We would not be pursuing spiritual subjects or meditation practice unless we wanted to change. Today we begin the topic of what it feels in the body and mind when we are changing inside. This is not just signs of inner spiritual development, as though we were becoming holier every day. The physical and mental changes produce practical and important influence on other areas of life. How we are changing our perceptions by meditation and living by Buddhist principles, changing our minds about what is truth, and seeking reality bears on what kind of career we choose and what kind of relationships we desire to have with others.
Spiritual inner change has effects in the physical body, brain, and mental functions that are energetic, chemical, and emotional. In Tibet, we did not discuss change in this way because we have a medical system that explains disease or mental difficulties as imbalances of the three humors and how that affects the mind and body. It also describes how meditation can affect the humors and how to correct them in a number of organic natural methods including herbal medicines, prayer, and even traveling to a different environment to stabilize and balance a return to health. However, in the West the educational system is different with many areas of valuable knowledge unknown in Tibet. The dynamics of physiological systems often require surgical or chemical intervention to stabilize and so the vocabulary of illness and wellness is understood in a different way in the West.
Therefore, with those differences in mind, I was curious to think about and explain what happens in the physical body during times of strong inner change. Isn’t that an interesting topic? The physical body is not very much emphasized in meditation process or covered in Tibetan Buddhist scriptures or commentaries. Yet, for anyone beginning meditation, in the orient or in the west, it seems like it is the most important issue of what is happening in meditation.
Meditators will definitely experience physical sensations. Now, this does not mean that you have to have them at all to be a real meditator. So let’s not try to induce them mechanically as a spiritual sign when they are not there because of a craving for spiritual sensations.
These are manifestations of the inner yogas. These are the inner processes and they will produce certain effects in your physical body – often as a feeling of movement, especially receiving blessing, initiation, or even being in the presence of an accomplished lama.
One of the most common experiences Tibetan meditators have is a sensation that it feels good to rock. In a way, it feels that you are doing the rocking motion but in a way, you are not doing because of the rhythm of prayer. A certain feeling begins and you might feel that rocking is more comfortable than sitting straight. To not move would be uncomfortable. It gives a very rhythmic movement, especially during mantra recitation that has a stabilizing and calming effect on body and mind. However, you also might have feelings of movement happening any place in your body, and feel energy moving. This is not bad, it is not good, and it simply is what it is as the inner nervous system becoming more active or activated.
Some meditators will have tingling sensations in the hands and feet or feeling that a part of the body such as hands, feet or legs are asleep. You might lose your appetite and not feel hungry, especially after meditation. Very often, during times of inner change, meditators do not feel hungry at all and need to make sure to eat properly and at the correct times and other meditators might feel very unusually hungry.
Other changes noted during strong meditation retreats or periods of strong inner activity are a change in food choices. In the ancient literature, it is said that during times of inner change, the serious meditator becomes aware or hyper alert in the senses which I have personally noticed as well. Perhaps you eat dill pickles often but you bite into a dill pickle and it tastes awful! A usual change in food choices might be to avoid or eliminate sour or bitter foods.
You might have the experience of feeling very heavy in your body either during or just after meditation. Perhaps you feel shorter or taller than usual, but this is due to changes in inner perception and not a cause for alarm or a visit to the doctor. The physical body might feel unusually grounded and solid or you could have a sensation of being very light. Often people feel light with an accompanying sense of well-being and freedom, but it could be either one and you are OK. Anyway, your body feels different. Okay, we do not need be concerned at this point to figure out what is wrong with us when there is transformation and inner change manifesting in the body on the outside. “I feel very light. I had better go to the doctor and have them run tests on me. I am no longer attracted to dill pickles and previously I ate them daily. I think I need to be checked out.” In Tibet, we did not have such an easy access to medical care so this was a non-issue for meditators. To be continued…