Saturday, 23 April 2016

Embodied Spiritual Beings, Or Merely Meat That Thinks?

Please watch this video before reading this blogspot

“The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business
The body says: I am a fiesta”

Eduardo Galeano from “Walking Words"

The body and our relationship with it are many and varied. So many people live with deep shame about their physical being, their bodies. I know I have at times in my life. It is something I have turned away from, something I have tried to hide from. In recent months this has changed significantly. I am finally addressing and coming to terms with my all too human body and am attempting to make the most of this beautiful vessel that is the home to my being.

The body is something that we don’t really like to talk about. People are often comfortable talking about the mind, their thoughts, and their opinions about things. We are even able to talk about emotions, our feelings, these days. That said so many of us are still uncomfortable talking about the body, the home of our thoughts and feelings. Without the body we have nothing, we have no life.

Now I suspect that one of the reasons we do not talk about the body is that it isn’t so easy. So many of us live in our minds; but we do not experience the body with our minds; we experience the body in much more subtle and perhaps non-verbal ways. To experience the body we need to turn off the brain for a moment, to stop analysing and just be. You see to inhabit the space fully that we find ourselves in, to truly come alive in the moment we have to do so through our bodies, through our senses. We have to embody the moment.

This brings to mind an interesting phrase that I have become more consciously aware of in recent times. The phrase is “embodied spirituality”. Jorge N. Ferrer, professor of religious psychology wrote:

“Embodied spirituality regards the body as subject, as the home of the complete human being, as a source of spiritual insight, as a microcosm of the universe and the Mystery, and as pivotal for enduring spiritual transformation.

The body is not an “It” to be objectified and used for the goals or even spiritual ecstasies of the conscious mind, but a “Thou,” an intimate partner with whom the other human dimensions can collaborate in the pursuit of ever-increasing forms of liberating wisdom.”

For Ferrer the body is the home of the complete human being. It is the physical reality in which we live. It is through the body that we both literally and metaphorically walk our own unique path. The mistake that so many religious understandings have made is that they have seen the body as the prison of the soul. He suggest that the mystery of incarnation never suggested that spirit entered into the body but that the spirit became flesh. This is clearly stated in the following words from the beginning of John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh.” Through our bodies, our lives, the way we live our lives the spirit comes to life. We are here for a reason, life truly means something and it is our task to bring that something to life, through our lives. Through our bodily existence.

Embodied spirituality is about fully inhabiting our lives, our thoughts, our feelings our relationships with ourselves, our lives, each other and the mystery that connects all life. It’s about being fully present in our bodies and lives and therefore fully experiencing our potential and being fully alive. The body is not just a suit that clothes our being. It is through the body that we experience what it is to be fully alive. They say “listen to your body”, sage wisdom indeed. “Sacred the body” is a hymn I love to sing and sacred the body is indeed. I no longer see the body as a separate entity to spirit, it seems to me that it is through the body that spirit comes alive and further through the body that the spirit is fed.

Here are the words to one of my favourite hymn "Sacred the body" by Ruth C. Duck

Sacred the body
God has created,
Temple of spirit that dwells deep inside.
Cherish each person,
Nurture relation,
Treat flesh has holy that love may abide.

Bodies are varied,
Made of all sizes,
Pale, full of colour, both fragile and strong.
Holy the difference,
Gift of the Maker,
So let us honour each story and song.

Love respects persons,
Bodies and boundaries;
Love does not batter, neglect or abuse.
Love touches gently,
Never coercing;
Love leaves the other with power to choose.

Holy of holies,
God ever loving,
Make us your temples; indwell all we do.
May we be careful,
Tender and caring,
So may our bodies give honour to you.

...Sacred the body...

Embodied spirituality views every aspect of our humanity, whether that be body, spirit, heart, mind and consciousness as equal partners in bringing the self, community and world into a fuller alignment with the mystery that brings into being all life, while at the same time connects all life. I suspect it’s a kind of panentheism, that sees all life as being in God and that God is in all life. It sees the full engagement of the body as being vital to spiritual growth and transformation.

Sadly the spiritual and religious traditions have not always recognised the sacredness of the body; they have not always recognised that it is through the body that that the spirit comes to life. In fact they have seen it as quite the opposite. Plato and Aristotle taught that the physical can never be the ideal. That the spirit or soul was better than the real, fleshly body that contains it. The physical, Plato argued, was only an imperfect shadow of the realm of the spirit. Other traditions placed the cultivation of the spirit as something to be nurtured separate from the body. What Ferrer has named as “disembodied spirituality”. Traditions of both the east and the west have seen the denial of the body as a path way to spiritual enlightenment. In Hinduism Brahmanism calls for the denial of bodily comfort in order to transcend Samsara, the continual dying and rebirth of reincarnation. The ultimate aim being to transcend the body entirely. You can see similar traditions in Christianity, Taoism and Sufism.  Buddhist writings have described the body as a source of suffering and that Nirvana could only be reached through the cessation of bodily desires. Many traditions have emphasised the life beyond this physical realm as being more important than this life, thus denigrating our physical being. The flesh has also been seen as the root of human sin. That the body is the source of humanity’s spiritual fall. The classic example is Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden to suffer from bodily pain.

Sadly the body has not been seen as sacred at all. Quite the opposite actually. It has been seen as something of shame, something to escape and transcend. That said it is not only the religious and spiritual traditions that have failed to recognise the sacredness of the body. I began this "blogspot" with the following quotation by Eduardo Galeano:

“The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business
The body says: I am a fiesta”

We live in a secular materialistic age and yet we still struggle with our bodies. How many people have become obsessed with the way they look? How many of us hate our physical being? How many people prey on this too? The body is indeed big business. In many ways we have swapped the worship for the Divine, and for life itself, for the worship of the approval of others especially with regard to our bodies, the way that we look. This does not see the body as sacred, more as a commodity that can be traded on and with. It does not recognise the sacredness of life, both our own and each other’s.

Science also, or should I say bad science, merely sees the body as a machine and not an expression of the Divine manifested in life. It sees the body as meat and it sees humanity as merely meat that thinks. Hence the sharing of that wonderful science fiction story by Terry Bison “Thinking Meat” at the beginning of this "Blogspot". Are we really nothing more than machines or meat that flaps about making noises? Is there really nothing sacred in life? When you look into the eyes of your neighbour do you see no spirit, no soul? Do you really see nothing? I know I don’t.

For me life is a sacred thing. This is why I have come to believe that everything matters. Every thought, every feeling, every word and every deed. Everything that we do do and everything that we do not do really does matter.

It seems to me that to live a full life is to truly inhabit our whole being, body, mind, heart and soul. To do so requires us to truly inhabit our bodies and to fully express our whole being through our bodies. This means we need to learn to be at home in our bodies, to bring our bodies home if you like. You see it is through our bodies that we both give and receive love. It is through our bodies that the word truly becomes flesh and comes alive in our very being. We are so much more than thinking meat. We are the body electric. Our bodies need to touch all aspects of life, while all aspects of life need to be touched gently by our bodies. We need to love life and our very being. Our bodies need not be despised, denied or repressed. Our bodies need to know love and for them to know love we need to allow that love to be expressed by our very being.

For the word to once again become flesh and dwell amongst us, we need to express that love through our very being. "Sacred the Body"!

May we bless life by our very being in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do.

I will end this little "blogspot" with the following poem by Mary Oliver

“The Spirit Likes To Dress Up” by Mary Oliver

"The spirit likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers, ten toes, shoulders, and all the rest,
at night in the black branches,
in the morning in the blue branches of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs the metaphor of the body,
lime and appetite, the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body's world, instinct and imagination,
and the dark hug of time, sweetness and tangibility,
to be understood,
to be more than pure light that burns
where no one is -
so it enters us - in the morning,
shines from brute comfort like a stitch of lightning;
and at night lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body like a star."

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