During the course of sitting meditation there are two things that a practitioner should look out for – energy and insight. Energy takes the form of a bright awareness that we can stabilize in, and which feels like it is non-local to our body and eventually one with the environment in the present moment. Insight takes the form of negating the reactionary mind which has previously interpreted things from a standpoint of a separated being looking out at a separate world.
If wisdom and compassion arise simultaneously then we can say that wisdom is our insight into the nature of reality and compassion is our felt sense of oneness with this moment. These are two sides of the same coin, and that coin is our experience of reality. If insight is only intellectual then it is of little value to us and is not real insight. What we are going for is a shift which is noticeable in both the body’s energy and the mind’s freedom and flexibility. Though it seems to come “out of nowhere” for a lot of people, its causes were probably quite gradual in most cases.
Intellectual vs. Stabilized Insight
Taking the example of Vipassana meditation, we can see how practice is far superior to intellectual knowledge. It is like reading about skiing vs. becoming an Olympic skier. Knowing that all things pass in an intellectual way or intuiting that all things are impermanent and interdependent (empty of inherent existence) is only the very first step. By watching phenomena arise, stay for awhile and pass away we actually begin to live this experience and, more importantly, the practice changes who we are. Before we begin practice we think that we are a bunch of bundled tendencies. After hundreds or thousands of hours of practice over many years we no longer bring any of these bundled tendencies to the moment because it’s about as smart as bringing your refrigerator on vacation in case you get hungry.
In Zazen we achieve the same thing. Over hundreds or thousands of hours of practice, over many years, we watch our “selves” come and go yet give complete focus to this moment and this breath. All of the things we previously tried to carry into this moment were nothing but energy draining delusions. We see that we were not truly alive before but now we become alive to this moment because we are energetically free to be here.
Moreover, we see the “ordinariness” that is our existence. It is ordinary, but because of the energy that accompanies this moment it is extraordinary. Meditation allows our consciousness to break off from the habits of our body and take on a life of its own and this is experienced as both broader and deeper perception and freely flowing energy both surrounding and within the body. This is a far cry from what we have previously understood from reading the experiences of others and actually makes our lives way cooler in a tangible way.
Living Insight Coincides With Living Energy
There seems to be a lot of separation of body and spirit in traditional religious concepts, but this has been a great detriment to seekers. Enlightenment happens only right now in this very body and is every bit as physical as it is spiritual or mental. If we’re looking for enlightenment somewhere else, we are looking in the wrong place. We will never be somewhere else. If we have this idea of enlightenment separate from this moment then we should sit with that until it dissolves.
When people speak of Kundalini “awakening” or “rising” in yoga practice this is the same phenomenon we achieve through meditation practice. By removing blockages through practice we free up space for energy to occupy. While it is true that we are not the body/mind, the body/mind is our only instrument through which we can express or manifest what we are here in this moment. Because we are not the body/mind we are also not delusion and this is something to be grateful for. But our job is not only to separate our true nature from the mundane but also to tune our mundane instrument so that it may express more of our true nature’s clear notes. The only insight we can have is insight into this moment and the only way insight can arise is with energy in this moment.
Besides seated meditation, activities such as fasting and running are very complimentary to practice because they are expedients to realign our physical body with reality. The walls we have put up between body and spirit are every bit as delusive as other walls we have erected. Yes, our physical body is only one temporary facet of our being. But it is this rice bag (to use a Zen term) that we use to know ourselves and to exist. It is our shadow, our echo and in this moment our instrument. It is our gift to learn just how much energy, insight and awareness a rice bag can manifest and what we can do with that manifestation.