The body is a device to calculate
The astronomy of the spirit.
Look through that astrolabe
And become oceanic.
— Jelaluddin Rumi
There was a moment in the twilight of my girlhood when, working with my father to rake and transport leaves and brush to a pile for burning, I stood in the back of a small trailer full of leaves, sweaty and happy. As I felt the sun on my naked upper body a car passed, and I hoped that the occupants would see how strong I was. This first conscious conception I had of my body was of something strong and able, a vehicle for working, doing, running and performing in sports. How lovely to jump from stone to stone, enjoying my body’s agility! What a sense of mastery to be able to lift heavier and heavier bags of groceries and bring them in from the car for my mother.
At some point, my body became a flag to wave for attracting men to be close to, which led me into many explorations of sensuality and physical closeness. Later, when the labor pains shook my belly and my breasts were filled with milk, this body became a portal through which another being entered and was sustained in this world. With the energetic opening that began with conception and continued through pregnancy, childbirth and into my early mothering, I became aware of my body as a window into the Divine, as a receiver of energetic transmissions from the Holy and a vehicle for its expression.
For the nine months of pregnancy and several years after the birth of my daughter, there was an incessant knocking on the door of my body in the form of a strong tension in my solar plexus and a deep sense of anxiety that pervaded my daily life. There was no explanation, no information given, just an energetic stalking. Today I can see that the tension was an invitation to leave behind a small sense of self and open into knowing myself as love, but at the time, it felt like a hostile force.
Most everyone I work with or know has a sense of a place in the body that is periodically, regularly or chronically filled with some kind of tension, and occasionally it can reach such an incessant feverish pitch that it becomes a daily haunting. These places, whether mild or urgent, are signaling where the incoming energy of life is hitting some old fight in the body. Some place that says “No!” and generally has a very anti-life stance about it. Life is getting our attention through this energetic persistence by saying, “Here! Here! Notice this!” Energy is wanting to flow through us; life is calling us to open.
Throughout the next few years, there were times that there was so much energy moving through my body that I felt as if I was radiating from within and also receiving this illumination from without (words are difficult here). I remember one night camping in a tent when I was sure there was a nuclear power plant buried under the ground beneath me. The birth, plumbing the depths of the tension and anxiety, and the endless streaming energy all served to open my body, to sensitize it and to bring it sensationally into the present. It was as if my whole instrument had become made of the tender flesh of my softest heart.
The unfolding of love in a human being takes place through the body. When our attention is not on mind chatter and conceptual reality (reality as the conditioned mind sees it), it can slip into sensation and presence and actually feel the currents of energy being offered to the being. Life (God, existence) is continually inviting us — all parts of us — into now at deeper and deeper levels. The body, as it opens, is available to being nourished by the energy of life, the streaming light available in the atmosphere as we are connected to all that is. When we are closed through tension and bodily holding patterns, we essentially are saying “No!” to life, to love and to our own evolution. This energy that is offered, which I experience as love, seems to want to penetrate our cells, our organs and our entire beings — our job is simply to receive it. As we open our bodies, we physically say “Yes!” to being here, to allowing our bodies to dissolve energetically into the whole of creation.
My body has become a dependable barometer. I can tell in and through it and its responses a lot of things about people and their states — I can tell when someone is lying, faking, needs to cry, is exhausted. I can sense another being’s trauma in my own body. At a retreat recently a man was talking in a slightly tight and heady voice. My body knew a lot just from the way his voice impacted me, and I chose to share a small phenomenal piece of that: “My stomach hurts,” I offered. He noted that his did, too, and he sank deeper into anger and sadness. My stomach relaxed. When I work with people in person or on the phone, I can feel where the unfolding of love wants to happen in their bodies by where my body picks up tension from them.
To follow the prompting of love, all that is required is to let one’s attention go to the strongest sensation in the body and pay attention there, without needing to understand it or change it. Normally we are at war with those places, banishing them, ignoring them, or being downright nasty at them, seeing them as the problem. The longer and more fervently (albeit unconsciously) we fight against knowing ourselves in union with all that is, the more it hurts. Instead, we can simply “attend” — feel into the simple sensational quality of that place without judgment, requirement or an agenda. Something wants to unfold. Paying attention to any images or words that arise, how the energy moves, or how the sensations change allows the energy to slowly open the body to its penetration.
The way back to union and to knowing ourselves as all that is, is to connect with this body, with the felt sense of the body and what it’s like in this moment to be present physically. We were taught that discomfort, especially emotional discomfort, is something to solve, a sign we are bad, or at least evidence that we are missing the mark. We fight discomfort, avoid it, distract ourselves from it. We hold our bodies stiffly, in a controlled manner, unlike how our bodies moved freely and openly as children, moving about the space as if we owned it, as freely mobile beings. We think that somehow this rigid holding we call protection actually makes us safer, when in fact it’s a healthy response to an old experience that is frozen in the body, but it is no longer needed in the present.
Discomfort is the very edge of the known where it merges with the unknown. And in the unknown lies our liberation. This tension is an engraved invitation to transformation, a sign that something is calling and wanting to be given. Opening the body opens the being. As we relax into that, we discover that our felt sense of ourselves does not support this separate view of “me.” We can simply open to the sensations and let that lead us somewhere the mind could never predict.
All of this unfolding in the body seemed to lead me into connecting my experience with spiritual understanding after the fact. For example, once at a conference I attended the workshops of two very well-known presenters. At the time I didn’t know what I was discerning — I only knew that the one fellow, an author whom I had read, had the spiritual lingo down but left me with a feeling of “Where’s the juice?’ The second was the poet David Whyte — the aliveness of his soul permeated the room at his first wordless glance around at those who had gathered to listen. It wasn’t until later that I had the information to understand what I had only sensed at that conference: that there are those who have taken the teachings further into their bodies than others. Around beings who have embodied the deep teachings of reality, our bodies respond below our awareness. “Yum!” they say. “Delicious!” Jesus wasn’t kidding around when he invited everyone to eat of his body, and loaves and fishes may not have been referring to the food we eat through our mouths. Thousands can feed energetically from one being who is resting in reality completely and bodily.
As I came in contact with varied teachings and teachers, I saw that hidden within some traditions, or some people’s interpretations and passing on of teachings, was a subtle (and at times not so subtle) hatred and fear of the body. “You are not the body” is an expression of truth — however, we must make sure in noticing and peeling away identification with the body that we do not curse it, that we do not shove it away as something that is not holy, that we do not skip steps and end up faking or settling for a mere mental understanding of what sages are pointing to.
We are not the body, and we are completely the body. To hide one’s distaste for the body in that truth (that we are not the body) smacks of a lack of embodiment that any spirit-in-a-body that is tuned well can pick up easily. Bodies like to be around other bodies that are grounded in spirit. A teaching that is delivered without the intimacy of an embodied spirit is empty and lacking juice. Transcending the body does not happen through sneering at it or ignoring it, but through completely welcoming it and living through it. Spiritual insight must be brought down from the mind into the cells to open the body to now, to live it with each breath and movement.
So right now, let your body soften and open to the sweetness of being. Let yourself imagine that with the breath, the nourishment in the atmosphere can be carried into every cell. It’s as though the cells have mouths that can open and drink in the energy in fresh air, sunshine, the quiet. Let yourself sit as a salt doll that has been placed in the ocean, letting the ocean of the air around you dissolve you into itself. If we don’t open our eyes or refer to concepts about things, we can actually experience ourselves as space, as one with the atmosphere around us, and feel the energetic currents as they move right through us. With this opening, we take in the new and cleanse the old, preparing ourselves to be fed by the wisdom and love of now. Let every hair and cell and freckle and tight spot and pain be welcome.
We often treat our dogs better than these sweet bodies. You might even bring a hand and rest it on your body as in a gesture of “Ah, you sweet, dear creature.” Sweet body that’s been here in every now. Sweet body that’s absorbed the shocks of every now. Sweet, slow body that does not move at the speed of mental leaping and disembodied will. Sweet body that gets to come along as the portal to this divine love. Let the dear, soft animalness of the body be allowed into the moment, into the room, into your life. Let it take up space, uncurl and open to the shining that’s here, like a cat stretching in the sun.
(c) Copyright 2008, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Sun Monthly June, 2008.