July 21, 2013

How is the Body Essential to Spiritual Evolution?

The Body of Teachings.

We need the body to measure our growth. When we were young, we would mark our height on the wall. As we grow in awareness and take steps toward enlightenment, often other people notice something different and say, “You look lighter,” or “You look transparent.” I know that feeling. I know that I have changed because I’ve relied on the messages from my body, my mind and my dreams.

As we start to do spiritual practices such as Hatha Yoga, or chanting or reflection, we start to discover that the body is more than what we usually think it is. The body is not just the animal part; it is not just something to be fed and clothed in beautiful clothes. It is a receiver. When you are very quiet and relaxed, you receive; you can open and surrender to what is. If you become very concentrated, you can focus on energy in its most subtle form of Light, and make it vivid and real, and connect with it. The more spiritual practice you do, the more Light you can receive. The body can reflect the Light, hold the Light, gather the Light. As you practice you are able to live with that energy consciously and harness it. It has a specific purpose. The power is available but it is not ours, although we have an incredible ability to connect with that power.

I remember my first Hatha class. I was very stiff yet the movements were familiar somehow. The poses took me inside and there was a connection. It was a connection to a knowing part that began to speak to me in images and dreams. It spoke in expansion, breath and movement. The connection seemed familiar, yet I’d never done yoga before. Yoga was more satisfying than anything I had ever done, and also more challenging. I remember the relaxation (shavasana) at the end of that first class. It seemed strange to have lived so many years without ever having totally relaxed before. I could feel layer after layer release, and I had a sense of going deeply into myself. I knew, at that point, that there was more to me than I had realized before—I didn’t even have words to describe it.

Relaxation is the first step to surrender. If I breathe and relax my body, I tune into another rhythm of life. There is something bigger happening—something living and breathing, like the moon and the tides, the days and nights, and the seasons. As I relax I gain an awareness, too, that I’m being supported and looked after. In relaxation everything in me is relaxed and quiet, still and breathing. The heart has its own rhythm. In this place of stillness I have access to many other levels, such as joy and harmony, peace and well-being. I also have a knowledge that it is not my energy, that there is something keeping me alive. This is the Cosmic Energy, the energy of the source. It is like going to a well and drinking from that source. I used to think I didn’t have time to relax. Now, if I feel anxious or stressed, I take 15 minutes to relax. And because I do a relaxation practice every day, the body and mind are ready for it and look forward to it with pleasure. Through relaxation my body is satisfied and energized.

How does the practice of relaxation fit into spiritual life? I don’t think you could receive instructions or teachings unless you were able to surrender and accept what is. Most people can’t surrender. They want to do what they want to do, and they want to do it now. The practice of having a teacher is to acknowledge and accept that there is someone who knows more than you do. That’s hard for most people. But if you want to know something, you have to find somebody who knows more or who has gone through it before. When you find that person, you have to acknowledge, “Okay, I’m here to be taught. I’m ready.”

They will ask, “Can you hear what I’m saying? Can you do what I say?”

If you can’t even listen to your own body, if you can’t stop your mind from going around in circles, how could you listen to the guru’s instructions? A guru is always testing. In schools we are tested for intellectual capacity but gurus test for sincerity and willingness. Swami Radha tested me by asking me to do what I thought I couldn’t do. Since she asked me to do it, I tried my best. It’s a feeling of leaping, almost like leaping off a cliff. Metaphorically this is what any teacher asks you to do with your concepts. An anxious mind or a resistant mind or an intellectually arrogant mind is very hard to deal with in a classroom or in life. There is no room for anything new to come in. It’s already filled up.

So how do you surrender? You can learn it first through the body, where you have a very concrete way to feel and understand surrender. When I see that I receive benefits from physical surrender, what happens if I surrender mentally? What about spiritually?

I often use the expression, “a body of teachings.” I think of a body, all the different parts—arms, hands, feet, legs—working together for one purpose. Yoga is a system that works towards another kind of purpose, evolution. The teachings don’t live in the air or in a book. They have to be embodied. They have to be brought to life and lived. Our bodies have to open to the teachings through our actions, through our speech, through our interactions, through a new way of being. We live in a very three-dimensional world and we usually don’t go beyond it. It’s like the fish in the pond; every now and then they will leap out into another element, but basically they stay in the pond.

Some traditions dismiss the body. But I think that everything can be lifted and refined and made more subtle. It is important that we accept the body and use it as the vehicle for consciousness. We can think of life as a school where we have to go through different grades or different lifetimes to become perfect. Or we can use the idea that we are like a container or chalice that will hold the Divine nectar. You wouldn’t put what is most precious into a dirty container. You wouldn’t put crystal clear water into a muddy old mug. You would clean it out first. This process of clearing out the dirt is what the spiritual path is about.

If you see how most people use their bodies—for self-gratification of desires, greed, cravings—you can also see that they do not recognize what they already have. What would happen if they were given something more precious? Can we ask for more when we don’t even appreciate what we have?

Treat your body with kindness, care, acceptance, consideration, Light. Treat others with kindness, care, acceptance, consideration, Light. Constantly feed the best in yourself and the best in others. It starts with your own body. ॐ




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Ed: B. Bemel

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