Dont Push-Just Use the Weight of Your Own Body

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Dont Push-Just Use the Weight of Your Own Body

“Kondanna was my teacher. I had the good fortune to study shiatsu with Barry at the San Francisco School of Massage. He really did teach body-work as nothing less than a spiritual practice. He said the heart of our work is simply to offer our presence: ‘Don’t push, just use the weight of your own body. Don’t diagnose, just be aware. Don’t try to help, but also don’t turn away. Just be with the person. That’s all you have to do.’ And Barry really practised what he preached. You could see it as clear as day watching him work. It was an amazing and beautiful thing.

When I attended my first week-long silent retreat at Spirit Rock, Barry was there too. The retreat wasn’t easy for me, and on the last day I felt quite overwhelmed. I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my face even when it was time for lunch. I remember standing in line holding my plate weeping and embarrassed to be weeping, thoroughly miserable. I took my food to the furthest corner of the furthest table and sat down, but I was too upset to eat. Then I noticed that someone had come to sit with me. It was Kondanna, Barry. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t do anything. He didn’t even look at me. He did exactly what he always taught us to do. He just sat there slowly eating his lunch, being with me in my suffering, neither trying to help nor turning away, but it was so profoundly comforting to me, even now tears come just to think of it.

Some years later, my sister was birthing her first child at home and I was there to assist her. I’d taken a special class on massage for birthing mothers, but once my sister’s labour had started she couldn’t stand for anyone to get near her, much less touch her. All she did was scream and scream and there was nothing we could do. Then, I remembered what Barry had showed me. I sat down next to her on the floor. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t look at her. I didn’t touch her. I just sat there with her while she suffered through her labour pains, neither trying to help nor turning away. I don’t know how long we sat together like that, but later, after her son was born, she told me how profoundly comforting it had been for her, how my just sitting there had somehow allowed her to relax and feel less afraid.

Now Kondanna has died, but what he taught is still moving through those of us who had learned from him. Now when I see my sister quietly holding her son after a bad dream, neither trying to help nor turning away, and I then see the comfort he feels as his little body starts to settle and relax, then I see Kondanna’s work alive.”

That’s a wonderful account and a very fine expression of the principle of compassion in action. When we are trying to work compassionately in our lives, to actualize our noble intentions so that they genuinely bear fruit, that’s extremely helpful advice to take in: ‘Don’t push, just use the weight of your own body.’

This reflection from Ajahn Amaro is from Don’t Push—Just Use the Weight of Your Own Body (Compassion), PP 10-13.