Indian Rainbows

Body Language and Buddhism

Why should Buddhist bother themselves with body language? Isn’t that something for professional liars? After all, Salesmen, politicians, and executives receive special training in using and optimizing their body language. Usually to seem stronger and more trustworthy than they really are. And additionally they learn to read our body language which opens them a small window into our mind.

Monitoring our body language they will talk to us until we finally signal consent. Right in this moment they’ll hand us the contract right. And so they get us.

Many will know it, the iceberg principle. Verbal communication is much less important than nonverbal communication. But the nonverbal part remains below the surface, out of conscious control. Usually, only twenty percent of our communication are observed and directed by the consciousness.

And where is the connection to Buddhism? Well firstly, Body language is also part of Right Speech. Without understanding of our own body language it’s just not possible to determine what we are communicating. And it’s of no use trying very hard not say anything offending while giving way to your aggression physically.

Similar to the breath, body language is a bridge to the unconscious. People who meditate regularly on the breath are much less subject to their feelings and thoughts, instead they can often assume the position of a well meaning observer. Feelings and thoughts just move through the head like clouds moving through the sky. They come and they go, without any resistance. Your present mood is always reflected within your breath, your breath will remain with you until you die.

The same holds true for the body. You can be silent. But you cannot not communicate. And while you have very little control over your body language it will tell other people a lot about you. Thus it is so beneficial to scan the body. This way mindfulness not only of the breath but of the full body is trained. An experienced Vipassana meditator has the best prerequisites to consciously perceive and deploy her own body language.

Similar to the breath our the body reflects our mood. When we are scared we contract our shoulder muscles. So the permanent anxious will develop a back pain. When you are are aware of that you can look into our fears and relax consciously. But the hunched shoulders will also be perceived by other people and they might not react compassionately but instead think that you wanted to hide something.

But body language can be also used to influence your own mood as well as the mood of your vis-á-vis. Concentrating on the breath will primarily calm yourself while changing into a more open posture will have positive effects on everyone around you.

With increasing realization, body language will be experienced more and more consciously and all communication will be integrated, the contradictions between concious and unconscious action will be dissolved. But that level is not easily attained, so it is of great benefit to use all means available to speed up the integration.

But of course you are not limited to observe your own body. Compassion is part of the four immeasurables and compassion is a prerequisite for loving action.

When you are not able to put ourselves in the position of our counterpart even well meant actions can be fatal. You offer some champagne to a reformed alcoholic. He hardly manages to decline. You fail to observe his inner fight. Ask again. And he’s no longer reformed. With a mindful watch on his body language that wouldn’t have happened.

By keeping a watch on the body language of your fellow humans you will notice when you are annoying them, when they want help or just be left alone and acting accordingly will make you a much more pleasant person. And sales people, politicians and other professional liars will no longer be able to fool you.

This way a tool of ruthless manipulation transforms into valuable Buddadharma. The desire to understand humans unites Buddhists and commerce. And recently, a lot of valuable tools to improve communication with fellow humans have been developed in the business community.

The crucial difference is the motivation. A Buddhist will try to develop her virtues and work to reduce bad feelings and behaviours in order to improve her live and that of all other sentient beings. And since suffering only exists in our head a Buddhist will focus on improving the mind not the external conditions.

That is contrary to the western or modern impulse to strife to optimize quantifiable variables like GDP, life expectancy or more likely, personal income. But this way knowledge is only indirectly used to increase personal or humanity’s happiness and mainly serves an apparatus that exploits our ignorance in order to tie up our resources and attention. On the other hand these techniques might as well work as a trojan horse. People who understand themselves better improve their capability to identify their proper interests and be less and less a subject of manipulation.

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