Let us consider what the Buddha meant by Right Samadhi, the seventh factor of the eightfold path. There are two kinds of jhana 'mundane' or ‘supramundane'. Supramundane jhana has a ‘knowingness’ to it, this is the meditation that leads one to directly to enlightenment. All four supramundane jhanas are clearly described as bodily experiences. The mind contemplating the body, calming the mind while examining the real, material body, arrives at different levels of detachment in which the pure mind emerges, the body does not disappear. The process of detachment is a blissful one; this is the joy and rapture of the supramundane jhana.
So the pleasure of supramundane jhana is not merely the enjoyment of physical feeling but the enjoyment of release. This is important, this means that supramundane jhana does not go in the same direction as the pleasures of the senses, it is not merely refined sense pleasure, it goes in the opposite direction and is closely related to the practices of celibacy (brahmacari) and body contemplation.
This contrasts with mundane jhana, the experience where the body disappears. Certain psychic abilities or visions can be associated with these states. The mundane states represent a refined source of sense pleasure. Mundane jhana can be converted to supramundane through meditation on the body.
Meditation on the body
The practical advice we come out with is simple, to take the body into our concentration with us as much as possible by strengthening our awareness of it in the sitting posture; also by alternating sitting and walking practices, in traditional Thai style.
In terms of theory: the body has two existences, one in the mind and one in the world. The root of suffering lies precisely in this duality of existence. Letting go of attachment to the physical body is the only way to overcome it.
The practice is to enhance the image of the body in the mind in order to let go of, or rather to chill out of, the material, physical body. A mental image is formed which is free of the material elements, only feeling remains. This is a unified, non-dual experience of life, everything we experience is now in the mind. So it is the solidity of the body that divides us from Union.
Letting go of is achieved through wise attention. The body is seen as in the mind rather than the mind in the body. The body image comes into the mind it is not created by it, it is not imagined. This is not 'getting into our body' or trying to get out of it - we get stuck either way - but letting go of our attachment to it. Note also that the mind enters the physical body through the force of either desire or rejection (so suicide is no escape).
Wise attention is bare attention of the body not a view, opinion or evaluation. Holding to any view will ultimately fail to capture the truth. In particular it will become unbalanced with respect to wisdom and compassion. Truly neutral attention to the reality of the body will generate these two qualities in perfect balance.
Also notice that this teaching is not anti-feeling. The pursuit of sensuality is not skilful because it creates attachment to the body not because there is something wrong with the pursuit of pleasure. The ultimate in pleasant feeling is the feeling of the mind detaching from the body, its ecstasy!
Creative reflection on the body
We can also usefully reflect on the body to help us to see it in a skilful way. When we are meditating on the body, where we are staying with the realities of our own body, going deeper and deeper into that experience, beginning the same over and over. This can be very calming or very boring depending on our character and our meditative ability. In contrast reflection on the body can be very creative, fun, and yet it can still help us to develop a more fluid perception of the body.
As we begin our reflection we can realise that our perceptions of the human body are capricious and unstable. This is reflected in our depictions of it. In the modern age these images have proliferated into every medium and context - embellished, powdered, painted, magnified, and denigrated even mutilated. Distorted or accurately represented.
In some cases an artist or sculptor is trying to add a depiction of the mind to that of the body. Or to depict the subjective experience of the body rather than the objective form. The depiction of mind and body in the same image like this has a kind of truth to it. The contents of our minds are I a very deep way, shaped by the body, they are the result of the mind and body holding each other - how it is held determining the inner form in a sense.
On one hand when the body or person is seen as a mere object of sensual desire the pleasure of the form can be a projection of the mind into past or future feeling; the form is designed to generate this kind of feeling, it is provocative. Then on the other hand we can also see in art the depiction of thought in one way or another. There can be the desire to harmonize the material world in all its complexity with pure forms distilled by the mind, every form containing the idea of a perfect model. As a thinker who draws on a personal vision to perpetuate a fixed model that seeks to reconcile the organic with the geometric. In this way images of the body can become stylized and symbolic. Or in scientific thought we define the average man not the ideal and types of man. On the contrary, disavowing the norm or the ideal or recognizing the suffering of the body opens the way to caricature, the grotesque or monstrous.
So the body in these ways can be a depiction of thought, individual or collectively reflecting a societal norm. When we enjoy or criticize the body we implicitly accept the ideals, thoughts or feelings without question.
Or the body may be inscribed within a world of a mystical, perfected reality, as an embodiment of the soul, the mind or heart in a sense now dominant or even transcendent. This can be to escape the power of the body to push the mind around altogether, to find freedom for the mind from being conditioned by the body.
Reflecting on all these different kinds of images can help us to understand how fluid the outer body image can be. We can also learn to picture the subjective experience of our body and realise how our inner body image changes in relation to outer form. We can find that we can even have more than one image inside, one that is a picture, one a feeling or formed by feeling. We can see what it is like to bring these images together - bringing a clear image together with the felt image can actually become a well-spring of deep empathy. In this way we get get in touch with very deep and powerful forces in the mind that we may already recognise but do not fully understand or have any influence over. We can think it inevitable that certain depictions of the body will have an effect, whether we like it or not, and yet this is not the case. Through mindfulness we can gain control over our perceptions and look to take them in whatever direction we wish. We can even choose to paint a picture or make a sculpture ourselves to share our perception.
The sculpture of Anthony Gormley is very interesting in this respect from a spiritual point of view. He is a long-term practitioner of vippasana meditation, paying particular attention to the body. We can see how his depictions of the body have changed over his career from being very solid to the point of looking rather stiff or rigid to being light and ethereal, like some kind of glorious energy field. Such is the potential for transforming how our body appears to us and consequently how it feels.