Originally posted on December 31, 2015
“Think with Your Whole Body”
I have this wonderful friend. She is young and full of life and very talented. She is in a high level training program for the fine arts and is very sensitive. She has been having some issues with becoming so open that she is merging with her environment, merging with people, while not being grounded. I think this is the case with many people who are highly sensitive, as it was for me in my own way when I was younger. This post is about using the tanden as a tool to be rooted while at the same time completely open.
The tanden is a center of energy in the body. It is called Dantien in Chinese and sometimes loosely called Hara in Japanese. The tanden is just below the navel, and it also connects with the lower back (koshi). At first, it is often easier to feel it in the koshi. By focusing on this over and over in a very simple way, bringing our curiosity to this point, our own style and creativity, it is nothing short of miraculous.
We can discover a way of moving through the world which is not dominated by intellect. Our mind is in the whole body. And one way to work with this it to focus on the tanden.
When I first saw the Roshi, I was shocked by his presence. He seemed to be moving from a completely different place than anyone I had ever met. He was this awesome machine of energy and discipline. His responses to questions seemed to spring instantly from the opposite direction of anyone else. He was moving from his tanden.
The tanden roots us, settles us, centers us. But it is not just a way to maintain control, instead, like growing a sublime fetus of wisdom, the tanden washes away our dualistic thoughts and replaces them with fresh awareness, deep wisdom. There is a zen saying,
Let go of your thoughts and you will do everything right.
A way to engage the tanden is to breathe from the belly, rather than our usual habit of breathing from our chest. Breathe out every breath exhalation to the end, from the belly, without forcing. Following our breaths out all the way, letting go of our thoughts as we do this. If we do this, it is like an energetic balloon is being blown up in our bellies. This should not be forced. If we force it, the energy will backfire and our Ki will rise up.
It is not that we close ourselves down to everything but tanden. We must remain open as we focus on it. It very important to feel the whole body as well, and especially important not to neglect the other energy centers of the body. The heart energy is often very powerful and stuck, and allowing it to open up will flood the body with energy. But heart energy can be volatile without the grounding of the tanden. There seems to be safety in extremes, and sometimes people find security in thinking that if they just focus on the tanden and shut off everything else in their lives, they will go deeper. But there is no real freedom in that. As we focus on the tanden, while not forcing, it opens up a new relaxed freedom in our daily lives as we climb through the mesh of reality.
Normally, we reach out with our awareness and strive forward. I mean to suggest that while focusing on the tanden, on our bellies, we stay back as we open up to reality. Moving forward, we are back in our tanden. Reaching up, we stay rooted in the tanden. Reaching out to shake someone’s hand, we remain in our bellies. Sweeping the floor, we use our tanden. Relaxing, always relaxing into our bellies.
Or, as Dogen puts it:
“Learn the backward step that turns your light inward to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest.”
At a certain point, after deepening our unique experience of this, we find that the tanden has unified our bodies. And the energy from our tanden extends throughout our body. The whole body is the tanden. We have an energy that never goes away. Like a battery pack that keeps us charged, and then charges everything around it. And then like great calligraphers of energy, we can express this energy in every aspect of our lives. And we will not be so fragile. We will not be smeared by situations. We will stay steady, like the eye of a hurricane. It is not something to intellectually grasp, but to have faith in this process of coming home to our inner light. And this light will guide us and be there when we need it.
Although it does not mindfully keep guard,
In the small mountain fields
The scarecrow does not stand in vain
Daikokuji (From The Unfettered Mind)
The issue of Tanden is a vast subject. It can take you as far as you want to go. I am happy to answer any questions or talk about it or write about it more in-depth if people are interested. Comments welcome. Thanks for Reading. Good luck!
R. Leckey Harrison says:
January 1, 2016 at 9:52 pm (Edit)
This is why I advocate belly breathing to clients. The stress response system will automatically restrict breathing, hence deep breathing will counter that effect fore relief. Chronic stress sets a chronic tightness in the breathing system, and when asked to take a breath, I’ve watched chests rise, and no bellies. Sometimes barely the chest. Now when I ask I add a loud-ish “sigh” to emphasize it.
That sort of breathing helps ground a person, and trauma, which I work with, will do the opposite, be it big “T” or little “t” trauma.
As you say, Corey, the mind is in the whole body. If we aren’t breathing in the whole body, we aren’t in either in a whole aspect. I call this “pulsating.”
Good post, my friend!
corey ichigen hess says:
January 1, 2016 at 10:05 pm (Edit)
Yes, Leckey! And that is just the tip of the iceberg of diaphram breathing. As I said, the tanden is a vast subject. Science has only begun to understand it. To meet a real tanden master is life changing. Thanks for your response!!
Mark Wahl says:
January 2, 2016 at 8:28 pm (Edit)
Cory, Flay’s husband Mark here. She has spoken highly of you and finally I have read some entries from your blogs so “get” more where you are coming from. I am a remedial learner of body consciousness but your thoughts resonate and they are written eloquently. Flay is also very instructive in this area for me. I am going to take a walk and will mind your approaches and awarenesses as I go. Thanks for your forthright sharing on this subtle subject I might called “Living through the body” for lack of a better phrase for now. Perhaps some work with you, neighbor, is coming up for me.
corey ichigen hess says:
January 2, 2016 at 8:40 pm (Edit)
Mark! Thanks so much for the feedback! It means a lot to me that you appreciate me putting it out there. Expressing some of this stuff is nourishing to me, and my main goal is to inspire people. Of course it would be great to work with you. Thanks so much!