K. With, Horyuji-Kura, Bodhisattvis. Scanned from "Hara The Vital Center of Man."

“A thousand secrets are hidden in simply sitting still.” — Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

A few weeks ago, my good friend Walt recommended Hara: The Vital Center of Man by the German diplomat, psychotherapist, and Zen master, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim on this post. For anyone interested in practices for developing attention through body awareness it is essential reading. I couldn’t praise the book highly enough.  Not only is it clear and practical, it opens up a way of practice that I find initiatory and life affirming.

Dürckheim offers a bold and vital introduction on how to work with hara but before he begins he offers this important distinction about spiritual practice in general:

…practice does not generate the experience of Being but only prepares the way for it. The grace which may flower from this experience is not the product of a doing but of a permitting of what fundamentally is, of what the aspirant himself is by reason of his participation in the Great Being within his own being. Practice therefore means ultimately just this: learning to let the in-dwelling reality of Being emerge.

A pioneer in this field of integrating the body, mind and feeling, Dürckheim does an exceptional job in making the ancient zen practices of hara accessible. He urges us to avoid clinging to the partial that only upsets the whole. He shows us how to put our trust  in the fundamental rhythms of life, and to let go of fears that prevent us from allowing “it” to breathe. Our tensions, he observes “are caused by nothing but I and its fears for its Own existence,” and warns that the “practice of deep relaxation can be significant and efficacious only when it is carried out in full awareness of its inner meaning and not merely for the relief of bodily symptoms.”

Nope, it’s not a self-help program. Studying and practicing the ideas in this book doesn’t lend itself well to finding solid answers but leads to a deeper questioning, a revitalization of one’s practice, and hopefully under-standing.

I don’t want to give too much of the book’s contents away, but I will share one of many instructions Dürckheim suggests for reintegrating one’s compartmentalized being into a simple, coordinated and unified whole. Over the last few weeks, the following excerpt has served as a a kind of revelation for me, a gentle reminder to try to have contact with the inner life that continually calls to  from the center of our being:

…drop the shoulders, release the lower belly and put some strength in it. For this it is sufficient to say “I am, I feel myself down here, a little below the navel.” It would seem so easy to follow these instructions, but not only is it far more difficult than we suppose to effect a change in the bodily center of gravity but long practice is needed before it becomes habitual. Indeed to learn to feel oneself constantly down there is tantamount to overcoming the unconscious dominance of the I, and to feel oneself permanently rooted in a much deep region. This new placing of the whole center of gravity comes to full fruition only after years of practice. Yet, as with all spiritual exercises, everything is contained in the very first lesson. But the beginner cannot realize this.