Celebrating and Redeeming Flesh

baby with muscles

I am writing on a warm morning in early autumn. The oak branches are full and alive, corn fields lean with their ripeness, and rabbits graze in the filtered light. As the days grow shorter, I am trying to embrace autumn (and then the long winter) that will soon descend on Northern Europe. To do this, I have been collecting the yellow birch leaves that strew my path, acorns fallen from the night winds, and chestnuts that are still encased in their prickly green shells.

To fully participate in the beauty we find in nature, perhaps we need to start with appreciating our own living nature, beginning with our bodies. Autumn is autumn with all the decline and loss it might evoke, and all its shimmering colors, low filtered sunlight, and the fervent calling of wild geese overhead. This is true of who we are as well. We are who we are … wondrous and onerous, fragile and strong, light and dark.

This time of year also seems to be mirroring my own aging process. Lately, I have experienced a number of what I call OPTs (Old Person Things). I leave the kitchen, walk down the steps into the cellar, and stand bemused as I try to remember what I came down for. I take my wallet out of my purse and put it back without removing the bills that I need. I search for glasses, shoes, jackets and even credit cards that are sitting right in front of me. I watch (horrified at times) as my cognitive skills slow to a near standstill, yet at the same time I can feel myself grow more open, grounded, and at peace.

Take a moment now to wonder about your own body — to find your body wonderful! Your body contains a hundred times more cells than there are stars in the galaxy. Everyday, your heart, on average, does the daily work of lifting 1000 kilos from the ground up to the top of a five-story building. We have 656 muscles throughout the body. Our senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, breathing, thinking, and speech bring us powerful revelations and gifts.

Often we loose touch with the magnificent flesh that carries us from birth to death. Or we might do exactly the opposite and identify completing with our bodies. This may be partly satisfactory, but it is never enough. We can buy all the beauty products, shoes, clothes, hair tonic, cosmetic surgery and Viagra and still feel that our bodies are inadequate. When we identify with our bodies, we decrease our ability to also recognize, utilize and find joy in other aspects of ourselves like our feelings, thoughts, and roles in life. Ultimately, we prevent ourselves from connecting with our true Self and Joy.

Our bodies are constantly changing from birth to death.

Our bodies are constantly changing from birth to death.

It sometimes happens that we completely ignore our bodies until they stop functioning as we would like them to. When we become ill, injured or old, suddenly we are aware of how important our bodies are. And, as if to compensate for prior neglect, we then over-identify with our flesh. Suddenly, because of our physical limitations, we find ourselves experiencing painful feelings of shame, inadequacy or failure. The only solution is to enter into a new and broader identification and sense of Self. To be reborn from a partial existence into one of wholeness.

From an psychosynthesis point of view, we must learn to first identify with the body and give gratitude for it. We then need to dis-identify from it. Your body may be old/fat/pimpled/whatever, but YOU, the pure consciousness and will inside you, are not your body. You are much more than your body.

One way to facilitate this awareness is to perform a disidentification meditation, created by Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis. Sit in a comfortable and relaxed position and take three deep breaths. Then make the following affirmation, slowly and thoughtfully:

I have a body, but I am not my body. My body might find itself in different conditions of health or sickness, it may be rested or tired, but that has nothing to do with my real Self. I value my body as my precious instrument of experience and of action in the outer world, but it is only an instrument. I treat it well, I seek to keep it in good health, but it is not myself. I have a body, but I am not my body.

During any part of your day, especially when you find yourself feeling negative about your body, you can recall the central idea: I have a body, but I am not my body. Try to experience this as a fact. Know with every affirmation that you are moving in body and soul towards Joy.

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