Did you know the disconnect we have with our bodies inhibits spiritual development? Perhaps you ‘get’ the idea of self-love intellectually, but don’t ‘feel’ love. Ironically, we crave intimacy and fully armor against it.
Our body absorbs experience like a sponge. Even our lungs look and feel like plump, supple sponges. I know this because I spend hundreds of hours reverently exploring human anatomy. I marvel while breathing my own air into soft pink lungs of a human cadaver in the anatomy lab. When filled with air they appear to fly, like ‘wings’ of a great gentle Manta Ray gliding through the sea.
Look at your skin.
Notice its scars and wound etchings on your hands, your forearms, knuckles, and your thumb. If you peel off your clothes right now, how many healing marks could you count? Each one is a work of art, your cells reinvesting themselves to protect you. Each mark looks and feels different for the effort, different for the pull of skin over joints. Different for how it was cared for, or neglected. Imagine peeling away your artful skin, the largest organ through which we breathe. How many wound etchings can you imagine live inside? Each layer is intimately connected with the others.
If we could peel our skin, we would be surprised to reveal how profoundly interwoven we are — every layer’s interdependence stunningly clear. Intimacy begins with our sensual intelligence. Awareness and engagement, rather than fixation and attachment to our body, is power, deeply felt.
I’ve been wrestling with the disparity of communication in our medical and mental health fields my entire life. I’ve been honored to present my perspective, and interview some of our most lucid minds at the Science & Nonduality and Towards a Science of Consciousness conferences. I wanted to know why we feel so stressed and disconnected, even when practicing mindfulness. I wanted to explore why our sensual intelligence, our body, and our sexuality, is still left out of most conversations for raising consciousness and improving our experience of living. I wanted to know how we could evolve. What was missing? And you know they were glad I asked.
I interviewed Dr. Cassandra Vieten – a licensed clinical psychologist, President and CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and author of Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year, coauthor with Marilyn Schlitz of Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life, an avid soccer player, and a mom. Say that three times fast.
Genuine and direct, her energy and big blue eyes are quietly electric. Cassi blew into my interview room to discuss the truth about consciousness practices and our human experience. She embodied her work by being absolutely present, captivated me with her candor and said,
Natalie, what you are talking about is such a fresh topic, it’s still so taboo. But for a few of the traditions of Tantra, there has been this idea that we have adopted now in the West that it’s about catapulting ourselves out of mundane reality. It fits right into our whole Protestant, and Catholic, and patriarchal world-view that there is sin, our body and sexuality are dirty and mundane. There is just as much of that in Eastern philosophies. They don’t frame it the same way, but say it’s a lesser world, and I really don’t think it is.
I think that in this lifetime, in this incarnation that we are all sharing together, there is this unbelievable meeting of consciousness and matter. There is a meeting of energy and form, of immaterial and material, of subjective and objective. It’s right at that meeting place where the action is. To fall too far on the material side is imbalanced. You are missing the joy, the richness, the beauty, the wonder, and curiosity of life. That’s what life is all about. If you fall way over to the completely transcendent end of things (which I think is tempting because we have been so hyper-focused on the material that all of us in the consciousness world want to pull it all the way over there), the problem there is you forget about blood, and guts, and juice, and bodies, and sweat, and sex, and nursing. That’s a mistake. We are not here to transcend this – it is how we are living right now. It’s consciousness through form and form through consciousness. That doesn’t mean that the way that I love my child, or the way I am attached to people I adore in this life, or the beauty that’s created in a piece of art is any less than transcendent consciousness.
Mindfulness in motherhood for me was transformative; not only mindfulness transforming my motherhood, but motherhood transforming my mindfulness practice. There is wisdom in learning to be calm and neutral, to observe your experience in equanimity. But what I learned in the pregnancy process, the birthing process, the nursing process, and now even in the parenting process, it’s about embodiment! It is all right here — there is milk and there is blood and there are tears and there is vomit — this is not excluded. In fact, this is what the journey of mindfulness is all about.
Mindfulness is about learning to approach all of your experiences, as much as possible with openness, curiosity, and compassion. Learning to ride the waves rather than resisting them and getting battered about in the process.”
To sum it up, I like the way Cassi says, “Consciousness practices offer richness, juiciness, depth, meaning, purpose, pain, awe, wonder, joy — all of it. The whole enchilada.”
I talked with Kevin Krycka, PsyD, a Clinical Psychologist, Professor of Psychology, and Graduate Program Director at Seattle University. A warm and inviting human being, Kevin’s levity is contagious. My face was as luminous as his while he spoke,
If you are not a true human being leave this gathering, half-heartedness does not equal majesty. You know, that is an imperfect translation of Rumi. But what I take from it is that this whole business that we call spirituality, even something specific like enlightenment, is about being a human.
It is not leaving humanness. It is not being caught up in transitions, and transcendence, and the obliteration of ego. It’s a support for us in this conversation of being human. What I see as depression, anxiety, or even pathology is a disposition away from one’s unity consciousness.
Now, there are varying degrees of that. The smallest degree is called stress. Stress is experienced when we move slightly to the side, but only slightly, to the nature of who we are.
First and foremost, we are organic beings living in an organic environment. Everything about us speaks to our organicity. So, the further we become detached from our organism-ness, our flesh and blood-ness; detached from the reverie of tissue, and sinew, and brain patterns, and smiles, and laughter, and sexuality — the further we become dissociated from these, in degrees, is when we actually experience stress, anxiety, and then further along depression. Then, perhaps even further along something like suicidality, or panic.
It is our responsibility, our intentionality to live with who we are, to discover who we are, and then to follow truthfully and honestly from that discovery to the next moment, and to the next.
Embracing real, raw, visceral experiences is imperative to our spiritual development, well being, and to experience our unity consciousness. Let’s dive more deeply into receptivity and our integral nature, into this experience of our interconnectedness to all things.
I spoke with Dr. Zoran Josipovic, a neuroscientist at NYU. As the founder of the Nonduality Institute, his perspective is expansive and finely tuned. We’ve become good friends and colleagues while founding the Society for Mind Brain Sciences. We talked about the misconceptions regarding brain, body, mind, and spirit. How they are often inaccurately compartmentalized, held as separate entities. Even in consciousness practices, our body is usually left out of the experience of realization, which limits spiritual growth. I asked him to explain why it is so important to understand our profound interconnectivity, and the immense joy we can miss by merely living in our heads. Zoran affirms and clarifies this, with…
“Of course, this is a complex and subtle issue not so easily reduced down, as everyone has some experience of pleasure in their body, no matter how disconnected they seem. The issue is the way in which we objectify our body in our experience.” Zoran said, and continued,
Brain is not something that exists separately, as if on it’s own – we are a profoundly interconnected and complex system of biological processes in which the brain, body and environment continually interact.
In terms of contemplative practice, if one does not include the body, and one’s practice is only to quiet down thoughts or emotions, or to ‘transcend’ the bodily experience, then one’s realization will be incomplete, mainly in one’s head.
The more your whole body is open, the deeper your spiritual realization will be, and the more enjoyment you’ll have being inside your body. To be slightly metaphysical, it has been said that one of the main qualities of consciousness itself is bliss, so you are opening to that bliss of consciousness throughout your whole body.
It’s risky business living honestly, letting chips fall where they may. But living in denial of our inner life and alienated from our body is a prescription for exhaustion, malaise and depression, lousy relationships, even illness. If you believe that you can transform your life with the power of intention, and get the things you want aligned with the law of attraction, why leave your sensual intelligence out of the game?
We interpret our world and communicate with our bodies — sexuality, love, power… everything is connected.
The emotional stories of your life are written on your body’s cells. Whether traumatic and painful, or joy filled and ecstatic, unconscious emotions shape your experience. If you wonder why you keep making the same mistakes, why you feel numb, or emotionally volatile when touched, ask your body. It’s honest.
Your flesh and blood is your diary.
Apparently, Nobelist Dr. Eric Kandel agrees:
Memories are stored not only in the brain, but in a psychosomatic network extending into the body, particularly in the ubiquitous receptors between nerves and bundles of cell bodies called ganglia, which are distributed not just in and near the spinal cord, but all the way out along pathways to internal organs and the very surface of our skin.
We are the authors of our experience. What our brain produces and provides is determined by the quality of the language we allow our body to express.
When we touch a part of our body, we touch our life experience.
When we touch someone, we are touched.
Next time you use your video camera, notice the limited area it’s recording. Then look around you 360 degrees, as far as you can smell, hear, see, sense, touch, and feel. Your own body trumps that high def camera in your hand. Your cells record absolutely everything, even stuff you aren’t aware of, from the most subtle and sublime, to the extreme.
You gotta clear the database.