Embodied Life Mudra
Resistance has wisdom
In 2012, I began a three-year mentorship with Russell Delman and The Embodied Life School in Northern, CA, Sonoma County. To give some support to this story, the three-year mentorship consisted of two weeks per year with the same group of 25 people. The central focus was to awaken one’s capacity for inner growth, presence and compassion in everyday ordinary life moments. Russell, the facilitator and founder of the school combined different blends of modalities that he has studied for many years such as Feldenkrais method, sitting meditation inspired by Shunryu Suzuki, Focusing founded by Eugene Gendlin, and Self Inquiry.
Each day we would meet every morning together in a circle at 7:00am for our first 30-minute meditation “sit”, followed by a walking meditation in silence, a final 30-minute sit, and then three bowing prostrations before breakfast. This was all done in silence and had a kind of reverence for each moment that was almost thick enough to feel. This was the way each day started and completed at 9:00pm.
It was the beginning of year one, that Russell offered a mudra for our meditation practice. A mudra is a specific way in which you hold your hands in meditation that has a specific intention in its meaning. He shared with us that this mudra had great meaning and was his preference during meditation and strongly encouraged that we each practice sitting with it.
In the mudra, you bring the hands together with the right fingers cupping underneath the left fingers and the thumbs gently touching together. The shape the arms, shoulders, and hands was that of a circle. With the body in the shape of a circle, with a connection between the right and left sides, opens a sense of togetherness, or Oneness as oppose to when the arms are apart, which can signify two or duality. He humorously shared that this was not a demand and certainly not the “right way”, but that through many years of his own practice he has discovered some great wisdom in it for himself and many others.
He went on to share that the right hand symbolized the masculine nature. The protector, which holds the left hand, representing the feminine nature, The caring nurturer.
Although it was offered in such a non-dogmatic, non-imposed way, something in me wanted nothing to do with it. Growing up in a religious upbringing, I had many previous experiences where I felt that I had to chose a particular way, “OR ELSE!” My filter because of past experience couldn’t help but to hear his offer as him trying to buy into a system.
Because of the caring tone in which it was delivered I attempted the mudra a few times. I later became aware of a few parts of me that had inner resistance. The first was the feeling of being told “the right way to meditate”. One part of me said, “I already have deep meditations, maybe even deeper than Russell so I don’t need your advice.” It was this competitive nature in me that was bred to be the best, therefore when I had a positive experience with something it was clearly better than everyone else’s attempts (said with a sarcastic tone). Another part of me said, “Look at all these people just drinking the Kool-Aid. None of them are even thinking if this is what they want, just being sheep in the herd.” What a hard, wounded part this was. A fear that the World and everyone’s motives are bad and if I’m not careful at some point I will get tricked and scammed.
The last part of myself that was buzzing around my head said, “this is uncomfortable. My shoulders and back hurt and it is not allowing me to soften my body with my breath. Every time I breathe, my body feels more uncomfortable and in dis-ease.”
Over the next three years I continued meditating in the group “my way” with my hands resting on each leg. Each week, Russell would very kindly approach me privately and mention that he noticed I wasn’t doing the mudra and really encouraged me to stick with it. Each time I would agree to stick with it however, the part of my rebellious inner child would say inwardly, “don’t tell me what to do!”
Then, something happened! One morning in during my meditation I slipped past my habitual mind and warm-heartedness shined on that inner rebellious nature. It was greatly influenced by the steady unconditioned invitation that Russell offered with great care and warmth, and the steady part of myself that consistently seeks freedom beyond my limitations.
A few years later in March of 2017, I was at an Embodied Life graduate retreat. It had been a few years since I was able to be at a seminar with Russell, and of course once again I was not participating using the mudra. Except this time, it was not because of some inner resistance or skeptic of being told what to do, as that ship had sailed due to loving kindness towards those inner protected parts.
This time it was genuinely because of the strain it put on my back and shoulders. I was now able to be just with the physical discomfort without all the past rhetoric in my thinking. Russell of course came to me on one of the breaks and ever so kindly inquired about it. By kindly, I mean that I felt through his tone of voice, body language, gentle resting of his hand on my shoulder or back that this was truly something he felt I would gain value from and had no expectations attached to the request. However, I knew that if it was going to be authentic for me it had to come from within myself and not because a teacher told me, no matter how much reverence I had for them.
Not doing the mudra was not something that impacted my everyday life. I soon realized that it was not about the mudra itself, but about all my resistance towards it that carried something very valuable for my growth. This resistance only showed up when I came to my cushion and attempted the mudra, or so I thought…
Then the final door of seeing my resistance opened. I was receiving a Biodynamic CranioSacral Therapy session and had noticed for some time a slight pulling up, stuck, disconnected feeling in the top left side of my sacrum (base of the low back). The practitioner was able to assist me in letting go of old stuck historical holding that was deeply rooted around family and money. (in another blog I will write specifically about this awakening).
During the session, the fluid in the left pelvis and sacrum shifted over and became much more level and in alignment with the right pelvis. For the longest time it felt I needed it to pop into place, but it actually was blocked from fluid as a result of old ways. After the session It was incredibly noticeable while sitting down, standing up and even moving on the go. I felt like my hips were matching each other in such a harmonious way.
The next day when I came to my cushion to meditate a voice within me said to take on the mudra that Russell so lovingly offered now over six years ago. As I brought my hands together and gently touched my thumbs into one another, I immediately noticed a difference in the overall experience. There was an ease to the holding that I had never felt before. Before it felt like I had to put a pillow underneath my hands or my arms would fly off a cliff. Now, there was a grounded, upright, softness to it. An ease that my arms and hands took an unnoticed, background attention and my breath me carried beyond the mind.
During this “sit”, what came to me was the realization that you can’t rush your process of growth. Our waking up to the things that limit us are coming to us like a flower seed that has been planted. All it needs from you is your loving attention and patience. The rebellious inner child, the wounded skeptic and the bodily discomfort needed my willingness and care to sit with the resistance instead of pushing away, giving up, or saying “this is just who I am”.
Looking back to the first time I practiced the mudra, I would have never imagined the physical discomfort that it gave me actually had a story within it for my healing. I just labeled it as “not for me”. Thankfully, Russell’s steady, care-full guidance and my own inner pulling towards freedom, led me to complete the circle of healing that lived in a matrix beyond my analytical, fixing brain.
Lastly, I want to encourage you to stay true to your inner senses. Let each voice within you have an opportunity to be heard and understood. Even if you don’t fully know why it’s arriving for you, and especially if you don’t like it. Welcome it in as a guest whose travelled from afar. Delight in sitting with it to get to know it. Be patient and wait for life to come to you.
I learned that my resistance is much deeper than what I might initially self-judge or criticized. I learned that my resistance has a story behind it. Your inner contractions, whether they inhibit you or support you all need space for your deep listening. Only then will that cut-off, hard, messy part of you let go of its control and open itself to the beauty of your laughter and compassion.