Our brains love repetition and will take any opportunity to slip into autopilot. I'm notified every three weeks when I change my blood glucose sensor — a device used by type 1 diabetics that replaces the finger-prick method of monitoring blood sugar — from upper arm to upper arm. . The sweeping movement, repeated up to 10 times a day, consisting of taking the small smart meter that communicates via Bluetooth with the sensor out of my pocket, pressing the "scan" button with my right thumb, reaching the little white counter the sensor button under my left sleeve, reading the number it displayed, and putting the counter back on stopped in its tracks when I inserted a new sensor on the opposite arm. For about a day I will still follow the path of movement that has been etched into my brain, waiting for a response from a sensor that is not there. I stare at the camera's illuminated screen and wonder why it stays blank, until the penny drops – of course, it's now on the other arm. I am quite grateful for these little moments of thwarted expectation because they bring me back to the present moment, or at least they make me aware of a lack of awareness. But, soon enough, the new path is established, reaching for the right arm with the left hand, and the action returns to the automatic subconscious functioning that governs much of my actions, like turning the page of a book or reaching hand to the phone.
Being aware, without judgment, of what we are doing while we are doing it, as well as being aware of the many dimensions of experience when we are in a state of rest, is at the heart of mindful living. Awareness adds sparkle to our days, opening up choice and improving mental, physical and planetary health in countless ways, as research has overwhelmingly shown. And it seems that some degree of cunning is needed to thwart our body's habit-forming tendency to conserve energy. Sometimes unforeseen events and accidents bring us face to face and sometimes we can create little prompts for ourselves that shake things up in a smoother way. Recently, I started using the position of my hands in meditation to break habits.
It was inspired by a visit to a massage therapist to relieve tension in my neck, shoulders and right elbow. She does “fascia work,” treating the deep soft tissues that connect bones, muscles, and organs. As an artist, she also makes sculptures and seems to have an intuitive understanding of the patterns that shape a person's body. She pointed out how, as a right-handed person, the right side of my body comes forward, and fairly straight, when I look down at my feet in an unsuspecting standing position, my right foot and hip will be slightly forward, even though it doesn't feel that way. As I lay face up on her massage table, she twisted, stretched, and held my limbs at odd angles while pressing key spots, like the small hollow between my collarbone and upper arm bone. , which led to a flood of deliciously new sensations. .
After the first treatment, my body felt completely and somewhat disconcertingly realigned, resulting in a renewed awareness of physical sensations during familiar movements such as riding my bike or lifting the kettle. I was more aware of how I sat at my computer, how I moved the mouse. The therapist had explained that the inward rotation involved in typing and using the mouse may have led to my “tennis elbow” symptoms. I was quite determined to modify these models and ordered an ergonomic, vertical mouse.
The next time I meditated, I settled into my familiar cross-legged position, adjusting a few small cushions under my knees, wrapping the soft fleece blanket around my lower body, tucking it in at the back of the waist. Then, in my usual fashion, I placed my hands in the center of a fold in the blanket, one hand in the bonnet of the other. Having just received the massage, I was very aware of the relationships between the different parts of my body, the subtle torque in my spine caused by one hip positioned slightly further forward than the other, the pushing and pulling of fascia the along the right side of my upper body, and how the position of my hand actually involved subtle rotation of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints. There was a sense of whole-body connectedness, and I became curious if it would make a difference to the overall system to change which hand was on top of the other.
It was the beginning of an enriching and continuous investigation that I began to share with my students and now with you. If you're up for a little experiment, without thinking too much about it, if you put your hands on your knees to meditate, which hand will naturally be on top? I imagine this will sound comfortably familiar to you. Perhaps close your eyes and take the opportunity to breathe a little. Then change the position of the hand and place the other on top. How is? A bit odd perhaps, sort of "not quite right?" » Is there a certain curiosity to stay a little with the sensations? Curiosity is a crucial factor in cultivating mindful states of mind.
Recently, when I invited a group of mindfulness students to place their hands on their knees, one above the other ready for meditation, I looked around to see if there there was a common pattern. And of course, almost everyone had their right hand on top. I'm pretty sure they weren't introduced to this as the 'right' way to do it – contemporary approaches to mindfulness are generally not specific to these details. In this case, in the Buddhist tradition, the dhyana mudra specifies that the right hand should rest on the left, and this is how statues of the Buddha are usually depicted, unless they feature a different type of will grind (hand gesture) completely. There are a few variations, sometimes the middle finger is raised, for example; thumbs touch or not, and in some meditation traditions, a different up/down hand position is recommended for men and women. Everything about posture is usually associated with a meaning. “The upper hand symbolizes enlightenment; the lower hand, the world of appearances. Thus, the mudra as a whole suggests the supremacy of the enlightened mind. (Tricycle)
Some of my own discoveries center on the theme of doing and being, the balance between the most active and the most receptive modes of experience, the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the that et yin of this one. The energy in my right, dominant arm and hand is very different from that on the left side. The right side is stronger, more precise and tends to hold more tension; the other side is more sensitive, a bit vague and relaxed. The right hand is gifted for piano melodies, the left hand excels in accompaniment. When a piece of music asks for the opposite roles, it takes a lot more practice, it doesn't come naturally. But a sing-song bass line is a wonderful, emotional experience, if the right hand can assert its supremacy for a while.
Meditation is generally more about accessing the mode of being, and in this dhyana mudra the right hand likes to feel cradled by the left (this may be different if you are left-handed.) It feels like an encouragement to let go of goal orientation against the larger frame of stillness. But the message doesn't always get through – the usual tensions can easily prevail; a subtle tension in the muscles all the way up the arm to the shoulder. When I move to the other position, right hand below, there is an initial period of disorientation, as if roles are being questioned. The left hand feels exposed in the foreground and the right hand has to adapt to play a more relaxed supporting role. And then I notice something else: my heart starts to feel more vibrant and more loving. The right hand now seems to exude compassion, which allows the left to become a receptacle of emptiness, of non-conceptual knowledge.
As the meditation deepens, the two hands seem to merge and become one. When attention falters or drifts, bringing the mind back to the hands experience is a great way to focus and readjust to the playing field of relaxed awareness. Focusing on the hands in this spirit of curiosity seems like a great way to engage both mind and body in an integrated, non-heady way.
I met one of the students who had participated in this experimental meditation session a week later, and she noted that her awareness of the right/left hand dynamics had extended to observing herself- even performing daily activities such as cutting vegetables with more presence, rather than just doing it. When she took a shower, she liked to pay special attention to washing the dominant arm. I like to think that this kind of meditative focus, experimenting with hand gestures in this way, could lead to shaping our lives in a more mindful, caring, and balanced way, with less frantic action and less zoning, and with a greater sense of overall purpose.