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If, during your scan, you come to a part of your body that is sore or ill, stay focused on that part longer. We tend to hurry past pain. But this hurrying causes more tension instead of healing. If we spend more time with what hurts, using the energy of mindfulness, we can smile at our pain and release some of the tension. If we know how to help release the tension in that part of the body, the healing will take place much more quickly. 

You may be in real physical pain. Mindfulness will tell you that it is only a physical pain. The Buddha spoke about the second arrow. He tells the story of a person struck by an arrow who is in a lot of pain. Suppose a second arrow hit the man in exactly at the same spot. The pain would be a hundred times more intense because he was already wounded. Worry, fear, exaggeration, and anger about an injury act as a second arrow, aggravating a part of the body that is already wounded. So if you are struck by one arrow, you can practice mindfulness so that another arrow of fear or worry doesn't hit you in that same spot.

In the Sutra on the Contemplation of the Body in the Body, the Buddha advises us to become aware of the four natural elements within the body. In the womb, these elements of water, fire, air, and earth are completely balanced. The mother balances the womb for the baby, sending in oxygen and nutrients as the baby rests in water. Once we are born, if we have a balance within the four elements, then we are in good health. But often these elements are out of balance; we can not get warm or we find it difficult to take a full breath. Often, our mindful breath can naturally bring these elements into balance.

The Buddha also recommended that we become aware of our body’s positions and actions. In sitting meditation, the first thing is to be aware that you are in a sitting position. Then you can sit in a way that brings you calm, solidity, and well-being. In each moment we can notice the position of our body, whether we are sitting, walking, standing, or lying down. We can be aware of our actions, whether we are getting up, bending down, or putting on a jacket. Awareness brings us back to ourselves, and when we are fully mindful of our body, and living in the here and now, we are in our true home.


Did you know you had a true home? This question touches everybody. Even if you have the feeling that you don't belong to any land, to any country, to any geographical spot, to any cultural heritage, or to any particular ethnic group, you have a true home. When you were in your mother’s body, you felt at home. Perhaps you long for a return to that place of peace and safety. But now, inside of your own body, you can come home.

Your true home is in the here and the now. It is not limited by time, space, nationality, or race. Your true home is not an abstract idea. It is something you can touch and live in every moment. With mindfulness and concentration, the energies of the Buddha, you can find your true home in the full relaxation of your mind and body in the present moment. No one can take it away from you. Other people can occupy your country, they can even put you in prison, but they cannot take away your true home and your freedom.

When we stop speaking and thinking and enjoy deeply our in- and out-breath, we are enjoying being in our true home and we can touch deeply the wonders of life. This is the path shown to us by the Buddha. When you breathe in, you bring all yourself together, body and mind; you become one. And equipped with that energy of mindfulness and concentration, you may take a step. You have the insight that this is your true home—you are alive, you are fully present, you are touching life as a reality. Your true home is a solid reality that you can touch with your feet, with your hands, and with your mind.

It is fundamental that you touch your true home and realize your true home in the here and the now. All of us have the seed of mindfulness and concentration in us. By taking a mindful breath or making a mindful step, you can bring your mind back to your body. In your daily life, your body and mind often go in two different directions. You are in a state of distraction; mind in one place, body in another. Your body is putting on a coat but your mind is preoccupied, caught in the past or the future. But between your mind and your body there is something: your breath. And as soon as you go home to your breath and you breathe with awareness, your body and mind come together, very quickly. While breathing in, you don't think of anything; you just focus your attention on your in-breath. You focus, you invest one hundred percent of yourself in your in-breath. You become your in-breath. There is a concentration on your in-breath that will make body and mind come together in just one moment. And suddenly you find yourself fully present, fully alive. There is no more longing to return to the womb, to your perfect paradise. You are already there, already home.


This article was originally published in the March 2006 issue of the Shambahala Sun, and is excerpted in our 30th-anniversary collection of the finest meditation teachings from the magazine, as printed in our January 2010 issue. To read all of the other excerpted pieces in their complete form, click here.




Click here for more articles by Thich Nhat Hanh


 




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