To enhance your Dharma practice, Tsoknyi Rinpoche requested that a series of short papers based on his retreat teachings. The Teachings section on the main web site also contains a library of previously published materials and chants.
A Very Human Condition (Part 1 of 2): Subtle Body Difficulties in a Fast-Paced Life
Do you feel a tight band around your head? Do you have aches in the jaw and neck? Are your eyes fixed, red, watery or burning? Do you get headaches, stomachaches and backaches? These difficulties can seem so physical, so minor in terms of practice, but they aren’t. Although manifesting physically, these difficulties are actually occurring in the subtle body, the emotional communication system between our physical body and our mental activity. There are five main energies in the subtle body called pranas, winds or lung, in Tibetan. “Upward-moving lung” is central to these very human difficulties.
When one is at ease, this upward-moving lung resides in its natural place below the navel. However, when people become chronically stressed, lung begins to reside in the wrong places. Muscles become tight causing body pain, the nervous system becomes agitated causing a disturbance in the conceptual mind and exaggerated, reactive emotions pop up, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s like having a sun-loving plant in a shady area and it won’t thrive. Is this a plant-problem or the location-problem? It’s a location-problem, not a plant-problem. So lung actually isn’t the difficulty–we need the life energy of lung. But if it resides in the wrong location, then it makes big problems in our lives.
After experiencing mental exertion or stress, we generally have the ability to bring our emotions, conceptual mind and body back into balance when upward moving lung is in its home (below the navel). At these times, it’s fairly easy to return to a balanced stability. However, instability is the character of lung when it has taken up residence in the wrong location. When lung goes up, we become very emotional, and it feels like we are a bottle of fizzy mineral water that has been shaken too much. Our heads feel so big, so tight, as if filled with half a brain and twice as much buzz. At times it even feels like our heads might explode! At some point and without our knowing it, upward-moving lung became conditioned by constant agitation and confusion to keep moving and eventually came to reside in the head, neck, shoulders and chest. It had lost its way home.
Once this agitation becomes entrenched as a physical pattern of nervous tension and up-tightness, it remains in the subtle body, even though we think, “Oh, no problem, I’m fine.” But because we cannot recognize it doesn’t mean our lifestyle isn’t making our subtle body very tight and that this tightness hasn’t rooted itself deeply in our physical and mental systems. It has.
However, it is important to remember that difficulty with upward rising lung is not a recently invented problem. Most likely, to one degree or another, it has been part of the human condition for a very, very long time. But contemporary life is so action-packed, intense and on information overload that our heads are in a constant state of buzz and our emotions easily triggered. Tension in our mind and body seems normal. Over and over each day we chant the mantra “I Have So Much To Do…Too Much To Do…I’ll Never Get It Done In Time!” Driven by fear that we won’t be successful, we fixate on what has to be done. The “glue” of fixation mixes with hope and fear, making it all a buzzy, tight, tangled mess. This is an exhausting situation! So at the end of the day we fall into bed and sleep–if we can. Lung goes down a bit, but when we wake up…zoom…it’s up again, on the job and ready to do All That Has To Be Done. Most of our waking hours are now drawn into a persistent pattern of restlessness and anxiety caused by lung’s speediness.
Speediness is the main symptom of lung residing in the wrong place–not talking physical speed, just restless mental speed, which is an energy generated by upward–moving lung, causing stress and anxiety. Mentally we assess such tension to be in the physical body, but it originates in subtle body that has become perpetually agitated, and this agitation has been communicated to the body and conceptual mind. We have become like the car engine that can’t stop revving up and can’t be shut off…but goes nowhere.
What locks us into such fixed patterns of agitation is ego. Ego’s dominance over our life is established by its ownership of the body and conceptual mind. So when the engine is revving and can’t be turned off, ego gets in the act by telling its own story about the engine and our inability to turn it off. It tells us all about the aches and pains, about the restlessness and sense of urgency. The ego’s story can be filled with self-blame or self-pity, anger, hurt feelings or depression, demands that someone fix the problem or refusal to let go of the problem. Ego will do whatever it needs to maintain ownership of our lives–problems and all.
But the difficulty being experienced is actually not ego’s problem. Ego is just extending its grip in order to claim this persistently uncomfortable experience as part of its domain. So what’s actually the difficulty? Because upward-moving lung has become dislocated, overactive and agitated, subtle body has lost its ability to balance mental and physical activity.
In fast-paced societies, we aren’t taught about subtle body agitation, but we can feel something is wrong. So we try to dispel the distress with remedies using holidays, parties, drugs and drink, meditation, massage, going to the gym, self-help workshops, yoga classes, you name it–hoping one of them will do the trick. They all can bring lung down temporarily, but subtle body’s deeply etched patterns have not been touched and the trouble returns as soon as we swing back into high gear.
It’s hard to calm down or satisfy lung that is habitually living in the wrong place. Moreover, it becomes restless and demanding once it’s owned by ego. So ego, speed and fear all become a tight knot of anxious, buzzy distress. This situation inevitably creates mental cloudiness and extreme emotionality along with a haunting sense of dissatisfaction. This constant dissatisfaction produces more fear, guilt and restlessness.
This combination is a huge source of suffering. In the morning we wake up and feel something is wrong. But what’s wrong? We can’t put our finger on it. We compare our life with other peoples’ lives, and ours looks quite ok. So we increase our “self-care” activities, but something still isn’t right. Even though we’re sincerely trying to correct what’s wrong with all these efforts, tightness gets tighter and lung stays stuck, spinning in agitation. What we need to do is learn to work directly with subtle body, not just the physical body or the conceptual mind. We need to bring lung back down to its own home, calming the emotions and connecting the conceptual mind and physical body with subtle body. If we don’t do this, we will never solve this very human problem.