There are three areas of the body that are important to be mindful of when exploring how an active delusion feels: the mind, the heart, and the rest of the body.
Let’s talk about how each of these areas feel when we live from truth, love, and skillfulness. I share this information for two reasons. First, to help you interpret your inner experiences so they can alert you when delusion is active and when it is not. And secondly so that when you experience these things, you know what you are experiencing.
If you suffer from physical ailments and injuries, you may feel lots of physically-based sensations. Do your best to factor these physically-based sensations out of the equation when using your body as a compass. For example, when I eat certain foods I get headaches and brain fog. I don’t interpret such physically-based sensations to be caused by active delusions in the mind. (As a side note, however, delusions frequently exacerbate such conditions. When unpleasant sensations arise, the challenge is not letting my thoughts and stories about the physical sensations cause me additional needless suffering that leads me down an unskillful path. For more on this subject, check out the talk “Being Mindful and Skillful with Physical Pain.”)
Let’s turn now to discuss how our mind, heart, and body feel when we live in alignment with truth love, and skillfulness. Again, this is with the understanding that we do not count sensations caused by physical ailments and injuries.
The Mind is Spacious, Balanced, and Interested
The sensations of our mind can be found in the head. When we mindfully rest in our inner essence, the mind feels spacious, open, balanced, flexible, interested, and engaged with the present moment.
The mind feels open, balanced, and spacious because it is not mistaking any arising thoughts to be the truth. This open, balanced, spacious mind brims with possibility, making it highly flexible, adaptable, nimble, creative, and yielding. Sensations can include an alive spacious emptiness (freedom from sensations), or subtle, pleasant feeling of vibrations, tingles, or bubbles.
Wise view knows thoughts to be impermanent, impersonal, and the source of delusion, so it does not look to them to find safety, security, or to understand the truth of life as it is. Instead, we do better to rests our awareness in our senses so we can experience life directly as it is, free of the mental narrative and concepts. Placing our awareness in our senses causes the mind to be interested and intimate with the present moment. When fully present like this, even something as simple as feeling our breath can become fascinating, engrossing, intriguing, and takes on an air of adventure.
In contrast, when our ego clings to our thoughts we suffer. We cling to our thoughts when we mistake them to be important, personal, and truthful. Believing this delusion, the mind feels tight, constricted, closed, rigid, inflexible, trapped, confined, dull, bored, or apathetic. All of this has an unpleasant feeling tone. Thus, when we believe a falsehood we suffer, and are no longer aligned with truth, love, and skillfulness.
The Heart is Open, Connected, and Intimate
Our egoic conditioning has trained us to close our heart and run away from unpleasant feelings. Wise view reminds us to see our emotions as impermanent, impersonal, products of delusions, that act as teachers to help guide us home to truth, love, and skillfulness.
With this wise view, we become more courageous and willing to keep our heart open so we can feel all of our emotions fully. This wise view also allows the mind to remain balance and peaceful with strong emotions without becoming lost in delusions or suffering spirals. Through love-based meditations, we notice how our love for others opens our hearts and keeps it connected, while delusions close our heart and cut us off from others.
When we are mindful and present, all of the unpleasant emotions we feel become compassion. These unpleasant emotions may arise because of a delusion that is active in our own mind, or unpleasant sensations may arise due to our intimacy and connection with other beings who suffer.
When true compassion arises we feel a combination of both unpleasant and pleasant sensations. Unpleasant sensations make up its core, but they feel surrounded and held by the pleasant sensations of a deep peace, comfort, and ease. This makes compassion a profound, beautiful, and moving experience that inspires us to alleviate the suffering in the world. Despite compassion having unpleasant sensations, due to wise view and our open and intimate heart, we feel no mental or emotional suffering when we feel compassion. That is how we distinguish compassion from other emotional disturbances: compassion causes us no suffering, the mind remains balanced, and our behavior remains skillful.
When our heart is open, it feels connected, intimate, peaceful, accepting, courageous, and empowered. Sensations can include an alive spacious emptiness, warmth, or subtle pleasant vibrations, tingles, or bubbles that radiate from your heart area.
In contrast, active delusions close our heart. A closed heart feels fearful, anxious, lonely, isolated, disconnected, tight, dull, cold, apathetic, or “dead inside.”
To summarize, when we live from our essence, our heart is open, connected, and intimate. It courageously radiates one or more of the four kinds of love: kindness, peace, compassion, and joy.
The Body is Calm and Relaxed
Finally, the body is as calm, peaceful, and relaxed as possible, given the activity you are engaged in. This means the torso is free of afflictive emotions and stress. When resting, the belly is soft, relaxed, and gently rises and falls with the breath. The muscles throughout the body are all as calm, peaceful, and relaxed as possible. Sensations can include an alive spacious emptiness, or subtle pleasant vibrations, tingles, or bubbles that are easiest to feel in your hands and feet, but can be felt in all parts of the body.
To keep the body as relaxed as possible use wise effort. Wise effort can be likened a surfer who skillfully responds moment-to-moment to the constantly changing waves she rides to stay balanced, calm, relaxed, and upright on her surfboard. The level of effort needed to use wise effort from moment-to-moment changes, just as the waves of the oceans change. Despite wise effort being a moving target, we can use our bodily sensations to let us know when we are hitting that target.
First, we use the least amount of effort necessary to do what we are doing with quality, care, and mindfulness, and with an open and intimate mind and heart. If these things are not being done, then our effort is too low and needs to be skillfully roused. Second, the body is free of all stress, anxiety, clinging, as well as all tightness and tension necessary to do the task at hand. If these qualities are present, too much effort is being used. Use less effort until the parts of the body not being used are calm, relaxed, soft, and ready for action.
Because egoic delusions and emotions keep our body tense, tight, and stressed, during meditation we counteract this by routinely invite the parts of the body to be peaceful, calm, relaxed, and soft. All meditations help us practice finding the sweet spot of wise effort given how the moment shows up for us right now. Mindfulness movement practices such as yoga, qigong, and walking meditation also help us learn how to move our muscles using wise effort.
To summarize, when we live from truth, love, and skillfulness, our body is free of emotions and stress, and the muscles are as calm, peaceful, and as relaxed as possible.
A Caveat to Using Your Body as a Compass Needle
Again, use this information to be mindful of your bodily senses to know when delusion is active and when it is not. Use this information to start knowing when compassion or wise effort is being used.
But be careful to not use this information to generate more craving and aversion. If you find yourself judging yourself when your mind, heart, or body is tight or rigid, know that to be the delusion of judgment, bring in some self-compassion, calmly and patiently experience the delusion, and let it go. If you find yourself wanting to feel the peaceful, spacious, loving feelings, know that to be the delusion of craving, bring in some self-compassion, calmly and patiently experience the delusion, and let it go.
The ego in us wants to skip eating the healthy vegetables and go straight to dessert; it wants to not do the work, and just enjoy the benefits. But the path of mindfulness does not work that way. There is a slogan that says, “The way out of suffering is through.” This means you need to feel and experience delusion and the suffering it causes you, in order to understand it deeply, and be motivated to let it go. This path requires us to courageously feel our feelings and sensations, even when they are unpleasant.
At first, we will feel emotions with an egoic view, and this will cause suffering. Then we will get glimpses of feeing them with wise view, and feeling them will be free of suffering. As we experience what true compassion feels like, we will be able to relate to more and more of our emotions with compassion, and we will suffer less and less.
When we are free of delusion, the mind will feel open, spacious, balanced, flexible, interested and engaged. The heart will feel open, connected, and intimate. The body will feel as calm, peaceful, relaxed, and as soft as possible.
One way to integrate this information into your mindfulness practice is to piggy-back mindfully scanning the sensations of your mind, heart, and body after you do your “Breathe” or “Be here now” practice.
If the mind, heart, and body do not feel as described above, delusions may be active. Become more present, notice the thoughts you are thinking, notice what feelings you feel and try to Label what delusions are active. Then mindfully investigate them to see how they work and how to let them go. In this way, our body acts as a compass needle that guides us home to truth, love, and skillfulness.