How differently are we willing to live, is the question. How different are we willing for our lives to be? We cannot keep living the way we are living and expect different results. If we want different results, we have to live differently. We have to do what it takes to arrange what we want to have.
What do we want to have? How do we want things to be? What are we looking for? What would it take to be satisfied with our lives? With our level of spiritual development? These are essential questions. We cannot answer them on the run. And, we cannot answer them with our heads, as if we already know what the answers are supposed to be, and all we have to do is think, or remember. The important answers don’t come from our heads. They come to our heads, from the outside. Our heads are useful in hearing the answers, but our heads don’t generate them. In order to answer the important questions, we have to shut our heads up, and listen.
We have to listen to our bodies. No kidding. We feel the answers to the important questions in our bodies, before we know them in our heads. Our body communicates with our head in a particular way. There is the it-really-doesn’t-matter-do-what-you-do feeling, and the something-is-not-quite-right feeling, and the not-on-your-life feeling, and the absolutely-unquestionably-indubitably-yes feeling. We have to read our body’s signals if we are to find our way through the world. There are plenty of occasions when we have to over-ride our body’s response to experience, and plunge on because of circumstance and obligation (We do have to visit the in-laws, and the parents, and the children, from time to time), but, we cannot ignore our body’s messages without paying dearly with our lives. We can override when we must, but we cannot ignore.
The idea that our bodies know things our heads don’t is a tough one for us to embrace. We are used to thinking our way through everything. We don’t feel a problem in our bodies, we solve it in our heads. We make those long lists of pros and cons; run those cost/benefit analysis’s; do that research; collect that data. Then we get married, move to California, take the job, buy the house, have the two children, take up tennis, and wonder why we aren’t happier. We aren’t happier because our heads are always giving our bodies things they cannot tolerate. It happens with religion.
We explain “the plan of salvation,” and “take on faith” all the parts that make no sense. We talk ourselves into believing the doctrines, which were devised, formulated, created, to explain why Christianity is the best darn religion ever, and why we had better buy into it or else. It’s all explanation. It’s all intellectual formulation. It’s all head stuff. A starry night is all the religion our bodies need.
There is an African tribe whose elders regularly, one might say religiously, watch the sun set and rise. It is said that their witnessing the setting and the rising keeps the sun on course, makes it happen. That’s how religion gets built up around a spiritual experience. They didn’t start gathering to watch the rising and the setting because they thought they had to. They started it because they liked it; because there is something about sun rise and sun set; something they can’t put their finger on; something beautiful, wonderful, delightful, and good.
On vacation, I’m always out there photographing sun rise and sun set, moon rise and moon set, and I am rarely alone, and it is not always photographers who accompany me. In the Grand Canyon, at Mather Point, there were probably 300 people, maybe more, gathered for sun rise. Old and young, Europeans and Japanese, South Americans, North Americans, Central Americans…it was as diverse a congregation as you will ever find, and it was a worshipful moment. Sun up, silence, then cheers and laughter. Everyone seemed to be glad to be there. No one had to explain why they were there. It wasn’t something that could be said. It was a must that couldn’t be articulated. That’s spirituality for you.
Spiritual experience is somatic experience; it is physical experience; it is sensual experience. We get to the spirit through the body. I wouldn’t lie to you about this. We become spiritual by becoming physical. We do not become spiritual by turning off the body and becoming mind in touch with the mind of the universe. The ascetics who deny themselves fundamental physical experiences don’t become spiritual so much as crazy. They may be revered as spiritual, but they are basically nuts, and you wouldn’t want to spend much time with them. Spiritual people are good company. They are a joy to be around. They bring life to life in us, and rarely judge, condemn, or negate anything about us. They are accepting, loving, laughing people, who understand the power of awareness developing over time, and are glad to give us the time to develop our awareness and transform our lives from the inside out. The people who try to make us like them, who try to make us spiritual from the outside in, don’t have a clue about the things of the spirit, and we would be wise not to spend much time with them, which we would know if we listened to our bodies.
Watch children and dogs. They know who to be with and who to be away from. They know where they belong, and where they have no business being. We know it too, but we are so used to ignoring the body’s signals and doing what we think we are supposed to do in order to be whatever it is that we think we are supposed to be, that we aren’t aware of what we know, and have to spend a lot of time consciously forgetting what we think we know in order to realize what we have known all along. The whole spiritual journey can be reduced to realizing what we have known all along. And, that begins with learning to listen to our bodies.
Here’s an exercise for you: Settle into your present physical experience. Be aware of your breathing. Be aware of your body and your present level of physical comfort. What are you most acutely aware of about your body? Let that awareness spread throughout your body, so that you are attuned to the physical sensations of this time and place. Now, ask yourself, “How is it with me?”, and see how your body responds. What physical sensation are you aware of in response to the question, “How is it with me?” Attend that physical sensation. Feel what you are feeling. Sink into that feeling and see where it comes from, see what comes to mind. Take whatever comes to mind and check it against the feeling. Ask, “Is this it? Is this what this feeling is about?” You are looking for a “click,” for a physical shift in your body that lets you know that whatever comes to mind is connected with the physical feeling. Now, put that aside, and return to the original question, asking, “Except for that, how is it with me?”, and see how your body responds. And, continue with the exercise until you get the sense that “That’s it. Except for those things, things are just fine with me.”
You are looking for how you feel about your life, for what is in place and for what is out of place, for where the rubs are. Now, of course, you think you know. Your head likes to run things, and is quick to come up with list after list of things that are right and wrong about your life. And, if I could give you three wishes, you would know immediately, without pausing to think, certainly without pausing to feel, what to wish for. Time, Money, Health, right? I knew it. With Time, Money and Health, we’ll figure the rest out, won’t we? Well, we won’t if we don’t begin listening to our bodies.
A good source for giving our heads something to think about when it comes to listening to our bodies is the book Focusing by Eugene Gendlin, and the book, The Power of Focusing, by Ann Cornell .Or, you can do a Google search for “focusing,” and read until your head is content. The point, though, is knowing how it is with us; knowing what we need; knowing what we want; knowing what we are seeking; knowing what is important; knowing what it will take to be satisfied with our lives. These things constitute “essential knowing,” and are at the heart of spiritual growth, and are the “soul,” so to speak, of spiritual reality.
And they aren’t things we think up in our heads, or things that are told to us, explained to us, by someone else. What is truly important to us isn’t handed to us by someone else. Our place is to listen to our bodies and to trust them to know more than we do. Communion with our bodies is fundamental to spiritual growth. Our bodies aren’t here just to transport our heads through the world. Our bodies are sources of knowing at a level that is deeper and truer than our heads can imagine. Our bodies connect us with “the essential things.” When we are in tune with, aligned with, synchronized with, the essential things—the things that are truly important, the things that truly matter—we are centered in the essence of spirituality, and are as spiritual as we can be without dissipating and becoming holy ghosts.