How Our Mortality Can Inspire Us

I don’t wake up easily. Coming back to my body after sleep has always been a chore for me, as if I’m putting on a garment that doesn’t quite fit. Or perhaps I’m not entirely sure I can trust the body to do my bidding throughout the day.

Being a sickly child who was allergic to dust, pollen, animal dander, most foods, and my father’s cigarette smoke set that early pattern of distrust. Waking up was to reenter a toxic world that I was powerless to escape. No wonder I did my best to hide in the safer environs of thought and imagination.

But these days I have a deeper appreciation for my body—especially for its remarkable ability to enhance my understanding of the thoughts and images that comprise my world. Because, after years of spiritual practice in listening for the heartbeat of God (as author and theologian John Philip Newell suggests), I have come to recognize the body as a brilliant listening tool that always reflects this moment’s truth.

In recent years, I have discovered tears as the surest barometer of that truth. Have you ever been in a lecture or religious service or heard a particular musical passage that moved you to weep? What caused that involuntary response?

I recently heard Carl Jung quoted as saying that tears come from the primal material of our being—the salt sea of our most essential element: water. We know that our bodies are mostly water and that water is a natural conductor of energy. The most important energy the water body conducts, then, could be that of the soul.

We have been taught that the soul is a small, amorphous thing that lives tucked into a spot about 2” below the navel—a place the Chinese call the tan t’ien. It’s the “chi” spot, a centering place from which great power can be evinced.

Suppose, however, that the tan t’ien is not the soul’s residence but merely its place of most direct connection with the body? Suppose that the late Celtic wise man John O’Donohue was right in his assertion from ancient tradition that the body lives in the soul. Imagine the body enveloped in a swaddling garment of “soul stuff,” and you begin to envision a powerful dynamic between spirit and matter that lends startling possibilities of body awareness—especially in its ability to communicate.

It is as if the body were an instrument on which the soul plays its deepest music of love. We think of intuition as a mental activity—an inner “knowing.” But, truth be told, many of our most profound insights arrive as a gut feeling, a physical sensation that is then enhanced with images and sounds, smells and tastes. Only later do we put words to those sensations—an attempt that often falls short, failing to capture the profundity of the original “a-ha!” that landed with a perceptible, physical “ka-chunk.”

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:21] My teacher interpreted that to mean “the key to the incarnation of God” resides in your heart as a literal fragment of the Divine. And it is that focalization of pure God-consciousness into which the soul will one day plunge in the great spiritual reunion she so ardently desires.

So, the idea of soul being without and Spirit within flips the whole notion of Spirit above and soul (plus its material home) below. It suggests that, in time and space, Spirit—as the Divine Spark—is exiled in the body that is enfolded in the soul. The physical relationship switches when the body dies. Therefore, life in the body seems not only key, but essential, to the interplay between Spirit and Matter for the person who would be a conscious incarnation of the Father/Mother God.

Rather than being a tiresome nuisance that gets in the way of our loftiest spiritual aspirations, the body could be a critical point of contact between the soul (which can yet be lost) and the inner Spirit (which is her ultimate goal). The body’s one possible deficiency—as our Western minds would surely see it—is that it does not use words. It communicates in physical sensation, then emotions, then images, and finally, thoughts.

For example, observe those spontaneous tears. What comes first—the tears or the emotions? The sequence is quick, but in many cases the tears are the first to arrive. We may even have to sit with them for a while, following their sensation into an emotion that we can then identify.

My experience of these instant tears is that they often evoke a sense of truth with an accompanying emotion of joy. Even if the truth is a hard one, I find myself rejoicing in its realization. To me, this is soul joy—not only for the liberating power of truth itself, but also because it means that my dense, outer awareness has just experienced a profound communication directly from my soul. And what was the vehicle for this startling bit of awakening? The body.

What a travesty, then, to consider how centuries of religious doctrine have vilified this faithful servant—encouraging us to negate our ability to tune into its subtle messages of love, illumination, and warning. Have you ever “had the feeling” that you shouldn’t go somewhere or be with a certain person? Perhaps you ignored that gentle suggestion and powered through—only to later discover that you should have paid attention. That’s the wise soul and the receptive body trying to protect you.

So, the point is this: If we will be attentive to the body, we can actually live soul-directed lives. We can enter into conscious partnership with the Divine because that is where the soul gets her direction. Like John the Beloved resting his head on the bosom of Jesus, the soul leans into the heart of God and then tells us what she hears. She speaks into the body and the body forwards the message in a way we can receive—but only if we allow ourselves to feel the communication, wherever and however it lands.

Perhaps it comes as a ripple in the gut, a twinge in a limb, tightness in the chest, a wave of dizziness. These may be symptoms of medical issues or they may be sweet intimations from the heart of God. Or both. If we don’t pay attention, we will never know.

The body is finite. This loyal servant must eventually pass away. Losing the body is a shock—as is any break from an attachment. Whether we have bonded to an idea, a person, or an object, the moment of separation is painful. But then comes release as the energy that was spent in holding on is now liberated for a higher, more creative purpose.

What a grace, then, to be mortal. To have a body that contains an actual fragment of God. To be enfolded in our own unique snowflake of a soul, with almost limitless opportunities for communion through that material vehicle.

The body is not the block to spiritual insight; our thoughts about it are the problem. This complex form is tuned into much higher frequencies than we have ever imagined. So let us listen with the body and learn what the soul would teach. It could be an inspiring exercise.

Copyright 2010 Cheryl Eckl Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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