Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen. —Teilhard de Chardin
All that we have and are is right here in the body. Think of it this way: my fingers are tapping these very words into the computer as my brain formulates them. And you are almost certainly sitting in a chair as you read them, butt softly cradled (unless the chair is hard), feet pressing into the floor, and hands probably grasping an electronic device as your eyes follow my words.
So why don’t we acknowledge the importance of the body at every moment of living? Maybe you were brought up, as I was, in a world that valued the mind above all else. It was brainpower and the will to accomplish that identified us as civilized human beings. The body was pretty far down the list in importance – an entity to be fed and exercised, and from time to time let out to play. Inevitably I was encouraged to oppose its desires because they usually interfered with what my mind wanted or “ought” to want.
What’s more, even those who were brought up with an attitude more open to the body than mine can easily forget how much we depend on it. Some treat it like a donkey – pushing it to the utmost and beating it when it comes to a stop, or handing out an occasional carrot for good behavior. Others look on it with fear, disdain or downright disrespect. One of my seriously esoteric friends, who had spent much of her life working to arrive at what she called higher spiritual levels, advised me to “treat the body like a wound.” What kind of relationship is that?
Happily, somewhere along the line I had the sense to go beyond the mind and ask myself, “Where does the rest of me live and move and have its being?” That awakened a series of queries. If all of our parts are here to serve us and whatever we serve, what’s my responsibility to my Body Being? And isn’t the head brain also an instrument of that which is Lord in each of us, in spite of the fact that it tries to assume command all day long? It even claims to be single, yet my physical and emotional states are always changing, and my thoughts and perceptions change with them. Only when there’s a quiet interior space that allows my inner busyness to slow down for a moment, do I become aware of these swift shifts in mind and moods. And that quiet space lives in my body.
You could say that we are moving entities who look at ourselves in a static way. In any case, I’ve recently come to celebrate what used to annoy me, and I invite you to celebrate it too. The body is blessed with a permanent limitation. We may not think of it as a blessing, but our feet are subject to laws that keep them on the ground. So while thoughts can soar with the birds and emotions can roar with the lions, our feet faithfully walk us everywhere we want to go (within reason), and our hands cook dinner or build a house or accomplish any number of feats the mind proposes. But almost always by doing only one thing at a time.
“Only one thing at a time when I have so much to do!” I cry. At this point my sense of urgency to get things done has taken over, and I am feeling frustrated. Nevertheless, I’m aware that wiser people than this rebel-without-a-cause in me have said that frustration results in tension. Which offers me two choices: give in to that antsy push-me-pull-me force of impatience, or sit down inside myself and be quiet. Then another energy intercedes. My irritability settles down into listening to the body.
By giving my body the attention and respect it deserves, I’ve discovered I can count on it to do its best. The body is always true to itself in its responses (which is more than I can say of the head brain. It knows what it likes and doesn’t like, which isn’t always the case with the rest of me. So when I clarify our relation as an equal partnership in this game of life, it will usually accept to serve my clear intentions. However, not my muddy thinking!
One key to living in better relationship with the body is accepting how much it longs to move. Why do I hold it back all the time! Long-term studies of the Gurdjieff sacred dances, Tai Chi, qigong and the Alexander Technique, have taught me that this body, with its limitations and its built-in honesty, needs its own sacred space. Maybe you too grew up in a society that believes that soul is one thing and body quite another. But think how from earliest times it has been the human response to the rising of the sun as well as to many of the milestones of life that call for hallowing. Whether to propitiate or thank the gods, to ward off evil or cry out with joy, whenever there is a need to express deep, non-verbal feeling, sacred movement begins.
So what makes a movement sacred? Surely it’s not the thinking about it that makes it prayerful, but the degree of commitment. A wish rises in me, which leads to an intention, and the body responds. The head may say yes or no, but unless more of me is engaged, I’m stuck in my usual pathways. Each time I feel a deep need to communicate with something larger than my usual state, I move into sacred space.
This movement can be performed at many levels, from that of the learner to that of the initiate. Attitude will have a major influence on the depth of the experience, but all who act sincerely in the drama receive something for their effort. For example, in the Christian ceremony of washing the feet of the poor, it’s easy to imagine that some people might do it full of a sense of superiority (“Thank God that I am not as these poor souls”), while others might deeply desire to serve in spite of their innate distaste for such a task. Probably only a few of us are capable of washing a beggar’s feet while truly aware that this is my brother or sister in every way but the luck of the draw. Yet Christ’s powerful words in Matthew still resonate in me: “Whatsoever ye have done unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
What’s more, anchoring oneself in the body has always been as important to living a rich and zestful life as it is to engaging in prayer and meditation. By seeking a conscious sensation of our physical parts – aware of the rise and fall of the chest as we breathe, or fixing the attention on one member (seat of the pants on the chair, feet on the floor, hands engaged in doing something) – we connect our inner presence directly to our vehicle and the energies that are continually coursing through it. That’s the secret! Because whenever I do that, I open to the energy of the forces of Nature, and our Mother the earth.
Since every body longs to move, to express the feelings that rise up from its depths, from time to time why not unleash ourselves from the Thinker in us and listen to how our thousands-of-years-old body wants to move. Then we could bow to its instinctive wisdom, and let go into life!