In his book Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings, Stephen Levine talks of having a soft belly in order to feel from the heart:
“We are conditioned to suffer. The society of the hard-bellied and deeply pained conforms to this lowest denominator. We wander hard and lost through our lives until we awaken with a deep sigh of letting go and soften to the path of mercy.
“When growth has become the priority, soft belly becomes the context for our letting go. Observing the relative openness or closedness of the belly gives insight into when and how we are holding to our pain. When the belly is hard there is holding. Some degree of fighting or posturing is resisting and hardening to the moment, attempting to control. You may have to come back to soft belly dozens of times an hour.
The belly is an extraordinary diagnostic instrument. It displays the amoring of the heart as a tension in the belly. The deeper our relationship to the belly, the sooner we discover if we are holding in the mind or opening into the heart. Trying tightens the belly. Trying stimulates judgement. hard belly is often judging belly. Even trying to understand what is being said now, the belly may tighten.
“Don’t try to understand. Enter the process. In soft belly simply allow understanding to arise, all by itself, from your true nature.
“Beyond the mind is everything you long, in the mind, to know. But the great irony of the spiritual search is that what we are looking for is what is looking.
“It is difficult to see that which sees, but not impossible. It takes some work to let go of old ways of seeing. Softening the belly is a beginning.
“Indeed we are programmed to hold to our pain, to turn it to suffering. We are taught to harden the belly, to hide its fullness, its roundness, its spaciousness. Women in particular are programmed to be “attractive”. Encouraged to wear undergarments that compress the belly and decrease the sense of spaciousness. Men, too, can often be noticed “holding in the belly” to be acceptable. Implored to be hard-bellied by a culture which confuses hardness with beauty. It is a dangerous way to live if one wishes to be fully alive.
“The more ones thinks that he or she is the body, the tighter the belly will be at times. There are so many levels of letting go into the enormity of being, but when there is a holding in of the belly the heart is not so available.
“Ondrea and I have been doing this practice for years. And still we notice again and again that the belly needs to be reminded that it has unconsciously tightened to that which we wish to remain unconscious of. So you inhale down into the belly, And you exhale out past the heart. And the belly softens and you find room in your body for healing, for being, for liberation. The softer the belly, the greater the capacity to stay present and awake during the dense dream of heavy mental states. Soft belly encourages investigation of the body-patterning that accompanies such states. It allow exploration without getting drawn into their familiar, seductive thought-patterns. We cannot over-estimate the importance of softening …
“… Now, deepen soft belly to make room in your life for you life.”