We have no delusions about the body when it comes to the classroom or the doctor’s office, but when it comes to the media and fashion, cosmetics, anti-aging, and pornography industries, it’s an entirely different story.
The body is the first of the four establishments of mindfulness, so I’m having some opportunity during this retreat from afar to take a closer look at what bodies really are.
In some ways, our culture has a clearer understanding of the human body than any prior. Our successes in medical science are evidence of this.
Yet, looking at an anatomy textbook and then walking past a newsstand or spending five minutes flipping through channels on the TV is a vivid example of the discrepancy between intellectual understanding and experiential understanding.
I would like to blame advertisements and the hyper-sexual media for my unrealistic perceptions and expectations of bodies, but now I will take responsibility for my mind and bring my perspective in line with reality.
What is my body other than a bunch of organs, fluids, bones, and muscles, tied up in a sack of furry skin? In which bodily cavity is the lavishing beauty hidden away?
Why do I get surprised or disappointed when I get sick? Is there any body in the universe that is not subject to illness? Does anyone have a body that will not grow old and eventually rot away as a corpse?
Thinking about these things is quite sobering. If I can begin to accept aging, sickness, and death as natural processes that my body necessarily undergoes, I can stop pushing them out of mind and fearing them. The less I deny these realities, the more I can be at ease as I go through them.
How much time do I spend complaining about bodily aches and seeking methods to relieve them? How much relief will come if I acknowledge that the body is by nature unsatisfactory!
How much energy, resources, and stress go into forestalling death at all costs? How much inner peace would come if I knew the body to be by nature impermanent!
Suppose someone were to ask me to round up all of the most atrocious, nauseating, disgusting substances that exist in the universe. Would I have to look far? I could just say, “Oh, they’re right here, beneath my skin!”
Even the people I think of as the most beautiful in the world walk into the bathroom. What do I think they’re doing in there!?
Today, I will continue to reflect on the nature of my body. I will do this not to disgust myself, but to sober myself. There is a difference. I already exaggerate the pretty and desirable aspects of the body, while the impure, undesirable attributes of the body need no exaggeration.
I’ll simply stop ignoring them, in order to weaken my overwhelming craving and lust my own and others’ bodies. Thus, true equanimity free of bias towards others may arise.