While the American dream includes the idea that the sky’s the limit, maybe it’s time to celebrate our limitations. The problem is, we would have to accept them first.
The far-ranging mind can take us anywhere in the world, but in the name of health and balance we need to discover the reality of what hems us in. Thus we only know where we are in space by what we see, hear, smell and touch around us. And we only know how we are inside and out when we acknowledge what we are feeling and sensing. Our body/souls are endowed with five or perhaps six senses, and live in an ecosystem that limits us as to what we are or are not able to do.
In our younger days, we have a lot of freedom to move but, as we grow older, what’s happening in our bodies limits our comfort and our reach. At the same time, many desires grow with us, sometimes in opposition to our ideals. There’s a central conflict between the mind, that can wander off anywhere in the world, and our bodies, which live here on earth in real time. Sooner or later we need to tune in to the dissonance that may exist between them.
The fact that we tend to relegate the body to second place can get in the way of the balance we seek. The underlying assumption in our society has been that head and heart move along the road to spiritual development dragging the body behind them. But what’s our actual experience? Personally, I find that when the body comes alive, all it contains comes alive as well. One can discover this in Yoga or Tai Chi class or when we meditate, but it’s also true that any kind of intentional movement offers nourishment for spirit. Even going for a swim or a walk can affect our well-being.
Try it for yourself right now. Wherever you are seated, facing the glassy stare of whatever you are reading this on, turn your attention to your body. First notice how your seat feels on the chair. How do your hands move, doing whatever they are doing? Wiggle your fingers. Bend over forward, then stretch back and up, with your hands reaching high above your head so you become as long as possible. Then get up from your chair like a rising cobra.
Feels good, you may say, but why bother? Attending to the body is the simplest way to unite all three aspects of ourselves — our busy head brain, our reactive emotions, and this instrument of our being-in-the-world. Attentive movement helps thought become livelier, and negative or anxious feelings to quiet down. Scientists now affirm it on every hand. Not long ago pharmacologist Candace Pert revolutionized neuroscience when she discovered the opiate receptor, the cellular binding site for endorphins in the brain. Seeing how neuropeptides work as biochemical mediators of emotion, she wrote, “I can no longer make a strong distinction between the brain and the body.” And Alzheimer experts now affirm that physical movement might just be more important than medication to stave off or slow down that terrible disease.
Speaking of limitations, perhaps what’s most important for our sanity and balance is the fact that the body is blessed with a permanent limitation. While thoughts can soar and emotions can roar, the feet are subject to laws that keep them on the ground. We spend a lot of time complaining about that in our multi-tasking world, but here’s a Great Secret: the experience of the body is limited to the present moment, so attending to it is a royal road to the NOW we look for, in order to become more real. And because the body can do only one thing at a time, it is always inviting us to this very moment we are living through. So immersed are we in our ‘doings’ that we fail to give this faithful companion in the search for presence the attention and respect it deserves.
But there’s another problem: as soon as we try to listen to its messages, we discover that the body speaks a language quite foreign to the mind. What to do? On the one hand, we could throw ourselves on the mercy of the Hungry Ghosts of the mind or, as we get older, on the solutions of allopathic medicine. Alternatively, we could open to a new and mysterious relationship that exists between the ME I think I know, and the body I also don’t know. For clearly, though we can go through life doing what has to be done as if we wholeheartedly approved of our decisions, there is a deep instinctive part of us that makes its own choices and has its own standards. The fact is, we do some things we love and love some things we seldom allow ourselves to do. Only when we commit to a new relationship between the mind and the body can that situation an transform itself. As Marion Woodman wrote in DANCING IN THE FLAMES:
“Without our recognition of the sweetness and sadness, rage and hope, in our bodies, and our honoring of our limitations as human bodies, we have no way of experiencing our compassion for one another.”