“Soft-belly is a trigger for our letting go. Softening melts the armoring over the heart, experienced as hardness in the belly. Each time we remember to be present, to be mindful, we soften into the moment. Softening becomes a call to the heart that it is safe to be alive in the body once again. Soft-belly brings an end to our fear of fear.” ~ Stephen Levine
For whatever reasons (cultural, personal, genetic, societal, physiological, emotional), I have had a lot of issues with my belly and body over the years.
Haven’t we all?
When I was a chubby young teen, my mom used to tell me to suck it in—for the click of a photograph, or simply for the benefit of herself and all others who would be offended to glimpse my protruding stomach.
A mean boy on the playground in fourth grade used to tease me: Shelly belly full of jelly!
I didn’t let on, but it hurt. Enough that I still remember the taunt 30 years later.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant when I’m not. I am generally in pretty good shape, but I do carry some extra weight in my belly.
Sadly, it seems easier to hate guts than to love them.
I used to despise my midsection’s shape and size. I used to wish it away, especially after gaining weight in my late 20s.
Then I carried a baby in there. My daughter. After she emerged healthy, happy and fully developed, I changed my relationship to my belly. It became a temple.
Yesterday morning, reading through Stephen Levine’s wonderfully thought-provoking Buddhist book, A Year to Live, I came across this soft belly meditation and immediately adored it.
I plan to take it on as a part of my practice (formal and informal, constantly threaded into my life, not a separate “spiritual ritual” or anything). May it be of benefit!
“Taking a few deep breaths, feel the body you breathe in.
Feel the body expanding and contracting with each breath.
Focus on the rising and falling of the abdomen.
Let awareness receive the beginning, middle, and end
of each inbreath, of each outbreath
expanding and contracting the belly.
Note the constantly changing flow of sensation
in each inhalation, in each exhalation.
And begin to soften all around these sensations.
Let the breath breathe itself in a softening belly.
Soften the belly to receive the breath,
to receive sensation, to experience life in the body.
Soften the muscles that have held the fear for so long.
Soften the tissue, the blood vessels, the flesh.
Letting go of the holding of a lifetime.
Letting go into soft-belly, merciful belly.
Soften the grief, the distrust, the anger
held so hard in the belly.
Levels and levels of softening, levels and levels of letting go.
Moment to moment allow each breath its full expression
Let go of the hardness. Let if float
in something softer and kinder.
Let thoughts come and let them go,
floating like bubbles in the spaciousness of soft-belly.
Holding to nothing, softening, softening.
Let the healing in.
Let the pain go.
Have mercy on yourself, soften the belly,
open passageway to the heart.
In soft-belly there is room to be born at last,
and room to die when the moment comes.
In soft-belly the vast spaciousness in which to heal,
in which to discover our unbounded nature.
Letting go into the softness,
fear floats in the gentle vastness we call the heart.
Soft-belly is the practice that accompanies us throughout the day
and finds us at day’s end still alive and well.”
Isn’t it lovely?
Hard belly, pulled-in belly, is so ingrained in me that I know softening will take practice. Lifetimes of practice.
Soften the muscles that have held the fear for so long. Let go of the holding of a lifetime.
I’m so grateful this came into my awareness, and I hope that you find it helpful and resonant as well.
Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus
Editor: Toby Israel