Indian teachers of yoga say that the Corpse Pose is the hardest yoga pose for Westerners.
In Corpse Pose, we lie on the floor and surrender to the earth, leaving the body in perfect rest and stillness as though dead. But many of us have problems even with the pose of complete rest. We either fidget and shift our bodies or our mind gives up and goes to sleep. Being able to actually rest is an art for us to cultivate.
One of the keys to meditation practice is to give ourselves permission to let go into resting.
We begin to rest when we abandon our achievement oriented mind that relentlessly keeps us moving towards a goal. If we enter our practice focused on what we hope to get out of it–peace, calm, inner stability, bliss, insight–that pulls us out of full meditation experience. So let us be with things as they are.
In order to help me enter the resting quality of meditation, I enjoy using this verse by the yogi Milarepa, a Tibetan master who lived 1040-1123 and is revered for having overcome suffering and persevering through great hardship to attain realization. He shared a journey with his students in thousands of songs that were passed down through generations and which are still sung to this day.
“Let your mind rest uncontrived
Rest with a child’s independence
Rest like an ocean free of waves
Rest with a candle flame’s clarity
Rest like a corpse, without arrogance
Rest like a mountain, so still
There simply is no name for what mind is really like.”
I’ve added some lines of commentary to further illuminate his words. Reading this verse before meditating can be wonderfully inspiring. And even now, in the few minutes of reading this, see how fully you can allow the meaning to penetrate your heart, and what effect that has.
Let your mind rest uncontrived.
We don’t have to try to do anything with our minds but simply rest. This resting is more a process of letting go of doing. Stripping away the layers of mental activity, all the concepts we keep churning out about ourselves, our world, each other, our activity, that create boundaries between ourselves and genuine reality. This line encourages us to see how little we can do with our minds while staying clear and wakeful.
Rest with a child’s independence.
Like a child that knows it is loved and held by its parents, we let ourselves rest in a loving presence. The British psychiatrist Donald Winnicott talks about how in a good enough parenting situation, the child learns that it is held and loved, which allows it to develop confidence.
It internalizes the loving parent and feels confident in going out and exploring its world alone. This is the independence of the happy, contented, loved child. Settle into yourself and rest within your own power, rang-wang in Tibetan.
When we feel confidently able to rest in this way, we do not need to look for any other external confirmation.
Rest like an ocean free of waves.
This is the motionlessness state like that of the corpse pose. We allow the body-mind to be free of movement.
When we first start meditating the stillness feels more like effort and allowing thoughts to calm feels more like effort.
But as we become more and more familiar with meditation, we realize that actually the movement takes effort.
At this point in meditation, it just feels more effortful to move than to be still. If we just let things be, we can drop into an inner stillness, like an undisturbed great ocean.
Rest with a candle flame’s clarity.
Deep rest is actually bright. It has clarity and wakefulness. When we surrender the mind-body into stillness and rest, we find a lot of natural energy in that state. There is nothing dull or drowsy about true rest beyond the conventional duality of sleep and wakefulness.
This is the key to the resting of meditation or yoga. It is done with wakefulness rather than, having exhausted ourselves, we fall into the opposite extreme of completely shutting down the body-mind.
It may take some practice before we connect with wakeful rest but beginning to introduce this idea opens up such a possibility.
Rest like a corpse, without arrogance.
Now we return to the point of being like a corpse. What does that mean for the living?
Here, Milarepa talks of arrogance but it could be any thought pattern: fear, desire, disappointment, anger, indecision, or jealousy.
In death, we let go of all this life’s concerns, all the avenues for tension that take us away from rest become meaningless. As the 16th Karmapa said upon his deathbed, “Nothing happens.” We cannot attain anything further; we cannot make any more plans for activity.
I’ve had many students and clients tell me about their experiences around death or life threatening illness. A common pattern is for them to feel like the usual daily worries melt away and seem less important.
This is a taste of what this line is referring to.
Can we, momentarily, allow ourselves to rest like a dead person, letting go of our obligations, our duties, our mind’s planning and scheming for the future?
Rest like a mountain, so still.
Like a great solid mountain, we rest in a way that feels timeless. We could stay like this for decades, centuries. We make a solid and stable connection with the earth. This is related to the traditional meditation posture of sitting cross legged on the earth.
When we sit like this, we cannot rapidly get up and move away: this posture expresses our commitment to staying on this spot and settling into our practice.
We feel our connection with the earth through our seat and allow our body to root into this spot, sinking and spreading into the earth.
The earth is also beneath us, supporting us, holding us up. The more we sense the earth holding us up, the more we feel able to let go into the earth.
There simply is no name for what mind is really like.
And, finally, we rest beyond any labels: whatever occurs in the mind, no words are adequate to describe it. We acknowledge the inexpressibility of our direct experience and rest in a space beyond words or language.
Rose Taylor Goldfield grew up in a Buddhist household, where she learned meditation as a child and also explored other spiritual purveyors—Sunday school, the Salvation Army choir, chanting with the Hare Krishnas, and the early 90s rave culture. However, Buddhism remained her spiritual home, and she completed a Masters in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism with Tibetan language at Naropa University. She spent the following five years in retreats across Europe and America and in nunneries in Nepal and Bhutan (her teacher, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche having made her teacher of Buddhist philosophy, meditation, and yogic exercise to his nuns). In 2009, she settled in San Francisco’s Noe Valley with her husband, where she works as a CTI-certified coach. Together they founded the Wisdom Sun community to share in meditation, experiential integration of Buddhist philosophy, body-based practices, personal transformation, and meaningful relationship. Click here to learn more about Wisdom Sun.
Editor: Olga F.
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