Do you feel safe in your own body? Do you feel at home?
Embodied spirituality is spirituality with skin on. After all, any kind of experience we have, spiritual or otherwise, is because we exist within these bodies of ours!
An authentic spirituality is one in which we tend to both the inner and outer world. Our body is tended to as part of the whole where spirituality and physicality are intertwined.
We see this gift and mystery of incarnation in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Several thousand years before these words were penned, the Hebrew Bible spoke of the “nephesh” or “soul.” Rather than the Platonic idea of something that is separate from the body, "soul" in the Hebrew language indicated a unified, living, breathing physical being (so “soul” is not something we have, but something we are!).
Viewed this way, our thoughts about and tending to our bodies can (and need to) be part of our spiritual practice.
Our bodies can also tend to us by offering wisdom and guidance.
As I participated in the spontaneity of Authentic Movement one day, my right hand effortlessly went to my heart while my left hand went to my back. I stood there for a moment, wondering what was being communicated to me. It took a few minutes for my rational mind to catch the meaning and make it conscious: “Support your heart” was my body’s message to me.
This led me to purposely engage some heart-opening stretches and heart-grounding exercises. The message still stayed with me until I realized that it was another season in my life that I needed to pursue a therapist, one who could help me with some painful relationships and the release of stress and grief related to those relationships.
Tears came to my eyes with this moment of recognition. My body felt like a caring friend.
I often do not treat it as such. Especially when I get caught up in judgement and critique, then I'm apt to be harsh toward or ignore my body.
As Father Richard Rohr has said, "How we see anything is how we see everything!"
If I'm evaluating, judging, and critiquing my body, I'm more apt to be evaluating, judging, and critiquing everything (& everyone) else!
And the opposite is true, as I welcome and listen for Wisdom through my body, I'm more apt to welcome and listen for Wisdom in everything (& everyone) else!
In listening and tending, I become a safer, more hospitable place--and not just for myself.
This is no selfish pursuit...for when we feel at home in our own bodies, we can help others feel at home in their bodies, too. If you do not feel at home in your body, you are not alone. There are many reasons why we may not feel safe in our own bodies. There are stories of wounds behind our reluctance to listen to, or even believe, our bodies hold Wisdom.
Maybe, it's time to schedule a session with a Spiritual Director or a therapist!
The first time I engaged Authentic Movement last month, I knew it was the spiritual practice I had been looking for during this particular season of my life!
While I appreciate a variety of moving meditations and body practices such as qigong and yoga, Authentic Movement invited me to be surprised by spontaneity.
I had no idea how my body wanted to move and I was not going to tell it how to move...I was going to let it show me!
Following the gentle promptings of Spiritual Director, Julie Leavitt, during her workshop on "Authentic Movement and the Sacred Body" at Spiritual Directors International's virtual conference, I was curious as to why my body was moving like an inflatable air dancer.
After the time of movement, I sat down and wrote these words,
"I am the one who is encouraged to move big and freely, to move in the natural way my body leads rather than listening to or moving according to 'shoulds.' God says to me,
'You are free.
You are free to move.
You are free to speak, create.
Follow what is natural.
You are grounded,
do not be afraid.'
This is a practice I've been looking for! A way of trusting the inner wisdom flowing through the body."
It spoke right into what had been weighing heavy on me. Who knew that in moving like an inflatable air dancer, my body would offer me such grounding and affirmation?!
After that, I decided to not only continue a weekly practice of Authentic Movement, but keep this in my spiritual toolbox for any directee that needed to get into their body.
Not surprising, the following week, two people were in need of listening to the wisdom flowing through their bodies. Their experience of Authentic Movement is best summed up by one who afterwards, sat down and much to her mind's surprise said, "Whoa, I just had a mystical experience!"
No matter how large or small the movement, the Spirit of God can speak.
Want to give it a try?
*If you have a compassionate witness present like a Spiritual Director, you might allow them to simply share with you what they observed and/or continue with what you experienced in your time of Spiritual Direction.
When was the last time you listened to the wisdom of your body?
If you’re like me, you may tend to ignore or put off its signals for rest or even a bathroom break, much less listen to its wisdom!
This is a lifelong learning for me, but I continue to pursue it because like dreams, the body tells us the truth even as our ego, survival self keeps plowing ahead checking off items on our to do list.
When in my ego, survival self, I find my body a distraction. When not pushing through or ignoring it, I tend to be critiquing and evaluating it instead.
BUT, when listening from my more compassionate Self, I discover awe and gratitude for my body’s wisdom. My body becomes a gift from God and in those moments when I receive that gift through attentiveness, a shift happens. I am taken to a deeper, more authentic place where I’m much kinder to myself and others. A perspective comes that I was not aware of prior to listening to my body. Or, some expression like a cleansing cry allows for a much needed physical and emotional release.
And it can happen in a matter of moments!
So here is an easy way to begin to offer a listening ear to your body & hear what wisdom it holds:
Let yourself stay with and in the moment with your body for as long as you are able or desire. You might pause for a moment and say, “This is what incarnation feels like” realizing the Spirit of God dwells within you. Then place a gentle hand on your body or speak some gentle words of gratitude to and for your body before you continue with your day.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.