Catherine McGee, a regular dharma teacher at Gaia House in the UK, offers an earth-dharma perspective on the first foundation of mindfulness and our larger body.
It is here we awaken: knowing body as body, knowing earth as earth.
“In this way she abides contemplating the body as a body internally, externally, and both internally and externally.”
– Satipatthana sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness
Practicing the first foundation of mindfulness, knowing body internally and externally, we can come to know we are of this earth. When we sit and feel the solidity of our bones, the firmness of the flesh, the density and weightiness of our human presence, we can come to know what it is to sit ‘as earth sitting on earth’. This is part of knowing our basic elemental nature and something we share with everyone and everything. As we come more into body, we gain direct insight that our intimacy with earth is more primary than anything our mind can tell us. This intimacy is breath-takingly immediate; unmediated by anything. It is an undeniable aspect of being human. We are literally ‘in our element’ as embodied creatures. Whether we are happy about this or not is another story. But for now, this earthly body IS home base.
It takes a path of practice for many of us to heal the ways we have lost contact with our body and taken refuge in abstraction. Abstracting ourselves as separate leads to all kinds of dukkha: personal; national; global). When we see a thing as separate we come out of real relationship with it, whether it be our body, other bodies or the great body of this earth. Then we treat it in ways distorted by delusion.
We abstract into separation because it is not always easy to tolerate the sensitivity of our animal body, impinged upon by (6-fold) contact and comfortable only within a narrow range of temperatures and other conditions, and subject to insecurity, sickness and death.
Healing this separation, and coming into a wise relationship with body is imperative for waking up and responding to the reality of the times we live in. And through practice we can realize that this body is not a separate stand alone phenomena. That view is a mind made story.
Through the body we cultivate the stable presence of Samadhi, a ground from which to see deeply and not be unseated by our programming. With body as a firm basis we can begin to heal the duality of being lost in mind made worlds, and come into the profound and sensitive immediacy of the human realm. It is here, not someplace else, that we can sense directly that we are from the earth, the fertile material substance- the humus. This is where our humanness is grounded and where we have the choice to act with appropriate humility. And it is here in this body that we can make our insights real, live them through our actions of body speech and mind. We may have many realizations, but only through action do they become transformative.
And it is here, on this earth, that we take our place as human beings – these marvelous human animals that can respond and act: who can join hands, who can stand up for what is wholesome, who can speak up for those yet to be born, who can say ‘no’ when justice and respect for life is undermined. And it is us, through love and humility, who have the capacity to let go of physical comfort and convenience and psychological security, for the benefit of the whole. It is here, on this earth, not someplace else, that we awaken. Here and now, on this planet, in these conditions, amidst this instability. In this very body, however you define it- your body, our bodies, the vast body of this planet. The wider the definition, the more we expand and can live the ennobling life. Awakening and appropriate response, in this very body, in this very life.
What would it mean for you to live your life as if you really knew, in the depth of your heart and your cells, that you were not separate from this earth and all the earth’s beings?