Essay: I Sing the Body Sacred
“The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!”
— Walt Whitman, I Sing the Body Electric (The poem was published in 1855, in Leaves of Grass.)
I have a friend, a spiritual teacher of consciousness, who told me that my body and my soul are the only parts of me that are real.
Now, this was a pretty big claim, even for a spiritual teacher. I asked him to explain, and he did to the best of his ability. He was better able to communicate his meaning when he gave me an experience, instead of just words.
It’s difficult to communicate experiences like the one he gave me through words, but I’m a ghostwriter, and it’s my job to hear what people have trouble saying and then to put it into words that make sense.
So here goes nothing.
First my friend told me, “Your ego is everything you think you are. It’s the part of you that is ‘wearing the mask’ of L. Marrick in this lifetime. That mask will fall away some day. But your soul—that is your true self. Your soul is eternal, and the way it is experiencing this world is through your body. Our work is to remove the mask of ego, so that we might experience the world with the soul instead of the ego.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why does it even matter? If I have an ego and I can experience the world through that, why do I need to remove the mask at all?”
“Because the ego is incapable of true happiness, love, and connection. The ego will always feel isolated from everything it desires. Only the soul can truly connect and love.”
I was fascinated. That made complete sense to me.
But I was also skeptical. “Nothing is real but the soul and the body” went against everything I’d ever been taught.
At first, the Catholics told me that my body ultimately didn’t matter . . . but that it kind of mattered.
My body was a temple, and I was to respect it and keep it well fed and clean and undefiled. That way my spirit, or maybe Jesus, could fill me up and express through me. I can’t actually remember whether my body was supposed to be a vessel for my spirit, or for Jesus. I think it was Jesus. (The reason I’m not Googling the ‘correct’ answer to this is precisely because I have forgotten the correct answer. That all-important ‘truth’ I was taught didn’t stick with me very well at all.)
Either way, my body was a clay thing—a very special clay thing, but one that was meant to be respected and eventually discarded, because it was just a vessel.
It was never suggested that my body, with all of its miraculous nerve receptors and electrical fields, could help to expand my awareness and consciousness beyond what I could see and hear. It was never suggested that my body could transcend petty fear and desire, to connect me with much deeper truths. It was never suggested that my body could be a route to courage, self-knowledge, love, and exponential growth. It was never suggested that my body was a spiritual being in its own right.
My body was something given to me by God. I should respect it. But my body would ultimately die, and since all things truly spiritually important were eternal, my body wasn’t actually that spiritually important. Its ability to lead me astray from the spirit was more emphasized than its ability to connect me with said spirit.
It was certainly never suggested that I enjoy my body. At least, not beyond the papally-sanctioned activities of exercise and healthy eating. And it was forbidden to enjoy another person’s body outside of the bonds of holy wedlock. Even “heavy petting” (really what they called it) would leave my vessel defiled and unworthy.
For the record, anybody who tells you that your body can be made unworthy is trying to sell you something.
If any of this was even mentioned to me during my long years of Catholic education, none of it stuck.
I rejected the idea that God—even the God of the Catholics—would create us to have animal natures that would naturally lead us astray from him. What—was he up there in Heaven creating mice to love cheese, then zapping them with cattle prods any time they ate the cheese? (Or heavily petted the cheese? Or had cheese-filled thoughts?)
I tossed that philosophy out the door as soon as I developed the courage to disappoint my mother. (Actually, long before that.)
After college, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, where I hung out with a bunch of contemplative psychology students. There was a lot of emphasis on being authentic and expressing your emotions with as much honesty as you could summon. Which meant that you had to be deeply in touch with your own heart and connect with your honest emotions, so that you could process them, communicate them to others, and create meaningful growth and connection in your life.
At least, that’s what I understood of contemplative psychology.
There was definitely something to it.
I knew a lot of people who were “working on their shit” so that “their shit wouldn’t work on them.”
All that “shit” seemed important.
So when my friend (The spiritual teacher—remember my friend?) told me that the soul and the body were the only true things, I was floored.
What about expressing authentic emotions and thoughts with as much honesty as you could?
“There’s a place for that,” he said. “It’s important in its way. But it won’t ultimately help you grow or connect with others, because emotions and thoughts are products of the ego. When you have an ‘emotion,’ it is not your soul feeling that; it is ‘L. Marrick’—your ego. When you have a ‘thought,’ that is L. Marrick thinking as well. The ego does not want to grow (no matter how it thinks it does), and it is incapable of true connection with another. Only the soul can do that. So eventually, dialogue about emotion and thought has to give way to the soul.”
All of my supposedly important emotions and thoughts are just another part of L. Marrick’s costume. They are repetitive, and yet fleeting at the same time. They are not who I am. L. Marrick’s ego (ahem, that would be me; the one writing this) will keep coming up with more bullshit as long as she is alive. L. Marrick’s ego is self-important and shallow, even when it thinks it’s deep. It cannot forge meaningful connections with the souls of other human beings. It despairs of this.
Spending too much time hashing out “authentic emotions and thoughts” feels like trying to understand shadows.
Allow your body to become a vessel of your soul, and all of this shifts. I’ll call this process “soul embodiment.”
All the “shit” you’re “working on” falls away when your soul is embodied in your cells. The soul doesn’t have shit to work on. It’s complete and whole just as it is.
My friend teaches soul embodiment. It’s a form of meditation, really. I have experienced it several times (and only several, despite all my meditation practice)—feeling the truth of who I am alive in my skin and arms and legs, crawling up my spine to connect my pelvis and head. It was a strange sensation; I felt physically heavier than I had ever felt, and yet at the same time, movement came more easily. It was as though I was BEING MOVED. I felt an eternal, inviolable Being blinking through my eyes, speaking through my mouth.
She was ageless. She was not afraid of anything. In the moments I felt so deeply embodied, she seemed more curious than anything else, and grateful for the chance to play L. Marrick. It was like being in the presence of a queen.
And she loved. Oh God, how that being loved.
Deepak Chopra says it like this: “You must learn to get in touch with the inner-most Essence of your being. This True Essence is beyond ego. It is fearless; it is free; it is immune to criticism; it does not fear any challenge. It is beneath no one, superior to no one, and full of magic, mystery and enchantment.”
The words are only words. Even working as a ghostwriter, they’re all I can give you. Sorry.
But I felt all of that. The experience of being ageless and fearless and beneath no one and immune to criticism and equal to any challenge rocked my world. This being that I was had deep compassion for L. Marrick’s fears and desires . . . but she DID NOT FEEL THEM. L. Marrick’s “authentic emotions” had nothing to do with this being.
That’s what my friend meant when he said that emotions and thoughts would fall away when the soul was embodied. “Work on your shit” all you want; it may help you know yourself, but it doesn’t touch this being.
My body was alive and singing and radiating in a way I had never imagined it could be. It had become a thing of spirit.
And then I understood—no WONDER I had always felt small and separate and alone! My ego could never experience anything like this.
My prayers now are not to some distant God who teaches me to “respect” my body, but to distance myself from its experiences.
My self-reflections now are not to sort out the shit in my ego. My ego doesn’t want to “sort out its shit,” because its very existence is validated by that shit.
My body is the living electric expression of my soul. It is more than a vessel. If my soul can fill my very cells, then my body has become my soul.
So now I work to care for and love my body in ways I never did before. The clearer and cleaner it is, the more easily the energy flows through it, and the more easily my soul can settle into its seat, and the more I can embody love and connect in a real way with others.
“The way you relate to your body determines every relationship in your life… So the fundamental thing that needs to shift is the relationship to the body.” — Philip Shepherd.
© Leslie Hedrick 2015. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact me to request usage.SUBSCRIBE