Many people who focus on the spiritual aspect of life say we are not our bodies, that our bodies are merely the vehicles for soul/spirit, that the true self is something deeper or transcendent to our physical form.
As I age this notion becomes both more appealing and less convincing.
Human beings are many things- spiritual, sexual, mental, emotional- but no matter what else we are (or may someday be) to be human is to be physical. This is not materialist reductionism. I am not saying that we are only bodies, but that being human always includes being/having a human body. Human beings are embodied souls of a particular kind, capable of a certain level of apperception (awareness of being aware) and self-consciousness that other animals may or may not have.
As someone who has had a chronic illness for years, you’d think I would know my body pretty well. But the truth is that I’ve always been able to put my attention and awareness elsewhere- out of my body. (And yes, this may in fact have contributed to being ill- although, like most things, it is not simple.) This ability to “leave my body” came in handy when participating in shamanic ceremonies and surviving painful experiences.
But human experience happens in a human body. So lately, I’ve been doing my yoga, walking and other exercise not to tune up the vehicle but to increase my in-the-body awareness. At the end of a recent yoga class, lying on a bolster with my supported back arched, chest open and my arms spread wide I felt an ache that was not about structural muscles. I felt my heart ache, and I heard an inner voice say,
“The heart hungers for life lived in the body.”
Then, just as I’d discover a new level of willingness to welcome the gift of this human experience, I find out three things about this body-self that no one has ever mentioned to me in over fifty years of doctor, dentist and ophthalmology appointments: I am missing a tooth (apparently it’s congenital- one of my teeth was never there;) my heart has what’s called a “floppy valve,” so often there is a bit of an uneven or extra beat- an arrhythmia (nothing to worry about but news to me;) and lastly, the weak vision in my left eye is due to a “computer problem,” communication between my optic nerve and my brain is faulty.
So here I am: floppy heart valve, missing tooth and almost blind in one eye from a brain problem. I sound like an old dog that may need to be put down! And, ironically, all this new self-knowledge comes just as I become truly aware of the need to be more fully in my body. This body. The only one I have/am. The one with an iffy immune system, floppy valve, missing tooth and a “computer problem”- not to mention grey hair, thickening waist, and sagging jaw line.
Some would say that the body you have/are is the “perfect” body for learning all you came into a human life to learn. I’m cautious about making virtue out of necessity, but they may be right. In any case, this simply is the body/human life I am/have to work with. And I do have faith that nothing in any of these ever-changing physical conditions interferes with the opportunity to become all of who I am and participate fully in the world – although of course it might affect some of the available choices. (I think the eye thing might interfere with becoming an airline pilot or brain surgeon but I’m okay with that.)
In fact, what I am learning is that there is a whole level of spiritual awareness that is only accessible in and through the body. Life is a gift, an opportunity to become an embodied aspect of the Great Mystery in an individuated form. Refusing or neglecting to bring awareness deeply into the body- aside from all the problems it creates psychologically and physically- amounts to refusing the gift of a human life. We simply cannot be fully present to this moment of life without being fully in our bodies.
If you want to be in the now you have to be here, and here for a human being is a human body.
Oriah (c) 2010 www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com
About Oriah Mountain Dreamer:
Oriah is the author of the international best-selling books: The Invitation, and The Dance, and The Call (published by HarperONE, translated into eighteen languages.) Her much loved poem “The Invitation” has been shared around the world. Trained in a shamanic tradition, her medicine name Mountain Dreamer means one who likes to find and push the edge. Using story, poetry and shamanic ceremony Oriah’s deeply personal writing and her work as a group facilitator and mentor explore how to follow the thread of our heart’s longing into a life where we can choose joy without denying the challenges of a human life. www.oriah.org www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com https://www.facebook.com/Oriah.Mountain.Dreamer?sk=wall
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