The non-duality that Buddhists talk about is not healing the mind body split. It is healing the self world split. But obviously, healing the mind body split is a necessary prerequisite to that.
When the Tang Dynasty Chinese wrote about meditation they generally talked about two aspects. One was Samatha —calming the mind—and the other was Vipassana—insight.
If we think of meditation primarily in terms of consciousness, then we’re liable to interpret both of those phrases in terms of our individual psychology.
We will think that calming is making my mind peaceful and empty. We will think of insight in terms of my seeing. We may think of it in terms of a special kind of seeing that I can have.
This is wrongheaded.
Calming is the calming of our whole body mind. And Insight isn’t really seeing. It is a direct experiencing of non-separation; not some woo-woo mystical stuff but gradual and progressive and real.
There is a modern tendency to think of meditation in terms of consciousness alone. Often the body is disregarded or minimised. This ignores the other fundamental pole of meditation.
That other pole is Vitality. Aliveness.
If you ask what distinguishes living beings, you would answer: consciousness of some sort, and aliveness.
But Vitality has not had a very prominent place in the history of modern western thought. It tends to be largely ignored.
The problem with ignoring it is if we’re just thinking of meditation in terms of consciousness, what we will give attention to is the ‘contents’ of consciousness, primarily thoughts and emotions. We think that’s what our experience is. We ignore or misunderstand the aliveness of the body.
Dōgen didn’t misunderstand, which is why he referred to “ the vital matter of letting the body leap”
We might just pass over that as poetic effervescence if we don’t understand the centrality of vitality, of aliveness. If so, we’ll misunderstand the purpose of meditation. We’ll essentially see it in terms of emptiness, stillness, vacuity and space. We’ll misunderstand the ‘contents’ of our experience. We will bracket all of these contents as being that which needs to be eradicated or, at least, set to one side. We will overemphasise equanimity and miss joy.
There’s all the difference in the world between, for example, persecuting voices or persistent, unpleasant emotions or habitual banal patterns of thought and the natural aliveness which our body has. This aliveness shows itself at the level of sensation, which goes ‘upwards’, becoming emotions, becoming thoughts. It will also show itself as an energetic patterning underneath our emotions.
If we’re not aware of that, then what we’ll see is simply the top layers.
It’s as if we have a landscape where the deeper half is missing. To use another metaphor; it’s as if, when we focus on consciousness alone, we’re like a magician. One who can go anywhere, who can see anything, but who’s suspended a short distance above the ground. The magician cannot fall onto the ground of all being. The reason why he can’t is that he can only fall that short distance through the alive body.