‘The Body and Spirituality’ by Michael Lewin

“If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.” ~ Walt Whitman

Recently, after an evening visit to some local friends I started to walk home when I was confronted by a gang of Afro-Caribbean ‘hoodies.’ I tried to break the ice by saying: “Hi, you OK?” when one of them came up from behind and hit me over the head with a iron bar. I collapsed to the ground, but like a boxer in the ring on auto – pilot, I very quickly stood up and they disbanded. It all came as something of a shock. I have sustained hearing loss on one side but I’m hoping that this will recover. I now live with the realization that I could have been killed. I have always walked the streets of my neighbourhood with impunity but now I know the risks involved. Life is a precious gift and I just feel so grateful that I’m still alive.

After this incident I had repeated headaches, jaw aches and difficulties with sleeping. I felt very vulnerable. My mind kept going over the event and I became increasingly outraged and resentful for what had happened. The emotional need to stay attached to this anger however seemed to block my body’s healing process. My mind was racing away thinking of retribution and punishment for the culprit and my body was sadly left behind, neglected. Soon I reached a point when I could go no further, I had to let go of my emotional preoccupations and allow healing into my life…

Lying down on my bed, as a regular practice, I started to undertake body scans (creative visualizations) paying particular attention to the painful regions. Dwelling there, saying a soft hello and waiting patiently for a response, I soon felt somehow connected again. Soft breathing – calming, relaxed – slowly ensued and my awareness gently touched and reassured the pain. Fairly soon, and quite magically, the pain seemed to transform into a sensation that whispered to me: “I’m OK.” Then I knew I was really on the road to recovery. An outburst of weeping, brought on by a deep feeling of gratitude, let me know how much I had taken my physical wellbeing for granted.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”~ Kahlil Gibran

Our bodies are sacred vessels that contain all our potential and all our futures, so we must nurture and nourish them. This is our spiritual practice that will help us to lead a full and active life. Sometimes, because we become so preoccupied with the tangled mess of everyday living, we forget to engage in relaxation time to smooth the body. Then, if we allow this neglect to go on too long, we start suffering. One of the central lessons I have learnt in life, that has cost me dearly is that of ignoring body signals that told me I was too deeply entwined in anxiety and busy-ness. I ignored these signals of course, far too busy to pay attention, then I collapsed with exhaustion. I eventually recovered but in my later reading I became really surprised by the amount of medical research evidence that linked abnormal stress levels, often fuelled by anxiety and busy-ness, with physical and mental illnesses.

Life can be difficult at times and there often seems so much that we need to do in order to survive, but by ‘tripping over’ to the hyper mode of operating we seriously challenge our bodies. A primary precept that we should honour is that related to body care. We must constantly listen to our own bodies, monitor their wellbeing simply because they are us. They are not independent entities that we visit occasionally as we do sick relatives, they are you, they are me…

Meditative Walking
When I’m anxious, having troubling thoughts and worries that feed into my body to induce aches and pain, I deliberately slow my walking down to meditative pace. Every movement of the walking then comes under mindful observation and fairly soon I feel a relaxed presence appear, as if from nowhere, slowly to heal me. This reduced pace is not always easy to sustain for long, especially in a fast track modern world, but the more I engage with it the more benefit I seem to derive. Often this mindful walking practice slows me down on other activities as well, even writing, to engage me deeply and meaningfully, creating in me a sense of peace and serenity. Other exercises that induce this feeling in me are: yoga, gardening, rambling and cycling.

When our bodies are in gentle mode, calm and relaxed, we find that our minds will soon follow. This often feels like a homecoming where we have come back to our bodies, our natural state of being that our minds have allowed us to wander away from.

In this article I have drawn a distinction between the mind and body when in reality they are one and the same. The mind is in the body and the body is in the mind – one fully functional, integrated system of wholeness where every minute cell has intelligence and communicates that intelligence (along with our emotions) to billions of other cells: a body-wide network of ‘talkers‘ and ‘listeners‘ that is quite astounding in its complexity and richness. This view of the mind/body as an interactive, homogenous operation is no longer considered idle speculation from the fringes of pseudo science but a scientifically verified reality that is altering our perception of how we function as Homo sapiens. Another startling reality of this wondrous ‘machine’ – that constitutes you and me that we walk around in – is its ability to repair itself. Similar to the Gaia principle of self regulation, the body has a remarkable homeostasis quality that engenders self healing on a level that is quite miraculous.

Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.”
~ The Buddha

Looking At Ourselves and Our Planet
In our world of hyper activity, often induced by marketplace dynamics, we can easily become over-preoccupied with busyness. Never-ending pursuits and actions, movements and motions keep us distracted from our real selves, our deeper being. Human activity, globally, has now reached neurotic proportions and is the major contributor to climate change. Perhaps we have reached a stage in our development when we should be slowing down more, taking time out to appreciate the quieter moments of our existence.
For Nature, winter is a time of hibernation, a period of rest for all living things except, it seems, the human species. Industrial plants, factories, shopping malls and financial markets know nothing of rest, they just perpetually go on without any regard for the sanctity of stillness. Our 24/7 culture of neurosis is slowly killing our sensibilities, harming our bodies and destroying the planet that sustains us but all we do we is just put our heads down and carry on regardless. If we really want longevity and a quality of life, that only leaves a soft carbon footprint – we must stop doing so many things.

I often have to remind myself that I should attend as much to my under-worked body as I do to my over-worked mind. The latter already receives enough exercise, too much perhaps. But unfortunately the former does get neglected at times, or even worse pushed into stressful situation that can cause so much unwarranted damage, with possible long-term effects.

When we are at peace with ourselves, serene and tranquil, united in body and mind, we find ourselves in a sacred space where we are nourished and protected. Some experience this feeling as a profound meditation or prayer, others as a healing, yet others as a mandala of awakening, but however we try to define it, one thing seems certain: our bodies have their own intelligence, their own wisdom that requires us to stop, listen and take note of what they are trying to tell us.

 “ Here in this body are sacred rivers, here are the sun and moon, as well as the pilgrimage places. I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body.”
~ Saraha