Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The body isn't bad.

We're taught, especially in many religious contexts, that the body is bad. The body is of this earth and not of the spiritual world. There is a separation between the body and the mind and the spirit.

There is a movement in the West to make this body-mind-spirit connection "cool" (or accessible because there is so much research that supports holistic living), but I (like many others, I would assume) grew up struggling with the teaching that the body was inherently bad. (insert your own experiences here, but mine included denying the body as a form of penitence -ie. fasting, giving up things of enjoyment, multiple repetitions of a seemingly positive action - to my young mind, it seemed almost contrition for having a body).

(BUT! Also insert all of the arguments for the positive effects of yoga, meditation, mindfulness, contemplative practice, centering prayer, dance, physical fitness activities - because I know there are some people who might read this who DO practice fitness as total mind-body-spirit engagement -  here.)

Look to history - the body is controlled by ruling powers. Mutilated, tortured, killed for punishment. Bound for movement restriction and submission. Used as a source of primal entertainment.

Look to today. The body needs to be contorted. Shaved. Darkened. Or lightened. Painted. Enhanced. (Observe, from a cultural anthropologist's perspective of course!, any convince store or grocery store "check out" corridor. Or watch daytime tv...)

No wonder we're so uncomfortable in our bodies!

So, I was thrilled to find this poem by St. Augustine. I don't need permission to dance. I'm going to do it anyway, anywhere. But somewhere in my heart (that read an article by the current Pope that condemned dancing in church or as a form of worship, written before he was Pope and read in a southern Catholic church bulletin, where I immediately felt rejected from a space where I was taught I would always be safe) I am comforted.

I praise the dance, for it frees people
from the heaviness of matter and binds 
the isolated to community. 
I praise the dance, which demands everything;
health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul. 
Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people
who are in constant danger of becoming all brain,
will, or feeling.
Dancing demands a whole person, one who is
firmly anchored in the center of his life, who is
not obsessed by lust for people and things 
and the demon of isolation in his own ego. 
Dancing demands a freed person, one who vibrates
with the equipoise of all his powers. 
I praise the dance.
O man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven
will not know what to do with you. 
~St. Augustine

Just to be clear, there is a difference between religion and spirituality. The mind-body-spirit connection has nothing to do with subscribing to a philosophy of thought, but rather a way of being, feeling, sensing, perceiving. And please don't read this as me saying one is better than the other. I just think there is room (space, time, energy, and bodies) for many thoughts, many pathways, and many practices.

Dear Readers, I hope you find a practice that allows you to engage and experience holistically, enthusiastically, and with uplifting and positive encounters. (The thesaurus also suggests "stumble upon" but I'm not sure how to make that work grammatically. But... I hope everything you stumble upon is positive, and encourages you to dance - or sing - or draw - or express the depths of your spirit and mind through embodied action.)

And... I write this realizing that excess is not healthy for any body. Excess of food, or lack of food. Excess of entertainment, or excess of denial. Excess of exercise, or excess of sedentary living. Find balance.

Ultimately, I was thrilled to read the poem by St. Augustine and learn that a canonized saint supported total engagement of the mind-body-spirit through dance. I realize that admitting my surprise means opening you, my readers, into a deeply personal part of me. And yes, that vulnerability is scary (I refer you to earlier posts), but our humanness means that we all bleed, we all experience pain, and we all experience joy. Laws of physics (and philosophy) suggest(s) that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction... and so I believe that with sharing my fears, I will also share my (your, our) joy(s).

Thanks for taking a moment with me. I'm interested in your comments and experiences. If you're comfortable, I encourage you to share!

(And really, O, Man, learn how to dance or I won't know what to do with you!)