I grew up with the mentality that my body, my senses, anything of pleasure, were secondary to the things of my spirit and soul. The idea of embodiment, of celebrating and honouring the physicality, sexuality and humanity of my person was foreign to me. However, within the last couple of years, this has become a topic of great interest, for a few reasons.
Firstly, I have seen and experienced the ways in which being disconnected from the body can be destructive and disorienting. I am someone who lives, majority of the time, in my head. Often feeling, thinking and overthinking every little detail of my life. Though, most of the time, I am thankful for how I’m wired (I am a 4w5 for those fellow Enneagram nerds), I have learnt that for my mental health and well-being, connecting myself to my body and actually living an embodied life (how else are we supposed to live anyway?) has saved me more than once.
I also believe in an incarnational spirituality and theology. Dualism was very much a part of my upbringing. Though, I think in some ways my own personality found comfort in putting things into clear black and white boxes too. It somehow felt “cleaner” and less “out of control”. And yet, I follow a spiritual tradition that believes in an embodied, incarnational way of life.
After a rather life shaking experience I encountered last fall with my own mental health, and more recently with some closest to me, I was confronted with this idea of embodiment in a new way. It’s only now I am able to see that darker time as an invitation to shift some paradigms, and live more fully into the skin I’ve been given.
In an interview with Krista Tippet, Parker Palmer speaks a bit about his own boughts with depression, “I take embodiment very seriously, and depression of course is a full body experience, it is immersion. It’s an invitation to take our embodied selves a lot more seriously.”
Whether it be physical illness, mental, emotional or spiritual, we cannot ignore the fact that all of these things are interconnected. Our bodies and our soul are married in a sense. One cannot exist without the other. And sadly, it is more often the suffering in our lives that acts as a reminder to us; that our bodies are full of goodness and beauty, and are meant for wholeness.
I have been asking myself lately, what does it look like to embody the transcendent in my life? What does that look like for you? I often think we need practices to help us connect these aspects of ourselves, and questions like this can be a start.
Meditation and mindfulness have been crucial for me in connecting to my body and welcoming the day I’m beginning. Sitting outside on my patio in the morning, sipping my coffee and becoming aware of my skin, the body I am sitting in, from my head to my toes, I attempt to practice gratitude for this body I’m given. The house in which all things of my life is stored.
I try to become aware of the sounds around me, the tastes and the smells that bring me into the reality of that moment. And as I move out into my day, offering my whole self to my interactions, conversations, and my silences, I begin to feel a oneness with my flesh and spirit. It’s a slower rhythm and pace, but it’s slowness that helps us wake up a little, I think.
I remember years ago, I was going through somewhat of a spiritual crisis, and the ways in which I had connected with God weren’t necessarily opening me up in the same way. My Psychology Professor at the time wisely advised me to do something that I simply wanted to do, to try doing something tangible. For me it was baking. Running and exercise have always been helpful practices for me, but there was something about baking that opened me up again to the goodness of the created world, to a goodness that had to create such a playful and delicious thing. Most recently that practice became crocheting. The repetitive movements of my hands, and almost mindless motion of creating has become a meditative practice of learning to be completely present.
What helps you connect to your body? Do you feel like you have an embodied spirituality?
Maybe start with paying attention to when and where you feel disembodied and when you have felt that sense of embodiment.
I will leave you with one of my favourite poems. May you find a sense of home and wonder within your body while in this world.
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I have collaborated with the wonderful Staci Lee Kennelly in some of these writing projects. Please check out her work here:
https://alifedeveloping.org and follow her on Instagram at stacileekennelly