Sacred West

Buddhism and Modern Life

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Strong Back Soft Front

June 24th, 2008 · 4 Comments · Filed under: Practice

This morning I pondered the rightness of having a strong back, and of having a soft front. Shambhala teaches as a foundational instruction having a “good head and shoulders”, and the notion is accompanied by having an open front.

I was given an instruction recently by a Shambhala teacher for a meditation technique to balance the twin experiences of Space and Energy, and this very much had to do with having a strong back and a soft front.

It resembled the Taoist practice of circulating Qi around the body through an orbit rising up the back, circling through the top of the head, and returning down through the front of the body.

So I pondered all this in a morning exercise and it seemed very clear to me that Yang, the energy in this dance, belongs properly in our strong backs, holding us firm and rising to heaven while Yin, the space in which energy arises, inheres in us in the softness of our features and our feelings and our mingling with each other.

The strength of our uprightness doesn’t belong in our fronts. When we assert ourselves too harshly, our strength leaves our backbone, and comes to our face, our mouth, our heart, and manifests unbalanced, as passion or anger or fear or shouting or discourtesy.

Courtesy and graciousness is the way to behave, as I saw this morning, and the way to think and feel and express. Strength should remain in the back of us as backbone, to hold our resolve and our lack of doubt.

Softness no more belongs in the spine than does loudness belong in the voice. So this seems to me to be the true demeanor of the human.

What do you think?

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chodpa // Jun 25, 2008 at 6:24 am

    Hi there ….. very interesting reflections on hard and soft / front and back. I guess I’d add that from a Taoist point of view, there’s always some Yin within the Yang, and some Yang within the Yin. That firmness of the spine … at least how it seems to me in meditation posture … there’s a softness, a relaxation, a naturalness to that firmness, rather than a rigidity … that’s the Yin within the Yang.

    And the Yang within our Yin fronts? Clearly you cannot collapse at the front physically …. or have no sense of directedness in the way that we use our voice etc?

    For myself, I tend to see space/energy as very much being inseparable, without any real sense of front/back there … I don’t really experience ‘front’ or ‘back’ ultimately … they both interplay throughout. Nevertheless, as a skilful means, it seems like a potentially useful metaphor you’ve shared ….

    many thanks for that …


  • 2 SacredWest // Jun 25, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    yes, I don’t know that I have it completely correct or anything – I’m so glad for your thoughts Chodpa

    I have an update too from this morning. I awoke and thought of a stressful event to deal with this day, and I became anxious, I felt the pain of anxiety come into my gut and my stomach.

    Then, thinking in terms of front and back I thought: pain just doesn’t belong here. And still in bed I moved this energy back into my spine and away from my organs, and it became strength, my resolve to stand up to the events of this day.

    So, I don’t know, but the metaphor has its uses 🙂

    What do you thnk about that?

  • 3 Chodpa // Jun 26, 2008 at 3:53 am

    Thanks for sharing that ……

    what do I think? … 🙂 … I think that it’s great that this metaphor works for you, and affords you the means to work with conflicting emotions like anxiety, and find a means to transform that emotion into strength 🙂

    We all use different methods, right, whatever works and is appropriate at that time for where we are at?

    For myself, when something like anxiety arises, then I simply allow it fully into awareness, as much as I’m able. Not pushing it away, not seeking to transform it, not in any way trying to grasp or reject it, but allowing awareness and what arises to mix fully.

    When I’m fully and deeply aware of this arisen emotion, I tend to see it for what it is .. simply appearance, mirage-like appearance, devoid of any solidity, location or attributes in any way. It’s there, yet it’s not there. A dance of illusion.

    Seeing thus, what seems to have arisen simply self-liberates … it’s runs its course and melts away, without struggle, without conflict, without grasping or rejecting … just what is, without the hooks into the psyche.

    With that … ease is neither won nor lost .. different flavours play and flicker, but what actually changes?

    Well, that’s the way I go … (or sometimes, try to go 😉

    One thing I’ve found very useful, is when an emotion arises, to see what is going on physically, emotionally, and at the level of storyline (or thought). Not analysing any of them, just allowing it fully into awareness, and watching if you like at all three levels. Doing thus takes all the ‘bite’ out of the emotion, allows us to see the way we habitually react to that which we don’t want to experience, and allows those patterns to dissolve in the sun of awareness, weakened, and less able to hold us in their habitual grip.

    many thanks for your sharing … and very best wishes to you!

  • 4 sharil // Jun 29, 2008 at 10:47 am

    will someone have photos to post of the recent weeklong vajrasattva at palri ling i.e. for those not able to attend? your site is very inclusive and calm, and this most recent ‘conversation’ —regarding ‘back to front’ /yin to yang / unease to confidence , courage—was an informative and generous comment as well. thank you.

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