Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Body Enlightenment

People who have spiritual experiences often note bells-and-whistles body phenomena -- visions, energy rushes, sounds and the like.  Yet I have noted body changes accompanying the whole arc of human growth.  Sometimes the body sparks the change, sometimes change sparks the body.  As a former dancer and long-time Tai Chi student, I have been fortunate to live and work in a time of explosive interest in body-mind modalities of treatment and research: neo-Reichian body work, Rolfing, Yoga, Psychoneuroimmunology, Brain Scanning, Massage -- the list seems to grow daily.  But even the simple therapeutic moments of sitting under a tree or talking with a friend can instigate changes in the body.  And almost everybody can point to a time when dancing or exercise changed their state of consciousness or mood.

The Taoist view of the body that supports Tai Chi suggests that there are three kinds of energy in the human being (and the world): jing, qi or chi, and shen, roughly translated as essence, vitality and spirit.  The levels and expression of these three "treasures," change constantly as, for example, when heavy self-absorption prevents access to shen, or depressive thoughts dampen qi.  The opposite is also true.  There is a common moment in therapy when the person sitting across from me suddenly appears stunningly beautiful.  Yes, to know someone well is to love them and I cannot come to know someone without opening my heart.  But often this jump in beauty is noticed by others, too.  I believe this is a jump in both qi and shen.

Many physical events accompany human change.  When releasing chronic defenses against feeling, people can become achingly tired for awhile.  Pains and illnesses come and go.  So does weight.  Sexual appetite can ignite or disappear.  Food preferences are unstable, as is the ability to sleep.  But we are less clear, because it is new, on what happens when a shen-infused, spiritualized body walks the earth.   I suspect as more and more of us reach this territory, we're meant to do more than just fly off with the Immortals.

Contemporary spiritual teachers don't always address the body in their talks.  Two wonderful exceptions are Adyashanti and Reginald Ray.  Both are committed to understanding what it means to embody enlightenment and believe that enlightenment is unfinished if it is not brought deeply into human, bodily experience.  Using the Taoist model I find so helpful, this means that jing, qi and shen come into balance, both within the body and in the body's relationship to the larger world.  A fully expressed, realized body might be consciously alive and full of love right down to the DNA in the cells.  What a world these bodies might create.

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