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So an umbilical cord links you to the sun. Another umbilical cord links you to the clouds in the sky. If the clouds were not there, there would be no rain and no water to drink. Without clouds, there is no milk, no tea, no coffee, no ice cream, nothing. There is an umbilical cord linking you to the river; there is one linking you to the forest. If you continue meditating like this, you can see that you are linked to everything and everyone in the cosmos. Your life depends on everything else that exists—on other living beings, but also on plants, minerals, air, water, and earth.
Suppose you plant a kernel of corn and seven days later it sprouts and begins to take the form of a corn stalk. When the stalk grows high, you may not recognize it as the kernel you planted. But it wouldn't be true to say the kernel had died. With Buddha's eyes, you can still see the corn seed in the corn stalk. The stalk is the continuation of the kernel in the direction of the future, and the kernel is the continuation of the stalk in the direction of the past. They are not the same thing, but they are not completely separate, either. You and your mother are not exactly the same person, but you aren't two different people either. This is the truth of interdependence. No one can be one’s self alone. We have to inter-be to be.
When we are inside our mothers, there is no tension in our bodies. We are soft and flexible. But once we are out in the world, tension creeps in, sometimes from our first breath. Before we can release the tension in our bodies, though, we have to release the tension in our breath. If our bodies are not peaceful, then our breath is not peaceful. When we generate the energy of mindfulness and embrace our breath, the quality of our in-breath and out-breath will improve. As we breathe in mindfulness, our breathing becomes calmer and more profound. The tension in our breathing dissipates. And when our breathing is relaxed, we can embrace our bodies and we can relax. The exact word that the Buddha used translates as “calm.”
There is a Pali text called the Kayagatasati Sutta, the Sutra on the Contemplation of the Body in the Body. In it, the Buddha proposed an exercise for releasing the tension in each particular part of the body, and in the body as a whole. He used the image of a farmer who went up to the attic and brought down a bag of beans. The farmer opened one end of the bag and he allowed all the beans to flow out. With his good eyesight, he was able to distinguish the particular kind of beans and see which were kidney beans, which were mung beans, and so forth. The Buddha recommended that, like this farmer, we learn to pay attention.
To begin, you can lie in a comfortable position and scan your whole body, and then focus on different parts of the body. Begin with the head, or the hair on the head, and finish with the toes. You can say: “Breathing in, I am aware of my brain. Breathing out, I smile to my brain.” Continue with the rest of your body. Like the farmer with his seeds, scan the body—not with x-rays but with the ray of mindfulness. Even fifteen minutes is enough time to scan your body slowly with the energy of mindfulness.
When the fully conscious mind recognizes a part of the body and embraces it with the energy of mindfulness, that part of the body is finally allowed to relax and release its tension. This is why smiling is such a good way to help your body relax. Your first smiles in the womb were completely relaxed smiles. There are hundreds of muscles in your face, and when you get angry or fearful they get very tense. But if you know to breathe in and to be aware of them and to breathe out and smile to them, you can help these muscles release the tension. With one in-breath and out-breath, your face can transform. One smile can bring a miracle.