Body as Shadow ~ Body as Earth
Body as Shadow ~ Body as Earth
We have a peculiar relationship to our body. We often treat our body as a source of shame or occasionally, as a merit badge of pride. We yearn to have the “perfect” body and we lust after the “perfect” bodies of others. We wish for a “perfect” body for ourselves not because we wish for clarity, wisdom, or peace of mind. We want a perfect body in the same way we might wish for a shiny new car… as a vehicle through which we might increase our status, popularity, or esteem. Or, perhaps we might want it because we just want to feel loved. In that case our body is not our home, it is something we would like to wear to impress others or want to use so that we might feel desirable. Our body then becomes a two-dimensional cartoon… a commodity. When it inevitably appears as sub-optimal to us, we perceive it as an abysmal disappointment: a glaring reminder of our shortcomings.
We look at our body the way we imagine that others see it, mistaking muscles for core strength, physique for health, and health for morality.
But even as we view our body through the eyes of others, we rarely notice what it feels like, as we inhabit it. Rarely do we honor our body by truly making it a comfortable home and moving in. Rather than inhabiting our body and feeling all the sensations it offers us, we ignore it, treating it as if it were a small annoying child.
When we do feel the occasional passions, powerful emotions, and hunger in our bodies, these sensations often come at odds with our values. We feel as if our body is trying to lead us astray. When that happens, we treat our body as a liar, a seducer, or a trickster.
Rather than inhabiting our body, we choose instead to live in the realm of ideas, lofty spiritual delusions, or our idealized self. We inhabit another sphere, somewhere else… above the neck, in cyberspace, in meandering daydreams, perhaps even a few feet away… anywhere except inside our own body. We become “talking heads”, ignoring important signals and information from our body.
How can this be? How could this happen to us?
It has happened because we have allowed the commercial, technological and spiritual paradigms of our society to sever our connection to our core self.
Modern advertising and the media present bodies as unattainable ideals that just might possibly be within reach, but only if we are willing to fork over enough cash. If we believe the media’s lies and expect that perfection in our partner’s body, or in our own, then we are in for a world of hurt, frustration, and disappointment. If we believe them, then we will cheat ourselves out of potential depth, deep eroticism, and profound partnership. The cruel irony is that even the models in our magazines don’t look like that. They have been made up, airbrushed, liposuctioned, collagen enhanced, and reupholstered. If, by some miracle, we were actually able to obtain this physical “perfection”, it could only last a few years at best, after which time we would be discarded to some cultural landfill or late-night infomercial.
Thus, we disconnect from our body and its truths.
Science too, in its reductionist tailspin, has separated our intellect from our emotions, those same emotions that surge through our chest and belly. Essentially we have been decapitated, but our head has been kept alive because we need it. Until very recently, the only accepted scientific function of our body was to taxi our head around from place to place so that we could create syllogisms. There may be more to being human than evaluating syllogisms.
In our workplace, which is governed by science and technology, the mainstays of corporate culture rely heavily on the intellect so that we can function and earn dividends for the stockholders. Emotional intelligence and intuition (body awareness) are not highly prized in the corporate world. So things which are unimportant or irrelevant, like our body, are pushed to the side. In trying to feed our family, we become numb.
Religious traditions, both imported and domestic, rely heavily on the transcendental ideal. If we are “good” we will go to “heaven” or “nirvana” up there, never again to be burdened by those bodily functions down there. Down “There” Hide the Dragons of Strong Desires and Murky Fluids. If we venture down there, we might lose control of ourselves and fall off the edge of the world. If we allow our bodies to lead us, we could be pulled away from transcendental bliss and down the long slippery slope to “sin”, “samsara”, or even “hell”. Sex-negative spiritual traditions attempt to cover the body up, deny its importance, and call the body Evil in an futile attempt to keep the Wild Beast at bay, but our body will not be denied. The cravings, yearnings, and machinations of this Body-Beast permeate our every thought, our every impulse, and each movement we make. Even so, in our desire to be “good”, we cut ourselves off at the waist.
Even modern “Tantra”, with its sexual predators, performance anxiety and emotional bypassing, is fraught with danger. Pleasure has become a proving ground and orgasm a commodity.
This schizophrenic relationship to our bodies emerges from the alienation inherent in these different facets of our society. This alienation is so pervasive that we often do not perceive it at all. We don’t know that we cannot feel our body because we cannot feel our body. Even with our blissful meditation and/or mind wrenching sexual orgasms we still cannot feel the emotions that move through us from moment to moment.
This is tragic.
It is easy to forget that our bodies are made from the same stuff as the Earth. Our alienation from our bodies is an alienation from Her. We have become refugees from our bodies, our birth-planet, and each other. Somehow, in our self-eviction, we have jettisoned our identity far away from our body.
We cannot heal while pretending that we do not have a body, or that the emotions that live inside us are the enemy.
We treat our emotions in much the same way we treat our body: with indulgence or denial. We either over-amplify them as drama to validate our “story” or we deny them through our filters of shame. When we amplify an emotion to back up our “story” we pantomime the emotion to create the desired effect without ever really experiencing it in our body as a neutral force. Conversely, when we deny or repress an emotion we are actually covering over the thought and physical sensations that comprise that emotion. These unreleased and unfelt sensations then become stored into self-perpetuating physical and physiological patterns that result in more amplification, denial, or repression.
Either way, when we bypass a genuine experience of our emotions, we miss the opportunity to feel them in their entirety… to actually feel and follow them. Our emotions do not prevent us from healing, they point toward our healing. They point to the places we desperately wish to avoid, and the places we most need to look. Emotions are not good or bad… they simply are. We do not need to act on our emotions but we must feel them in our body and heed them as important signposts.
An emotion is a thought combined with specific physical sensations. When we experience an emotion, our thoughts trigger a release of hormones and neurotransmitters that cascade into specific patterns of organ and muscular tension. There is no emotion or sensation that we can feel (including anger, sadness, rage, grief, orgasm, joy, satisfaction, angst) that does not have a corresponding pattern within our body.
The truth be known, the sensations in our body do not actually “accompany” that emotion; they are the emotion. If we were to change either the thought or the sensation, the emotion would transform into something else.
There are standard universal patterns of human emotion. We laugh with our head back; we grieve with our chest collapsed and our shoulders forward. Our face first gets red when we are angry, then becoming white when we are enraged. But just as emotions have universal components, there are also patterns of muscle tension and body language that are unique to us alone, like a fingerprint. The way we experience joy, rage, or fear in our body is not exactly the way someone else does. Our specific physical patterns through which we experience emotion are largely conditioned by our previous traumas, especially those in early childhood.
Our experience of an emotion is often our interpretation of the physical sensations in our body. Psychological traumas are made physical over time and shift the flow and personal experience of energy in our body. Our bodies also hold the structure of the psychological traumas that haunt us through our lives. These traumas and patterns are the filters through which our emotional energy flows. Emotions move through our body down these well-worn paths, and we can track those emotions by observing the progression of those sensations. The process of tracking the specific sensations of an emotion through our body will often lead us to other, deeper emotions beneath the one we are experiencing, and finally to the original memory of the event or events that created the pattern in the first place.
Because our emotions lead deep inside and point in the direction of our wounds, our body can become a gateway to our integration and our healing… a doorway to our Shadow.
We can trust our body; it will always speak our truth. It does not lie very well, and it cannot lie for very long. We may play “pretend”, pandering to our idealized self, repeating our stories endlessly and trying desperately to believe them so we can avoid our own painful healing and integration. Or we can listen to our body; get down to business, and remove of the karmic splinter underneath our fingernail.
Try as we might to lie to ourselves, our body, our old and faithful friend, is always ready to whisper the truth into our ear. We just need to listen. Just as our body retains the neurological patterns of trauma from our past, so does it hold the keys that allow us to unravel those traumas.
The process of integrating with our Shadow through the body is never ending, and it is one of the most powerful things we can experience as human beings. When we integrate disparate parts of ourselves we create integrity within us. With integrity, we can then self-confront without fear or shame. In allowing ourselves to self-confront without fear or shame we give ourselves the freedom to make choices based on principle rather than expediency. Our principles do not emerge from some idealized self-image or rationalization; they emerge from our core values. They are birthed from the power generated by our integration and the reality of who we are.
As our body comes from, and returns to, the Earth… it is the world. The most profound way we can reconnect to the Earth after our centuries-long hiatus is to reconnect with our own bodies.
This is Earth Medicine: Healing the Spirit through the Body and the Body through the Spirit.