?????I have ceased to question stars and books;
I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me
– Herman Hesse.
Like most new parents I’m continually impressed with the ease at which our three year old boy lives his life. He is absolutely grounded in his body where his feelings and emotions flow without restraint. Because of this he is the greatest teacher of mindfulness I know. His total lack of self-consciousness and his freedom of expression is something many of us strive for through years of therapy and spiritual practice.
And yet we all start out so deliciously free. Only as we grow older do we begin to lose connection with our bodies, becoming more and more identified with the thoughts in our head. As Ken Wilbur writes few of us have lost our minds but most of us have long ago lost our bodies.
It’s a uniquely human paradox that we can somehow tune out of our own bodies. One of the goals of mindfulness practice is to experience the body directly, without the middle- man of thought that we’ve grown so used to. By reconnecting with our flesh and blood we can fully inhabit rather than inhibit our physical bodies.
Perhaps the main reason we struggle with accepting this body is because it does things we don’t want it to do. It hurts, it gets sick, it grows old and at some point it will die. Despite our best efforts to manage it, this body follows its own path.
I’ve always been fascinated by death and through my mindfulness practice I’ve learnt to appreciate that the present moment is all we can know, and that it can end at any time. By becoming increasingly aware of life I’ve come to see how fragile it is and therefore how incredibly precious.
We tend to hide from the reality of death in our modern consumer society where the emphasis is on preservation, material wealth and security which breeds an egotism, hedonism and short-sightedness which non-consumer cultures don’t seem to exhibit.
The result of this is an unhealthy cosmetic view of life, rather than a healthy cosmic view, where we understand that we are not isolated beings, popping in and out of existence without a trace, but part of a vast interrelated process called life.
Admitting that we are part of a universal system can be threatening. It seems to undermine the idea of a separate solid self, free to act without consequence, standing apart from everyone and everything. But as the poet John Donne was aware no man is an island. In fact to really understand the universe is to understand that islands do not exist. Life is a flowing, moving organism. It is what the physicist David Bohm referred to as an unbroken whole.
Yet it’s only by accessing this larger more encompassing view of life that we can find the strength and courage to turn towards our changing bodies, messy with feelings, emotions and fear.
In The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche tells the story of of the Indian sage Atisha, who dedicated himself to a life of selfless compassion. One day he came across a dying dog on the roadside covered in open wounds which were infected by maggots. He began to clean the animals wounds but didn’t want to injure the tiny larvae. In an act of selfless compassion he got to his knees and began tenderly licking the wounds clean. In that moment the dog transformed into Maitreya, the Buddha of compassion who rewarded him for his selfless action.
We have a similar (and much more sanitized) story in the fairy tale of the Princess and the Frog. Only when the Princess brings herself to kiss the frog (not the Disney version, but a slimy and warty amphibian) does the creature transform into a handsome prince.
The message is that if we can muster the energy and courage to embrace that which repulses us with compassion and acceptance, then we can reconnect with ourselves.
We can reclaim our human experience and dissolve the limits, barriers and blocks which made us feel wrong, alone and afraid. Like Bohm’s description of the universe, we too become an unbroken whole.
When this begins to happen then there is no longer a need to run away from being human and it’s unique flavours. Each moment becomes a fulfilling experience precisely because it is also a cosmic experience. We can then make a space for everything to be here, fearlessly embracing every detail of our humanity and tasting the effortless freedom we knew as children.
For, as the song goes;
All I ever wanted,
All I ever needed ,
In my arms.