Last week I went to my first event with Buddhist Insights. Buddhist Insights is a New York based non-profit organization connecting people with monastics.
It can be hard to find the energy to try new things, especially as we get older and life feels busier. But it can be incredible — the things that can happen, that we can experience, that life freely offers to us — if we just take have the good sense to take it.
Buddhist Insights has a guided meditation and Dharma Talk every Tuesday night in Brooklyn. Happily, we have part-time access to an apartment in Brooklyn so I told my husband I wanted to go and we met in Crown Heights after work.
Right around 7pm, a small Buddhist nun arrived at the designated location. But, there was a snag — the gate to the meditation space was broken. Stuck. Somehow derailed from its track and it wouldn’t move up or down. The small group of practitioners took turns trying to fix the gate, pulling and pushing. We all stayed calm. But at some point one of the coordinators said, “I think it’s just going to have to be canceled.”
“Unless we want to practice in the park?” said the nun.
So a diverse group of New Yorkers and wannabe New Yorkers (in my case) followed this little Buddhist nun, with shaven head and red robe, nearly a mile to Prospect Park. We came upon the steps of the Brooklyn Museum on our way, and it was decided that we should settle there, as it was closer to shelter in case it rained as the forecast had promised.
We sat there, on the steps of the Brooklyn Museum, and the nun stood before us like some ancient philosopher addressing an ampitheater. She led us in a guided body scan meditation and I closed my eyes and all the while heard the wild traffic of Eastern Parkway, the bustle of people — bicycle bells and basketballs dribbling, dogs barking, katydids high in the nearby tree-tops. I heard the breeze in the leaves, felt it in my hair, my shirt, on my bare legs.
This place I’d been so many times before, in these moments took on a surreal quality. Or maybe a hyper-real quality.
How to access this space more often? It’s simple. Show up to your meditation practice. Put in the effort. Bring your attention to your body. Bring your attention to the sounds. Bring your attention to the present moment. Step back from your thoughts, let them go.
Theravadan Body Scan Meditation:
Starting at the top of the head, bring your attention to your skin. Bring your attention to the skin of your head and face and then move your attention down through the neck, shoulders, chest, arms and hands and to the fingertips. Then on down the torso to the skin on the legs and the knees and down to the shins and finally the skin of the feet and toes.
Now coming back up the body, Bring your attention to the flesh, or the muscle in the body. The organs and tissues. If you can’t really feel the flesh, that’s ok, imagine the flesh and meditate on the space where this flesh is, in the legs, the thighs, on up to the torso and arms and all the way back up to the head.
Now we’re back at the head. This time, as we scan the body down to the toes, consider bone. Bring your attention to the bones in the body, from the skull and down to the neck and spine, clavicles and rib cage, bring your attention to your arm bones and bones of the hands, further down to the pelvis and femurs, the knees, the bones of the feet and the toes.
Continue to scan the body, up and down in this way, but now bringing your attention to each of the four elements in turn:
Earth – Bring your attention to the earth element in your body. The Earth element is expressed as solidity in the body. Scan the body and notice the hardness within the body, the element of earth, solid and firm. Consider that this earth element within the body is the same as the earth element outside of the body. The same materials that makes up the earth also makes up your body. No difference.
Water – Bring your attention to the water element in the body. The water element in the body can be found in the blood, in the lymph, the saliva, the digestive system. Consider that this water element within the body is the same as the water element outside the body. The water element that covers the earth is the same water element inside our bodies.
Air – Bring your attention to the air element in your body. Bring your attention to the breath. Consider the way that breath is moved throughout the body, through capillaries, into all the far reaches of the body. Imagine that you can feel the air element throughout the body as you scan the body from toes to crown of head. Consider that the air element outside of the body is the same as the air element inside the body. There is no difference.
Fire – Bring your attention to the fire element in your body. Notice the heat. The body produces heat. And you can feel the heat element in all parts of the body, some more than others. The heat in the hands, the belly, the loins, heat coming from the skin of the check, face, etc. Consider the fire element within your body is the same as the fire element outside of the body. The same fire element of the sun is the fire element that heats you.
The meditation ends once the final body scan has been completed.
How do you feel?