When you hear the word “body,” what comes to mind? When you think about your body, what types of thoughts, feelings or emotions come up?
When you hear the word “soul” or “spirit,” what do you think of? When you contemplate the thought of your own spirit, what kinds of feelings or even visuals arise?
Maybe these words bring up nothing polarizing for you. Or maybe they do.
I pose these questions because many of us may have been taught that the body and the spirit are separate, and that the spirit is regarded as higher, better, purer than the body. If you grew up in a religious context (I can only speak for my Christian upbringing, however), it may have been suggested to you that not only is the body less in value than the spirit, but that it is inherently bad or dirty. If you didn’t grow up subscribing to any specific religion, maybe you envision your spirit as something like your “Highest Self,” but I might argue that this again implies a hierarchy of value, or even offers a visual of transcendent escape from the physical.
Many of us – women in particular – regardless of spiritual or religious upbringing, have complicated relationships with our bodies. Body image is not a topic I will delve into at this time, but what I will say is that we simply cannot go through life either ignoring or shaming the physical when it is what we live in and through every day. Doing this is truly a disservice as the body is more than just the encasing of our spirit; it is more than a shell. The spirit is sacred but the body is surely holy. It has innate wisdom as it carries with it the experiences of the deep past; it is sacred, intelligent and speaks its own ancient language. It is the vessel through which emotion is expressed and literal human life is birthed. I believe the body is the channel through which the spiritual flows. So what if we thought about the spirit and the body not as separate, but as intricately intertwined – not deeming one as better than the other, just as two different but equal forms?
Many of these thoughts and insights I’m expressing stem from my readings of “The Universal Christ” by Richard Rohr, and “Wild Mercy” by Mirabai Starr. “Wild Mercy” beautifully honors women mystics throughout history, and celebrates the physical expression of the feminine, arguing that embodiment itself is inherently feminine. Starr describes embracing female presence as this:
“Instead of engaging spiritual practice as a contraption to catapult us up and out of this relative world, the feminine mystic shows up right here, in the center of the incarnational experience. We bless the messy wonder of it all, the experience of being human…to us the body is sacred.”
What Starr is suggesting is that the way of the feminine is to embrace and experience the spiritual through the body. This is the definition of embodiment: to put form to something formless. So if embodiment of divinity is almost inherently feminine, and we actively shame the body every day, what kind of message does this send to those that identify as women or to any expression of femininity? It says that we are lesser or lowly, bad or dirty, and unworthy of higher Divine encounter. Surely this belief, whether it be conscious or unconscious, contributes to sexism and disempowerment of the female.
Clear evidence of shaming the female body is seen in the stigmas that surround women and their menstrual cycles. We could view this natural process as a sign that the body is connected to nature as it emulates the cycle of the seasons, and even sheds blood: a physical, sacrificial symbol of giving (an idea posed in Richard Rohr’s, “The Universal Christ”). And what is more sacred than that? But yet, women throughout history and culture have been shamed for their natural, holy and life-bearing bodies. The feminine is tied to the earth – the earth is feminine; it is mother. And our complete disrespect for the holiness of the physical is again exemplified in the current state of our earth. We’ve plundered and stripped her of her nutrients, killed her offspring and set fire to her lungs. We even see this displayed on a micro-scale by the epidemic of inflammation that wreaks havoc on most of all our bodies today – causing disease and nothing that even remotely resembles breathing, thriving, energetic life in the way it was meant to be.
To heal, we must reframe the way we think about our bodies. We must treat the physical as sacred. We must see it as morphed hand and hand with the spirit. Reading both of the books mentioned above by Rohr and Starr have helped me to reframe my view of my own body immensely. A phrase that struck me in “Wild Mercy” was this: “The way of the feminine is about neither repressing nor indulging…It’s more about celebrating the holy sweetness of the body: sex, food, exercise, rest.”
Couldn’t we all use more celebrating of the body?
Sex, in its original purpose, is the embodiment of, and connection to, the spiritual. And yet, we shame it. Misuse it. Use it for power and abuse…
Food, movement and rest are all gifts. And yet we find ways to attach guilt to rest, alter our food to the point that its particles no longer resemble the original, move our bodies in a way in which we blatantly disregard the miracle of movement with every step – working out only to achieve some physical aesthetic.
Now I don’t mean to shame the desire for physical beauty with this statement. In fact, beauty is something to be embraced. Richard Rohr in “The Universal Christ” claims that, “The first incarnation (creation) is symbolized by Sophia Incarnate, a beautiful, feminine, multi-colored, graceful Mary.”
So what if we saw our desire for physical beauty or pleasing aesthetics as not something to be shamed or demonized, but rather, as a call and a connection to innate purpose of feminine being, of feminine embodiment. But this beauty is deeper than fleeting societal definitions of beauty. This lens of beauty says, “I am presence in flesh, I am awareness in detail of the physical, I am a vessel through which life is birthed.” And might I add, that being a source of life does not always have to mean becoming a mother or birthing a child, (although this, yes, is a profound gift that women provide the earth) but it can also mean the life you bring into a room, into each moment, into any moment you share presence with. Because embodying the feminine expands beyond sex or gender. We all hold an intermingling of the masculine and feminine, and beyond, in us.
With that said, many of those who identify as women throughout time have gracefully embodied the feminine that resides within. Richard Rohr in “The Universal Christ” says, “Presence is always reciprocal, or it is not presence at all.” He then describes Mary as the ultimate archetype for the great “Yes” to be present with Spirit. She accepts, she is open, she is willing. Spirit is always willing, waiting to be present with us, and when we decide to embrace that by embracing our physical, feminine being, allowing matter and spirit to hold hands, we create real and deep presence. Rohr further describes Mary as “the archetype of how to receive what God is doing and hand it on to others.” A conduit of life, I might posit. A thread in the human Flow. She is an example of receiving the physical form of one Love, one Spirit, in her body, to then give out to the world.
Listen, the world needs examples, physical embodied examples of giving and then receiving, receiving and then giving: constant emptying and filling, to then outflow again. You must empty to be filled, and then fill so that you can empty. These actions in the physical, tied to the spiritual, are what will heal the earth – its physical self and the souls of its children.
What if we brought this physical presence, this body awareness into our everyday actions: when we ate, when we showed up to work, in the way we took care of our bodies? This is why it’s so important to nurture our bodies – to treat and honor them as sacred and holy. Because they are temples, vessels through which the Divine has deep healing work to do.
This might just start with honoring and embracing the body as something as sacred, something to be loved because it is meant to be used as the physical expression of Love. What if we viewed our bodies and our beings as something with a Divine mission that is of the utmost importance? Because what would happen if we brought presence to every moment of our days, to our interactions with the earth and humans and every part of creation? If we said, “yes” to the Presence that is already there, staring longingly at us to enter into awareness with it. If only if only if only we stepped outside of the disconnected linearity of our minds, for just a moment, we’d learn to keep seeing the wondrous, physical beauty that surrounds us and the innate goodness that occupies it. Just wonder.
I know even as I write this that my words might be birthed from the mind, but writing them down feels like I’m giving them a body. When I write an essay, it feels like the embodiment of the thoughts of my mind. They become something tangible, capable of existing in the universe.
Words are powerful, surely they hold magic, but I challenge you today to live out through your body – your tool of showing up. I often live in my own mind, forgetting to show up physically, in the present. Connect with your body today. You might consider this through meditation and breathing, which are so life-giving and restorative as both of these practices ask you to be aware of your existence in space. Breath itself is a sacred and connective act with Spirit. You feel the Presence flowing through you. Embrace the mystery and the wonder of the inexplicable. Embody it. And thank your body for being the beautiful instrument crafted to express it all.
So, I pose the question again: when you think of your body, what comes to mind?
Lastly, I’d like to share some “nontechnical” poetry entries of mine that relate to the body….
But my body is like the ocean.
It ebbs and flows,
expands and shrinks,
fills and empties.
Some days, it’s harsh and powerful.
Other days, it’s soft, quiet, still.
Its matter changes with the seasons and with the years.
It gets polluted and then heals.
This goes for my spirit, mind, actions and intentions too.
It’s all a cycle, or maybe even less structured than that –
It is non-linear though, that I know for sure.
And what if I just went with the wave I’m in,
surfed it instead of resisting it?
Always accepting and being content with the process that is Arriving.
What if I saw beauty in the aging? What if I even saw humor in it? What if I saw the changes in my body as reflections, metaphors even, of wisdom, of experience, of heartache and hard work?
And what if I thanked my body for everything it’s done and everything it’s held – for everything it’s felt? What if I thanked it for carrying me through my past, into my present and yet into my future? And most of all, what if I thanked it for carrying my soul, and all the particles that are made out of “star stuff” and love and therefore, the Divine.