If nothing is permanent then why bother taking care of our bodies?
As we discussed in our post on Impermanence and When it Comes to Old Age, Sickness and Death, an understanding of not-self is essential to finding inner peace. This means we must realize that our body is not really ours, we just think and presume it is. If you try to find a real, substantial self within it, you can’t. Our bodies are merely elements which are born, continue for a while and then die. Everything is like this.
Our bodies are like a cup. It’s a tool for us to use but at some time that cup will chip and eventually must break. However, while we have the cup, we should use it and look after it. So even though the cup, like our bodies, will eventually break, we should try our best to preserve it and take good care of it.
That means we should look after our bodies by providing adequate clothing, food, shelter, sleep and medicine. We should consume healthy, nutritious food in moderation, exercise, properly groom ourselves, and address any medical issues. As long as you live, you must depend on these main supports. However, we should seek to understand them so that we do not cling to them because this will give rise to craving in your mind.
How much sleep should we get?
As to adequate sleep, we should avoid the extremes of too much and too little. We should carefully watch our mind and body and keep track of sleep until we determine the optimum amount. The right amount of sleep is different for each person. If we try to function with too little sleep, then the body will feel uncomfortable and mindfulness will be difficult to sustain. If we try to function with too much sleep, we become dull or will have a restless mind.
Sometimes our bedtimes will vary but we should try to go to bed at the same time each night. Although our bedtimes will occasionally vary, we should still aim to get all of our sleep in one stretch. As soon as you wake up, get up immediately and don’t go back to sleep.
The goal is to find a natural balance for yourself. For some it may be four hours a night, while for others it may be 8. You should aim to establish mindfulness as soon as our eyes open. If we wake up and then roll back over for indulgent extra rest, then this is a defilement and should be avoided.
How do we overcome sleepiness or drowsiness?
If you find yourself sleepy during the day, there are several methods to overcome this. To start, if you are in a dark place, move to a well lighted location. Try getting up and washing your face or take a bath/shower. You can also try changing postures positions, go for a brisk walk or any other type of exercise.
You can even try walking backwards as the fear of running into things will wake you up. If nothing else works, then just go to sleep, but make sure you get right up when you awaken. As your Buddhism practice grows, you should naturally feel more energetic and eat less.
What kind of diet should a Buddhist have?
As to food, it is the same as sleep in that we must know ourselves to determine the right amount to eat. Food should be looked at as medicine and consumed to meet bodily needs. While eating, tell yourself, “I’m eating this food, not with craving, but as medicine, to sustain my body for a day and a night, only in order that I can continue my practice.”
If you are eating so much that you are getting fatter every day and only feel sleepy after the meal, then stop! There is no need to fast or start yourself. Rather, experiment with the amount of food you take until you find the natural balance for your body.
While you’re eating, watch yourself and your mind carefully. Be aware: you chew and swallow. Learn to identify what foods agree with you and what foods don’t. If you are having problems with overeating, try putting all your food together in one bowl so you can easily judge the amount you eat.
An additional technique to prevent overeating involves stopping five mouthful before you’re full and drinking some water until you feel just right. When we are full and still take another few bites, we are indulging in craving and defilement. If we genuinely wish to train our minds, we must kept track of our minds at all times, even while eating.
As is the core of Buddhism, you must endure and train yourself to go against the grain of your defilements – in the context of the bodily supports, this means we must look after our impermanent bodies by providing it adequate rest, food, medicine and shelter.