I'm just thinking out loud now, but it seems that the modern world has drawn this sharp line between the base "physical" and the elevated "spiritual." I think it must be an offshoot of the idea that the body is unclean and undesirable and the mind/soul is pure.
Every passing year we find out more and more that the mind and body are so intertwined that it's quite misleading to even call them two things. So there's all this study into the mind-body connection and so on.
However, in India and Asia there isn't such a historical divide between the physical and spiritual. The whole practice of yogic asana is a way of using the body to reach a spiritual destination. And in Buddhism (well, Zen Buddhism) the body is always your home base, where you return if you get stuck in too much circular mental thinking. This can be seen in meditation, where we return to the breath, or to the pain in our legs, or to the straightness of our backs, when the mind is wandering. Or in koans where the student asks an esoteric question and is answered with a smack to the skull. The message is clear. Get your head out of the clouds and truly inhabit the moment, which is where your body is.
Your mind can take amazing voyages to the past or the future, but your body will never leave the present moment. And that's where real life is.
But, I've received a little blowback and a vast amount of silence from the Buddhist community during The Peak Condition Podcast. This doesn't surprise me but it makes me somewhat sad. Buddhists in general are a very cerebral bunch, and all too many do the majority of practice in their heads. In all the retreats and Buddhist events I've been on I've never seen someone in really good shape. Most people are a little thick around the middle, which isn't a shocker as Zen's main event is sitting on your ass.
I get the impression people feel that spending time working out, getting your portions right, and exercising are all a bit shallow. Certainly when compared to the deep wisdom of meditation. Again, one practice is considered base, and the other, pure. And many Buddhists would hint that spending time building muscle and getting strong is just a form of attachment and craving. Attaching to your good physique, craving the validation of others, etc...
Well I'm here to say all of that is misguided. In Zen we are working towards mental clarity. Trying to see the world as it really is, without delusion. And I have found that being in good (peak) physical shape has brought me a lot of clarity. Whereas before I would go around and around with a problem in my head, I'm finding making choices has become easier. I've become less mopey and more motivated, and I'm finding that I want to talk less and act more (except on the blog of course, where I can't seem to shut up!)
And I've written about in this blog before, but zazen has become much easier physically and more placid mentally since I got my core and back muscles toned up.
And finally, doing a difficult set, with your muscles screaming and on fire is a guaranteed ticket into the present moment. You sure as hell aren't thinking about how you'll pay for retirement in those times. The PCP has been the most life-affirming practice I've done in my life, and that includes countless complicated meditations on the body and long periods of meditation.
So, I'm thinking about a new kind of Zen retreat. Where you do your zazen, and instead of the classic "go sweep the leaves mindfully" BS worktime, all the students workout and learn how their bodies really function. If anyone out there has the ability to organize this, I have the whole thing laid out and just need to hear the word "go."
And I don't want to hear any more masters with a huge stomach tell me I need to control my mental states. They need to control their physical states! I leave you with a Bruce Lee quote.
"Too often one of those big-belly masters will tell you that his internal power has sunk to his stomach; he's not kidding, it is sunk and gone!"
By the way if you're interested in applying for the second round of the PCP leave a comment or email me at ThePeakConditionProject (at) gmail.com. We'll be starting three more people up soon.