Notes on a Buddhist path

No body

February 16, 2014 By | 8 Comments

“I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” ~ Herman Hesse

'Nude_Back,_Study'_by_Frank_Duveneck,_Cincinnati_Art_MuseumTwo years ago, I posted an article here about what it was like for me to see myself in photographs and on canvas, nude, pondering all that goes with that kind of naked exposure in our world.

Last weekend I joined with three other women, all of whom had also been photographed by the artist who rendered me in that painting, in a pilot workshop to write about our thoughts, our feelings, our perceptions of our bodies and the photos that portray our nude forms.

What arose for me in our writing exercises was how much had shifted in the perceptions I once held of this form I inhabit. Those many months ago in my photo session I felt shame and embarrassment, old fears and new ones loosen and I stepped from their grasp into a gentle sense of lightness that was beyond any border of my previous sureness of this corporeal landscape. When I first glimpsed the photos and paintings of my body captured in light and colour I saw beauty that I had never equated to my sense of self. I recognized that this being called “me” is not this body, is not pixels and paint, but a mere dwelling for my time on this plain.

Over these past two years I’ve come to a place of knowing more keenly how senses, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness play in an end game to cajole and seduce me into delusions of all shapes and sizes. I can feel at times the heavy obstruction of my body dangling from my cogent and clever mind. I smile at the wrinkles that come and go on my face and the forgiveness of worn etched scars and fading wounds. On some days I marvel at my aging body with its crepe paper skin and gravity’s designs on all my appendages, and on other days I curse my swollen belly and the ache of joints resisting my movement in the world.

Those cursing days show up sometimes when you least expect them.

On the last day of our workshop we were asked to write about a part of our body that we disliked. As the words began to seep from my pen, I found myself dredging up forgotten bits of anger, anger I thought had been exhumed many years before. It was startling to witness the pangs of resentment and vehement repulsion arising in me for a parcel of skin congeal into rage on a piece of paper. With grace and a fair share of courage we transcended that hatred, writing love letters to those alienated pieces of our bodies. I felt a wave of appreciation descend onto the page. From my past as child and adolescent, adult and elder, the current of my life healed itself through my written words and with it all the aversion I had felt toward that innocent scapegoat of mere flesh and blood.

Writing about my body and my feelings towards it allowed me to observe my perceptions and those of others in a new way. I saw not only the curve of hips and the soft flush of breasts, but also the bones and sinews that lay beneath and the inevitable dance towards death that awaits us all. Each day I am grateful I can walk, I can see, I can sit without pain and watch my breath in the timeless space of meditation. This body, merely elements of earth, air, fire and water, is our vehicle towards enlightenment and the eventual release of all that is carnal, all that is impermanent.

To you, no body. Thank you.

Where there is no sense of the world

By Akha
English version by Krishnaditya

Where there is no sense of the world,
What can one preach of true and false?
Whose birth, act, form, or name is there?
What boundary, where there is no town?
Akha, where there is no body to begin with,
The indivisible remains, as is.

From Wings of the Soul: Poems of Akha: The Spiritual Poet of India, Translated by Krishnaditya

Image Credit:

Nude Back Study by Frank Duveneck via Wikimedia Commons


  1. And so the journey continues to the bountiful formlessness. As always, beautifully stated, Tess.

  2. Dance, Lalla, with nothing on
    but air. Sing, Lalla,
    wearing the sky.
    Look at this glowing day!
    What clothes could be so beautiful,
    or more sacred?
    The way is difficult and very intricate.
    Lalla discarded her books that told
    about it, and through meditation
    saw the truth that never comes
    to anyone from reading words.

    But if we do keep reading words… here are some of Lalla’s who wrote the above

    And your blog, lovely to see you again! (As never before, beautiful… though I imagine this as a study for some grander work with colorful scenery of gardens under which rivers flow… “wearing the sky. Look at this glowing day! What clothes could be so beautiful, or more sacred?”

    • “Wearing the sky….What clothes could be so beautiful or more sacred?”

      With gratitude to you, okei, and to Lalla, for the beauty of your words. Thank you, thank you.

  3. Hi Tess.

    Would 3 men sit and discuss their body parts, I wonder?

    11 years ago I asked a photographer friend to take b+w images of my naked body, from all angles. At the time I was pretty new to Zen and wanted to “see” the nature of my ego’s attachment to how my body looked. I remember being critical of some and pleased with other parts. Viewing the images today (thanks to your post) I now look at the depictions as just that, depictions. The critical mind still wants to comment, but much less so.

    In a round-about way the theme of body shows up in my own post today, at Thank you, as always, for provoking …

    • Peter, I just dropped off a comment on your post as well. Yes, I wonder if men would discuss there various portions of this ephemeral body. As you say the images are just passing depictions, as is this body that’s typing these words to you.

      Ah, always more to ponder. Thank you for the conversation.

  4. Another provocative, courageous, and inspiring post.

    Your thirst, your passion, to reveal the hidden “delusions of all shapes and sizes” continues.

    A yogi friend of mine once told of looking out on a forest scene during a long retreat, only to have, for a moment, that scene shatter in front of his eyes like a stained-glass window breaking before him.

    Keep breaking those windows!

    • What a brilliant image of shattering stained-glass. Yes, here’s to all of us breaking apart, bit by bit.

      Thanks, as always, David for your wisdom and friendship.

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