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Posture, Meaning, and Intention [Contemplative Prayer]

Beth Adams gave this talk on 9 June 2015 at Christ Church Cathedral

and the night is as clear as the day.We’ve been talking for several months about masters of contemplation and their teachings, which has been fairly intellectual. Today I want to go back to the physical, to our bodies, and talk about the posture we try to take and maintain during meditation, and the intention behind it.

Let’s begin with the ground. When we meditate sitting in a chair, our feet are flat on the floor. Ideally, we don’t have shoes on, so that we can feel the ground beneath our feet. But regardless, let’s take a moment to feel the bottoms of our feet, and through them, the flatness and solidity of the earth. This is where we begin. We want to start our meditation with a sense of groundedness and connection. We are embodied beings, alive on the earth and in the world. We are rooted here, this is a real place.

We are seated. The big muscles of our buttocks and thighs are resting on a chair, supporting us, parallel to the earth. They are doing this in partnership with our feet. Lift up your feet for a minute and see how different that feet, how unsteady. But together, our brains are being given a message that we are solidly here, steady, immovable. Think of a statue of the Buddha, or, if you want, a favorite rock, or even a cat who sits inscrutably for a long time. We want to have that feeling during our meditation because the steadiness of the body helps the steadiness of the mind.

Now, let’s become aware of our spine and neck. Whereas the legs are parallel to the ground, the spine is perpendicular, pointing straight upward toward the sky. Keeping our seat and feet steady, we move our shoulders and neck to relax them and then settle into a position where the spine is as straight as possible. We left the chin and look straight in front of us, imagining that our head is gently held upright by a string from the center, and that everything below it — neck, shoulders, spine – fall into a natural, well-aligned position. This facilitates our breathing because the ribcage is lifted, open, and relaxed.

Now we feel our breath move from our upper chest down to below the solar plexus. It should become deep, easy, and natural.

It’s inevitable that we will relax and slump during our meditation time. Just remind yourselves: Feet – Seat – Spine – Sky.

Now let’s talk about the hands. eastern religions and yoga practices have over one hundred different positions for the hands, and each one has a specific purpose and significance. These hand positions are called mudras., and if you look at depictions of the Buddha you’ll see a number of them. Today we’re only going to talk about one,  the Dhyāna mudrā, which is the meditation mudra, and is supposed to be an aid to concentration. The right and is placed on the left, in the lap, fingers flat and extended, and then the thumbs point upward and move in diagonally to just touch each other. This forms a triangle, planted firmly, pointing upward. In Buddhism, this triangle symbolizes the three jewels or three refuges: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Buddha can mean the historical figure, or it can mean Buddha nature: the highest spiritual nature that is possible for all of us and that we aspire to: the Mind of Christ. Dharma are the teachings – or Scripture. And Sangha is the Community. As Christians, we can also use this same triangle to represent the Trinity.

I find that placing my hands in an intentional position does help my concentration during meditation. It is the gesture that completes the posture. One of my favorite books about meditation is called Gesture of Balance. I like that phrase, and think Balance is a good word for us to remember as we begin our meditation. In contemplation we seek to balance our energies, our equilibrium, to find or regain that steady center which is within us, and from which we are most able to love ourselves and connect with others. So we sit steady: Feet-Seat-Spine-Sky. We breathe, and we take refuge in the Mind of Christ, the Teachings, and the Community.

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