children in their arms and give them treats.

Draw inspiration from the righteous, from people who, in our eyes, embody the values of impartiality, tolerance, compassion, love, and kindness. In these times of the migratory crisis, I think of all those who have taken great risks, and I remember those who protected Jewish people during the Nazi persecutions of World War II, particularly those who hid Jews in their homes. These people have since come to be called “The Righteous.” The only common point that emerges from their many accounts is a view of others based on recognition of their common human- ity. All human beings deserved to be treated with kindness. Where we saw a stranger, they saw a human being.

Meditate on altruistic love. Studies in psychology have shown that meditating on altruistic love increases people’s feelings of belonging to a community; it enhances the quality of social connections and compassionate attitudes toward unknown people, while at the same reduc- ing discrimination toward particular groups, like people of color, homeless people, and immigrants.

Draw inspiration from friends in the good and spiritual masters. I recommend that everyone see a historical documentary made in India by Arnaud Desjardins at the end of the 1960s, in which we are shown the most respected of the Tibetan masters who took refuge on the Indian slopes of the Himalayas following the Chinese invasion of their country. The film is called The Message of the Tibetans.

 

ALEXANDRE JOLLIEN:

The audacity to live. Existing, opening oneself to the other, is running a risk. It means dropping one’s armor, one’s protective coverings, and opening one’s eyes and daring to give oneself to the other and to the entire world. There’s no way you can invest in a relationship, so throw out your logic of profit and loss! What if we were to embark on our day without any idea of gain or of using our fellow human beings? What if we stayed attentive to all the women and men it is given to us to encoun- ter on that day, looking to find among them masters in being human? 

Identify our profound aspirations. Helping others can often amount to imposing a view of the world on them without really paying any attention to what they really want in their hearts. A man bought an elephant without giving any thought in advance to how he was going to feed it. At a loss, he was obliged to turn for help to those around him, and what he got from them was, “You never should have bought such a big animal!” What does it mean to help others? Does it mean committing completely to being there for them? Does it mean going all the way with them?

Authentic compassion. A will to power might enter into our move- ment toward the other—a thirst for recognition, a twisted attempt to redeem ourselves. Daring a true encounter means quitting the sphere of your neurosis and walking the path of freedom together. There’s no more “me,” no more “you,” but a coalescent “us,” a primordial solidarity.

Coming out of the bunker. As a result of having been burned in our relationship with another, the temptation is great to put on armor, to completely shut ourselves up in a bunker-like fortress, even to the point of suffocation. Don’t our passions, our griefs, our loves, and the fierce- ness of our desire remind us that we are essentially turned toward the other, in perpetual communication? Is there a way to live the thousand and one contacts of daily life without our ego appropriating them?

This is excerpted from the newest book from Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André, and Alexandre Jollien, Freedom For All Of Us: A Monk, A Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on Finding Inner Freedom.

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Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, a photographer, and a molecular geneticist who has served as an interpreter for the Dalai Lama. 

Christophe André is a psychiatrist and one of the primary French specialists in the psychology of emotions and feelings.

 Alexandre Jollien is a philosopher and a writer whose work has been attracting an ever-growing readership. Together, they are the authors of In Search of Wisdom and Freedom For All of Us.

picture of the book titles Freedom for All of Us

Learn More

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Meet a Coauthor of . . . Freedom for All of Us

The Author

Christophe André is a psychiatrist specializing in the psychology of emotions. His books include Imperfect, Free, and Happy, and Meditating, Day after Day. He lives in France. For more, visit christopheandre.com.

Freedom For All Of Us

The Book

With their acclaimed book In Search of Wisdom, three gifted friends—a monk, a philosopher, and a psychiatrist—shed light on our universal quest for meaning, purpose, and understanding. Now, in this new in-depth offering, they invite us to tend to the garden of our true nature: freedom.

Filled with unexpected insights and specific strategies, Freedom for All of Us presents an inspiring guide for breaking free of the unconscious walls that confine us.

 

Translated from the original responses in French.

Send us a photo of your sacred space or workspace.

Here is the view from my home office in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France. My writing space is situated on the top-most floor of the house, just underneath our roof, and each time I lift my head to look out the window, I see the beach, the ocean, and, further away, the ramparts of the old city. The ever-changing nature [of this place], the sky and the tides forever moving (and morphing), the memory of all the corsairs (pirates) of Saint-Malo’s past … all of these things are what inspire me and bring joy to my life.

What is something about you that doesn’t make it into your author bio? It could be something that impacts your work, or something totally random and entertaining!

[There’s] nothing necessarily odd or extraordinary, but perhaps a rather banal fact [is my] being a parent. For me, becoming a father is the event that has most changed me in my life (and has most encouraged me to better myself). It has truly enriched my life the most.

There are two key moments (or memories) that for me [define] being a parent. Firstly, those moments where we realize our children are watching and judging us; and this moment can be very moving and also uncomfortable as a parent, because you feel like your children have discovered all your limits or your faults. (How can we hide it? Impossible, they will see them! At least once, or from time to time.) The essential lesson is that we don’t try to constantly hide our true selves, and this encourages us to transform ourselves. The watchful eye and judgments of our children can feel like a challenge for parents, but a fruitful challenge [nonetheless].

The other key moment is when we realize that our children are more skilled in ways we are not (and sometimes in all ways)! It’s that moment when we discover that we, as parents, are learning from our children; their intelligence, generosity, and enthusiasm. It’s the moment that we allow ourselves, discreetly and with great humility, to let them be our teachers.

If you could invite any three transformational leaders or spiritual teachers (throughout time) to dinner, who would they be and why?

I imagine I would probably be too intimidated to actually have dinner or a conversation with the following three people! I would probably prefer to follow them, like a shadow or a small mouse, and to watch them live and work over several days. To observe their intimate, everyday routines, and listen to their discourse (which in a way is possible with all of their published works). It has always seemed to me that wisdom arises, above all, through example and embodiment.

I would love to follow the everyday life of Etty Hillesum, [the writer], who was a stranger to hatred. Even when she would have every reason to hate the Nazis, who had her executed [at Auschwitz], she still spoke of grace even in a world where only fear, violence, and injustice seemed to live.

I would love to follow alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a day in his life. I admire him for his choice to fight for civil rights without the use of violence. I remember, vividly, crying when I visited his memorial in Atlanta.

And finally, I would love to shadow Henry David Thoreau when he was living in his cabin at Walden. I admire his decision to live a life filled with only the essentials: nature, spirituality, and few material possessions, which is in stark contrast to the mistakes and values that we hold in this modern day.

Freedom For All Of Us

Learn More

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  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you

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