Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Mudra

It's been a while since I've posted anything.

For one, I've been extremely busy( a good thing) at work and I was away at Sesshin at the Milwaukee Zen Center w/ Rev. Tonen O'Conner. Tonen is one hell of a teacher and is the dharma sister of my teacher, Toshu. MZC's library is excellent. I stayed awake most nights reading instead of sleeping. It was worth it.

One of the things I've been paying attention to quite a lot lately is the cosmic mudra while I sit. I read Warm Smiles from Cold Mountains by Reb Anderson recently and was inspired by a particular passage in the chapter "Listen to The Body". The passage reads, " I would also like to take this opportunity to mention again the wonderful practice of touching your hands to each other in this mudra we call the concentration, or cosmic mudra. Please keep this mudra in contact with your abdomen while sitting. Actually touch the hands to the abdomen, and keep actual tactile contact there. "

Reb goes on to explain how the hands drifitng away from the abdomen is an "advanced gaurd" against drowsiness and probably more reliable than the eyes closing. My experience since reading this is that he is absolutely correct. Almost every one has been told that what the mudra looks like is a mirror of what the mind is going through during zazen, but the suggestion about contact with the abdomen was new to me. I'm glad I've been made aware of this as it has been really helpful.

A few observations: First there may be something very physiologically profound about this. If you look at a Motor Homonculus one of the first things you will note is the size of the hands. For those of you who don't know what a Homonculus is, it is a chart that shows what if would look like if the human body were built in proportion to the amount of brain power needed to "motor" a body part. If we were proportioned accordingly, our hands and mouth would be our biggest body parts.

Interesting huh? What does this tell us? For one it says sit down and shut up. Next it tells us that the hand position may in fact be the most important part of the zazen posture, not the spine, head, neck, etc. My recent experience has shown me that if my mudra stays "energized", nuetral, and against my abdomen, then my spine stays effortlessly erect, my neck stays free and relaxed, my breathing deepens and my mind quites down without any manipulation. My sitting "sits" in the mudra.

Of course I need to be careful not to come across as sounding as if this is a technique, but I do find it interesting that in the "zazen world" so much attention is placed on other parts of the body while nueroscience clearly shows that the hands are much more responsible for a larger consumption of brain activity. Looking at this as a feedback loop and refering to my experience, I think that the hands may play more important of a role than they get credit for in keeping the zazen posture whole.