Tag Archives: human body

Relax, You’re Ok As You Are!

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I have been on a fascinating journey for the past nine months. During the past few weeks I have been preparing for the end of this nine months’ journey, and at the same time I have been preparing myself for another, new journey. That’s why I haven’t been writing anything for a while.

So what’s going on in my life?

In some of my earlier posts I have briefly mentioned that at the beginning of January I started Zen coaching training in Sweden. (Zen Coaching is an approach developed by Norwegian Kåre Landfald, and it is based on both Western and Eastern sources. You can read more about it in here.)

Last week my training came to an end – at least for now, because it is a lifelong journey, and I can always go deeper.

I still have some requirements to meet, but after I have received my diploma I’m planning to start working as a Zen coach. I won’t stop blogging, but there will be a new strand in the tapestry of my life: I will be working more in a direct contact with people, in personal encounters and through the Internet. I’m going to build a new website for my work. I will let you know when the site is ready.

What is Zen Coaching then? Explaining that would actually require much more than one or even several blog posts, but I try to explain what the training has personally meant to me.

First of all, despite its namel it is not only about Zen Buddhism. Actually it might be more correct to speak about Zen-inspired coaching, because there are also many other elements woven into Zen Coaching, to make a coherent whole. But the emphasis is definitely in seeing your life as it happens just now, and allowing and accepting whatever you see.

What does it mean to “see” your life? First and foremost it is not about trying to mentally, through thinking, to understand what is going on in you. Above all else it is allowing yourself to experience and feel whatever it is that is happening. Be it anger, stress, frustration, happiness, excitement and so on. It is about saying, from the bottom of your heart, a big YES to yourself and your life.

It is actually thoughts that take us away from living in the present moment. Thoughts as such are not anything bad, but they tend to shut the door to the moment that is there just in front of you. They throw you either into the past or the future.

But there is a way to experience the present moment, the present reality, and it is by looking at your feelings and emotions as they show themselves in your body and your breathing. It is the humble and undervalued instrument of the human body that is essential in connecting you to the present reality.

We tend to think that it is through thinking that we solve our problems, but it is feelings, particularly our deeper needs and longings, and the body, that carry us to a place where we find our deepest wisdom.

And what is our deepest wisdom then? It happens when we recognize how we have lost contact to ourselves on the deepest level of our being. To get to that place one has to pass through the various shields of pain that we all carry with us. If you are willing to face your own pain without resisting it, you will find your treasure under the pain, the diamond that is hidden in you.

– Ah… More images, more words and concepts. I’m sorry for that. But that is exactly what happens when one tries to distill the freely flowing, constantly changing experience of life into words that can, at best, only refer to something.

Anyway, let’s try to get a glimpse of it. Think about a small child who is less than one year old. A baby that is loved, well fed and in good health. What can you see? You see full trust, you see joy, total openness, love. That is an image of all of us in our original state. But the image of a small child is not only a personal beginning of a human being that will later be an adult, but it is also an image, a metaphor of something that I might call the transpersonal, the universal child in all of us. It is something that we all are part of, even though we don’t know or understand it.

And when you find contact to that child you understand that you can relax. There is nothing wrong with you, nothing to fix, nothing to improve. You don’t have to get anywhere, you don’t have to achieve anything. Because the diamond is still within you, though hidden under the weight and layers of the defense mechanisms – called personality – that you created in order to survive in this world.

When you find your diamond, you may realize that the problem you thought you had dissolves all by itself. Or you may find a solution. What is different now is that the solution comes from within you. It grows out of your whole being. It is not achieved through hard work of thinking or through willpower. It grows out of you like leaves from a tree.

This is what I’ve been going through during the past nine months. Of course my journey did not start only at the beginning of this year, but during the past nine months these discoveries have become conscious and very living to me. I have come home to myself.

And the journey goes on. I know I will wander off from my “diamond”, and I shall have to come back home to it again. And again. Because that’s what life is about. A never-ending journey of leaving and coming back home. A movement, a mystery, a flow to be experienced and embraced.

So Hard To Find The Words

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I was in Sweden for a week, participating again in one module of my on-going training in Zen coaching.

Since coming back home it has been difficult to return to writing.

“Don’t touch me with your words, don’t reduce me to your concepts”, a voice inside me has been saying.

And yet, I have a need to say, an urge to share. So I’ll try to write. After all, I have in my use this limited, yet rich variety of symbols and metaphors, the words to convey my thoughts and feelings, ideas and experiences.

What is it then that is so hard to put into words?

… It’s all about life… it’s all about allowing myself to be vulnerable and showing my vulnerability.

… Looking back from where I am now – which is already one full life – I can see how there has been one big passion guiding me and my choices. I have wanted to dig deeper, to look beyond the apparent. I have yearned to see that I am part of something larger than just my small personal life. I have travelled all kinds of roads to explore my questions. Some of the roads I have walked have also turned out to be attempts to escape rather than find and face my personal truth.

There was theology. There was a ten-year odyssey exploring the world through journalism. Some twenty-year long journey of art and painting. Explorations of Buddhism and Raja yoga. An intense period of time devoted to working on my psychological wounds and scars.

And now there is something new dawning on me. A new connection, a fresh link between areas that I have considered separate until now.

I realize how deeply meaningful my journey has been! How wonderful has been the hidden intelligence that has been at play in everything.

Here are some of the insights that have been close to my heart during the past  weeks:

  • I understand that religions are not the answer. They may be useful because they refer to something important, but they can’t replace your own inner authority that you have to find, in the end, in yourself, and in and through your own experience.
  • I have also understood that you can’t use religion – or, for that matter, any spiritual or ideological approach – to escape the work that you have to do with your own psychological conditioning. You can’t skip the pain of exploring those hard shields, those clever masks under which you had to hide yourself as you grew up, to survive in the world you were thrown into when you were born.
  • The wonderful human body! It is the place where I can look at my feelings and really FEEL everything. It is the body through which I am in contact with the world and with myself. It is only through the fragile body that I can experience the present moment. I can lie to myself, but the body doesn’t lie.
  • Our definitions of ourselves are often too small, just as our definitions of “God” are too small. My inner level of Being – or, if you like, my Authentic Self, my Essence, my Supreme Self, my buddhanature – is a relevant, true dimension that is common to all human beings.
  • The gate into a larger or deeper understanding of life is not outside myself – it is inside me. There is no external authority to say how I should explore that  field of experience. Therefore, I am free to use any means and walk any paths that I like, to get into contact with my inner Being. The important thing  to remember is this: You can’t get there without having to face your personal pain.
  • To describe our inner level of Being we have to use metaphors and symbolic language. Therefore, mystics and poets touch these dimensions of our being better than official dogmas of organized religions, or scientific language of psychology.
  • It is only through contact to our Being, to our Authentic Self, that we can be free, and we can accept our fate and life as it is, with compassion and love. We no longer need to defend ourselves, because there is nothing to defend; we see our “personality” with its emotions and feelings as waves or ripples on the surface of life; whether as our inner Being – that transcends our psychological history – is characterized by unshakable peace, love and joy.

*

I’ll finish with a poem that speaks about a mystic experience, described in words that refer to earthly love. The writer is Spanish St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Crux) who lived in the 16th century.

On a dark night,
Anxious, by love inflamed,
– O joyous chance! –
I left not seen or discovered,
My house at last completely quiet.

In the darkness, with light,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
– O joyous chance! –
I left in the darkness, covered,
My house at last completely quiet.

On that joyous night,
In secret, seen by no one,
Nor with anything in sight,
I had no other light or mark,
Than the one burning in my heart.

This light guided me
More directly than the midday sun,
Where waiting for me
Was the One I knew so well, my delight,
In a place with no one in sight.

O night! O guide!
O night more loving than the dawn!
O night that joined
Lover with beloved,
Beloved in the lover transformed!

Upon my flowering breasts,
Which I had saved for him alone,
There he slept,
While I caressed his hair,
And the cedars’ breeze gave us air.

As I spread his tresses,
The fresh wind from the turret,
Wounds me in the neck as it presses
With its serene hand,
Suspending all my senses with its caresses.

I lose myself and remain,
With my face on the Beloved inclined;
All has come to rest,
I abandon all my cares
There, among the lilies, to die.

The Wonder of The Human Body

Death recently walked past me with quiet steps. He did not come very near, but I could sense the cool breath of air that followed him.

Two people died in different corners of the world: One was a grown-up child of a very dear friend of mine, and the other was a professional who had regularly taken care of my health for many years. I did not know these two people so well, but particularly the sorrow of my friend who lost her child has deeply touched me.

These two events have made me to remember the passing of my old mother, and I thought I’d like to share with you the last moments that I spent with her.

My mother died twelve years ago. It was a cold winter night in the North, and she was already in the hospital, unconscious. As the night progressed, her breathing got heavier and heavier, and the pauses between each breath got longer. Then came again one arduous breath and a long pause after it. For a moment I sat and waited  – and waited. There never came another breath. She had left.

The peace that settled into that sterile and quiet hospital room was indescribable. All the agony was gone. Everything was so quiet and still that I could almost touch the silence of the moment. There was nothing, absolutely nothing frightening about death.

I have never experienced such a beautiful and deep peace.

I got up from my chair and walked to the window. The landscape that opened in front of me was covered with pristine, white snow. The little town in the North was sleeping.

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Living in the physical reality

Why have I chosen this slightly dark topic to write about?

One reason is obvious: This is my way to say goodbye to the two friends who are no longer here. They have been in my mind. I’ve been thinking of them, their lives and families.

Another reason is that I’ve also been contemplating, on a more general level, our life in physical reality.

I think we don’t give our humble human body the respect, love and care that it deserves. Yes, we do polish it and beautify it, and try to feed it with all kinds of healthy food, and we exercise to make it stronger – but it seems to me that unconsciously we still consider the body as a kind of necessary evil, something that we drag along, because there is no choice.

It is the head that we consider the centre of our life. The head governs everything below it. The head is, so to speak, the rider, and the body is the horse – that has to be thrashed every now and then for better performance.

Life without a body?

Let’s explore for a moment what living in the body means.

Without the bodies of my parents I would not exist. There would not be that specific “entity” that my parents named “Maarit” – that entity of body and mind, and that something special that we call consciousness that can observe even the thought processes of Maarit’s brain.
Without the body I would not have the brain.
Without the brain I would not be able to write this blog.
Without the senses I could not tell you what I have seen, heard, tasted, touched and smelled.
Without my fingers that now tap the keyboard I would not be able to pass on my ideas and thoughts to you.

And if it were not your physical eyes that see these marks on the screen and your brain that processes the information, we would not be able to communicate like this, mind to mind.

We are all this and so much more!

It is not only my thoughts that matter.
I am not only these words that I write.
It is not the weight and height of my body, or the color of my skin, or the shape of my eyes that make me who I am.
It is not only my personal history that created me.
It is not only the culture that produced me.
I am much more, just as you are so much more.

But it is absolutely sure, that just now – though I can’t promise you for how long – I exist in this body, in this world, in this country and in this house, and I’m happy for my body, because it supports me while I sit on the couch. I celebrate my body, because I can still feel in my mouth the taste of an apple that I just ate; because my eyes can see the clouds moving in the afternoon sky; because I can hear the dog parking in the neighbour’s apartment; and because the fragrance of coffee is spreading into my nose from the kitchen.

And if you were sitting in front of me, my dear reader, you could sense that I exist, and that you exist, not only in the artificial world of the Internet, as words and images on the screen, but in flesh and blood, in a human body that carries in it all the memories and experiences, all the capacities and possibilities.

* * * * * *

To celebrate all the precious people who have been or still are present in my life, or who have already left or disappeared for various reasons, I want to finish this post by playing a song by Violeta Parra: Gracias A La Vida (Thanks to Life), performed by Mercedes Sosa. Both artists have left us but their music lives. You can find the English translation of the lyrics here.