Reginald “Reggie” Ray is an American Buddhist academic and teacher. He is the spiritual director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation, a non-profit organization that he co-founded in 2005 “dedicated to the practice, study and preservation of the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.” Ray, a student of Tibetan Buddhist teacher Trungpa Rinpoche, was a faculty member at Naropa University from 1974 until 2009 and teacher-in-residence at Shambhala Mountain Center from 1996–2004.
Touching Enlightenment with the Body
Written by Reginald Ray
Like many Westerners, I always assumed that meditation was a “spiritual” phenomenon, which I took to mean that it somehow had to do with realms beyond the physical. For a long time I wasn’t aware that I believed this, but in retrospect I see that I did. At the same time, it is also obvious that meditation practice actually tended to lead me in the direction of deeper engagement with the physical. Especially in intensives or on retreat, I would feel a considerable amount of physical discomfort, which I saw as an unfortunate and unnecessary diversion from what I was “really” supposed to be doing. I thought that if I could get rid of my discomfort, I would be able to progress more quickly in my practice. I didn’t have a very clear idea of what “progressing” might mean, but it definitely did not include physical distress. So I tried a variety of stretching exercises, yoga techniques, body work and other bodily engagements that I thought might help me toward my goal of pain-free meditation.
Most meditators suffer from two kinds of physical problems. First, we experience specific weak points such as sore knees, lower back pain, a kinky neck, tightness, tension or pain in the shoulders or upper back, and so on. Second, a general achiness comes over our bodies, particularly when we sit more intensively: everything seems to hurt at once—our legs are aching, our shoulders and neck are sore, our back is on fire. It came as a disappointing realization one day that while I might be able to alleviate or shift the specific “hot spots,” the general achiness remained. In fact, it almost seemed that the more I was able to alleviate a specific complaint, the more achy my whole body became. I began to suspect that physical pain was just part of sitting on the cushion, at least for me. I found the prospect of endless physical pain dismal and depressing…
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What does it mean to “meditate with the body”? Until you answer this question, explains Reggie Ray, meditation may be no more than a mental gymnastic-something you can practice for years without fruitful results. In Touching Enlightenment, the esteemed author of six books on Buddhist history and practice guides you back to the original practice of the Buddha: a systematic process that results in a profound awareness in your body rather than in your head. Combining the scholarship that has earned him international renown with original insights from his many years practicing and teaching, Reggie Ray invites you to explore what it means “to be at one with who we are, in every respect, including our physical being, our emotions, and the totality of our karmic situation.”