Mid Week Faith Lift
June 9, 2021
“Come Home to Your Body”
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
“Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.”
~Henry David Thoreau
To do this, live as much as possible from the inside out. Inhabit your body fully, living from the inside out, feeling fully “embodied.”
To get out of our heads and into our bodies, we become aware of the sensations that are continuously taking place in our physical being. By inhabiting the body with awareness, we discover the roots of our reactivity. We open to the unpleasant sensations that comprise fear and sorrow and in so doing those energies lose their grip on us. As Tara Brach states on p. 97 of Radical Acceptance: “We free ourselves at the ground level from the reactivity that perpetuates our suffering.” She goes on to note that the Buddha’s promise was: “Mindfulness of the body leads to happiness in this life and the fullness of spiritual awakening.” How can this possibly be?
That sounds really good, doesn’t it? Living free of suffering, free of pain of all kinds. My first reaction to that was, ok, that sounds great….in another life! How many times have I said aloud, “Oh to have an out of body experience!” When I have an itch, I want to scratch it. When I have a headache, I reach for aspirin. When I have an unexplained pain, like that swollen lymph gland, I go to the doctor to have it checked out and make sure I am ok. When I have an unpleasant situation to deal with, no matter how it came about, I look for distractions or ways to escape by reading or binge watching Netflix. I have also called someone to “talk it to death” so that I am reinforced in my sense of righteousness about how I feel! My true friends won’t let me get away with that anymore, thank God!
When an intensely unpleasant emotion arises such as fear, loneliness, shame or anxiety, I go find and eat sugar or chocolate, which has a calming effect on my brain. It literally causes the brain to release endorphins, which cause the body to experience a calm, warm and pleasant sensation, much like the sensation of falling in love. There is a reason chocolate is associated with Valentine’s Day! The irony of all this is that to deal with feelings that arise in my body and awareness, I “escape” them by feeding my body what it craves when these feelings come up. That is how people become addicted to substances, to people to drama. I would rather hear about your messy divorce, family dispute etc. than feel my own sadness or fear. And then eat more chocolate!
I try to escape my unpleasant embodied experience through my body, an escape route that is never going to work, no matter how often I try it. If I pause and reflect on it, it becomes clearer that by trying to assuage discomfort by giving my body what it is craving is a closed feedback loop. There is no opening for change, for growth, for insight or for light to peek through. And what I really need is light, not more chocolate. How can I refocus this for my own highest good?
It is really, really important to note for us in the western, Christian tradition, that the most important part of the story of Jesus is that he was fully human and fully divine. We start out with this statement of Truth in the first words of the Gospel of John, which asserts that the Word, or God became flesh.
The Word Became Flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (NRSV)
And thus it begins that this energy of God, of the Word, or Logos- the creative energy comes into embodied life. And in this assertion in the gospel of John, the Life and Light are the same energy. This is a statement of the power of the embodied energy of God in the human/divine form of Jesus, a light that shines in the darkness and is never overcome by the darkness. It is the life and the light of all people.
When asked to describe what humans are, Jesus responds to his disciples this way:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. (NRSV)
And then when Philip asks Jesus about how to see or know God, Jesus says that when you see his embodied human form, you are seeing God.
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (NRSV)
So the message from Jesus and the Buddha is that we, as embodied beings, find our spiritual path, our spiritual nature by fully living in our human embodied experience. Coming home to the body is our path of spiritual freedom, our path of hope. So how then do we live in such a way that we are fully living our embodied human experience that offers us this path to true freedom? One of the first steps that both Jesus and the Buddha offer us is the realization of the impermanence of our experiences. As Tara Brach notes: “Seeing the fluidity in our experience is one of the most profound and distinctive realizations that arise when we become mindful of sensations.” (p.102 Radical Acceptance)
When we approach our experience of pain with mindfulness of the fluidity of it, we can note how our experience of it changes and realize there is nothing static or solid about our experience. As Brach notes further, “The realm of sensations is endlessly changing-sensations appear and vanish, shifting in intensity, texture and location.” When we can hold our attention on the body and what we are experiencing, it can then become our teacher and our gateway to freedom and peace. The actual pain may not go away, but we are no longer held prisoner by it, which is true freedom.
Our responses to our experiences are typically habitual, kind of like a responsive rut that we get into. We have fully embraced the delusion that if we don’t maintain our habitual vigilance by thinking, judging, planning and resisting what is, then something bad or even worse will happen. The actual reality is that we can’t hold onto anything in the face of the true fluidity of life. One of the most frequently used phrases in both the Hebrew and Christian Scripture is “And it came to pass” which is used 463 times in the King James version according to Bible Gateway, a widely used biblical search engine. In answer to the question, why did it come….it came to pass, so let it pass already!
The real question is what is the message this experience has for me? What is the lesson, what is the blessing for me that my body is trying to offer me? Silent Retreats are excellent opportunities for these kinds of embodied experiences to rear up! I had one several years ago that was very powerful and life changing. And of course mine was around food and body image. I had been to a silent retreat recently with Robert Brumet my teacher and spiritual director. I had this pattern of craving sweets every morning around 10:00 AM even though I had eaten breakfast and was not the least bit hungry. Especially on Tuesdays, when I was writing the talk, the craving would rear up. Imagine that!
So one morning, I followed Robert’s instruction and just stood in the kitchen, silently saying “craving, craving, craving” to myself. This went on for several minutes until finally, I started getting really, really hot and my face flushed. Instead of eating sweets, I stayed with it, feeling the heat, and breathing through it. I then had a really powerful and awful sensation of the energy of hating my body along with the awareness that I had learned this from my mother who had verbally expressed how much she hated her body all through my growing up years. Wow! That insight happened in a flash, and then my body cooled down, my heart rate dropped, I kept breathing and stayed with my experience as it came and then passed.
The upshot of this experience of staying in my body when I was so uncomfortable and wanted to escape is that the craving for sweets every morning just disappeared. It is interesting to note that just staying with my body, labeling the craving and then letting the experience just happen was all that was needed. It was seeing what was there, “craving” and letting it be there as long as it lasted that turned the tide. Staying with it allowed my body to show me what the energy holding me there was all about. Once that happened, there was a true freedom from that morning craving as it just went away and has not returned. Coming home to my body had allowed the light to shine and a true shift in my lived experience to happen.
Myrtle Fillmore also has something to say about our embodied experiences and how they teach us, for she, too, lived that reality in her healing. The language she uses is “carnal states” which sounds old fashioned, but describes our physical experiences. She says in How to Let God Help You:
We are learning to think about Truth principles and as the carnal states of mind pass, we are profiting in small ways through the wisdom gained of experience…Even the sense consciousness is good in its way, however; it serves a purpose. Whatever is Good in it endures and remains part of the spiritual soul in us.” (p, 118)
So may we become aware of and dwell within this embodied life that is our true spiritual and emotional freedom when we allow it to come and pass.
Blessings on the Path,