The sacred body

Spring is struggling to arrive. Purple and yellow flowers poke through brown earth and then shiver in frigid winds or are covered with an unexpected snow. The dance between spring and winter, mild days and biting cold, will linger until the seasons settle in on their true place in nature.

As I walked the other day, I was aware of how I struggle. To arrive. At my true nature and self.

Of how at times I accept the mystery and uncertainties of life with ease and grace and just as quickly, fall into a space of worry and angst.

What is life about? Why am I here? How am I meant to serve and a myriad of questions that leave me hanging on a cliff of unknowing.

Asking the questions takes courage, as does being human. And as I walked, I thought how brave we are to take on these human bodies.

We are, as mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote concerning the hero’s or heroine’s journey, embarking in a strange world where we are tested again and again.

I admit, I’ve always been more comfortable with my spiritual being than my earthly one. Being human is messy. Aches and pains as we age, grieving at the loss of those we love, battling with illnesses. And yet, it is also about aliveness.

Sue is a neighbor who is 90. She is vibrant, always smiling. I saw her yesterday with her adult daughter who had taken her grocery shopping.

“My mom was in the hospital on Thursday and Friday,” she said. “But then we celebrated my brother’s wedding on Saturday and there she was, dancing at the reception with the rest of us.”

Sue smiled at me. “I wasn’t going to let my body stop me. I was going to have fun. You have to do that in life, you know.”

Then there’s Grace. A neighbor of my brother’s I met years ago, she was always dashing here and there. In her 80s. Yoga. Biking. Meditation. I called her “amazing Grace” because she was.

“I’ve traveled to many countries,” she shared. “Alone. And I’ve loved it.”

These women were reminders I needed. That I still need every blessed day. Life and the human body may have its limitations but it’s also about aliveness. Sue and Grace both embody that effervescence and zest even as frailties encroach on their physical form.

When I visited Ireland many years ago, I was in awe of its raw wilderness, its unexplored places that were filled with so many possibilities for aliveness. These spaces were sacred invitations to slow down, to listen to my own breathing in the stillness, to discover a deeper sense of my own being and body.

In fact, Buddhist author Reginald Ray describes the body as “the last unexplored wilderness.”

Our body offers infinite wisdom and yet, we rarely pause to reflect on the rich and vibrant possibilities in this physical form. We fail to stop and ask what our bodies might need — sleep, rest, play, exercise, quiet?

And in a world that is body-obsessed and many times makes us feel “less than,” we can choose perhaps to enter the body’s wisdom with mindfulness.

In her book The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women, author Christine Valters Paintner writes that we can follow a balanced path where we don’t try to go to extremes in our spiritual practice.

“The sense that everything is holy, for me is the heart of the monastic path and so points to our bodies as sacred vessels as well,” she says. “The Celtic tradition has such a body and earth-honoring sensibility to it, and the desert monks taught me much about how to be with difficult thoughts and judgments as well as how to cultivate a capacity for presence to my experience as an expression of love.”

We can stay grounded, she says, by tending to our breath and tracking our inner experience.

So, I am learning, as I always am. As spring struggles for balance with winter, I, too, am learning to find balance between my spiritual body and earthly body. Both are important. Both needed. Both sacred.

And I am learning, with the seasons, to embrace my body for the gifts it offers. To see my body as an expression of love.

To come home to myself. Again and again.