Friday, February 3, 2012

Mind over and under Matter

I feel sad anytime I hear people say their bodies are just packing material for their souls. I even say it sometimes, but it's quite unfair. Of course I see why, in our minds, body is separate from soul. If you've ever watched someone pass away, it's clear that something leaves the body. Also the soul is eternal while life in a body is alarmingly short. However, in the same way that when the rider mounts the horse they become more than a sum of their parts, so too is the body a living, corporeal soul that shifts, changes, grows, gives birth, settles, and wrinkles before all is said and done. The body is no less valid than the part of us that's ethereal, yes? I say yes.

In many spiritual traditions there are practices in which the body is defied, at least for a little while. I'm thinking about wearing sack cloths and ashes, hair shirts, walking barefoot on white-hot coals, lying down on beds of nails, that sort of thing. These practices are meant to strengthen the supremacy of soul over body. Less dramatic practices include fasting, sitting zazen all day long, celebacy. Even yoga, which was originally practiced so that the people could sit for long periods of time in meditation without the distraction of pain, is a way of defying the the needs of our miraculous bodies.

In secular American culture, the practice of fleshy mortification is ongoing in many ways. There can be no doubt anorexia is a contemporary form. Super extreme diets, in particular veganism, mirror the medieval value that the body is loathesome, that our basic needs as a species should be ignored for some higher purpose. Veganism is a diet that no indigenous culture has ever practiced unless there was nothing else to eat. Our nervous systems need B12 to thrive. Before supplements, there was no other way to get this vitamin except by eating animal based foods such as butter, yogurt, eggs and meat. Veganism is an elitist diet of entitlement. I am so against it!

Less extreme examples include the common practice of carrying on as if nothing is wrong while suffering from small ailments like colds and the flu. When we ignore symptoms and thereby refuse to provide our miracle bodies with the warmth and rest that they clearly need, we're saying in effect that our bodies don't deserve to be cared for. Even the fact that there is such a thing as size zero reflects a yearning to identify with the quicksilver nature of the soul over the reality of bones, blood and flesh.

Eating junk food, drinking too much, sitting around on the couch all day is another version of the mortification of the flesh. It's through the looking glass compared to the practices of denial, but is just as disrespectful.

Look at any physically healthy person, someone whose hair and eyes shine, whose skin glows, who moves gracefully through the world, and tell me that the body doesn't matter. It really does matter! Good health exalts the embodied soul. I wish we could let go of the old medieval values so as to celebrate and honor our bodies. I really do.



jeanette from everton terrace said...

I often say my body is just the outside of where I really live. Time to rethink that one...
I do remember when I was a size zero and I could, and did, eat whatever I wanted all the time (and never exercised) - not so anymore.

ellen abbott said...

a friend of mine refers to her body as a 'meat suit'. but you are right. how can the soul thrive in a body that is not cared for?

E said...

I love what you say about mind and body being integral soul matter. On your statement, "even yoga...," though, I beg to differ. I recognize that some yoga schools teach that the only real point of the postures is to enable sitting meditation. Some scholarship shows that hatha yoga (which encompasses all of the physical postures and the breathing practices) originated in nondual tantric texts, which teach us (roughly speaking) that every aspect of our embodiment is part of the divine whole. There is also some modern scholarship that suggests that what we Westerners (even via the 20th century Indian masters) think of as modern postural yoga is actually an integration of Western gymnastics and calisthenics (think of the Greek's notion of health as sound body, sound mind) into the yoga paradigm. The style of yoga that I practice and teach -- Anusara -- is based on a celebration of body, mind, and spirit as an integral whole. Yes, meditation is an essential component of a yoga practice that will help us recognize our full spirit, including our bodies, but sitting meditation is not privileged over the more active physical practices.

Looking forward to getting some body nurturing from you later.
Peace and light,

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks Elizabeth!

Reya Mellicker said...

I didn't mention harsh cleanses. It takes so many forms!