Your body is just an illusion — these are the beginning lines of a very popular ad that keeps showing up in my Facebook stream. It goes on to talk about how feelings are “only” stories, and how our perception of our body can easily be reduced to neural hard wiring. As I read the copy, I keep thinking that I am getting something wrong, but I’m not.
Our blessed, beautiful, bodies. Lordy, have they been through the ringer. Our bodies that let us move and dance, laugh and cry, tremble in fear and in ecstasy, jump and clap and snap to music, sway our hips and shimmy our shoulders; they are our first allies, our beloved companions; our bodies are our first altar place of devotion, physical shrines of blood, flesh, muscle and bone built for honoring.
And yet. Ads such as the one that I have seen are very common. And not just in the dominant culture where we would expect to see such nonsense. Body shamings, body bashing, and body discounting (most insidious of all) are all there to be seen in our spiritual and soulful communities too. They are more subtle, but you have probably run up against it before: the notion that if you were really doing things right or aligned with the highest vibration you would be such and such a size (with a bank account to match!) or the notion (dreadfully common) that you are physically sick because of some spiritual hang-up (as opposed to the understanding that your body is not static and like anything else ALIVE has moments of health and moments of illness and every wonderful thing in between).
This misunderstanding and neglect of the body, and the central role that it plays in our lives and in our soulful seeking, is one of the reasons that I have included physical Sacred Arts practices within each module of Spinning Gold – because when we physically do something we embody our practice, and when we can embody our practice, we begin to actually see, respond to, and enter into in a better relationship with our body, as well as spirit, as well as soul.
Many members of my own Sacred Arts community, both among the alumni of Spinning Gold and also in the community more generally, deal with some tough physical limitations.
Whether it is a case of chronic fatigue, auto-immune disorders, or physical pain and loss of mobility, some of the most rewarding work I have been privileged to do is to sit side-by-side with people who have been forced to get to know and honor their bodies due to unusual external circumstances. They are wise beyond belief, and have taught me so very much.
One of the deepest lessons is this: no one who experiences serious physical limitation will ever tell you that the body is a mere illusion. What we experience is real, limitations are real, and what is inside of us – our voices and hearts within – that cry out for freedom, for wholeness and healing, this too is no mere illusion, but is, rather, one of the most for-real things about us.
The nature of story and storytelling itself is deeply entwined in the body – for voice itself, whether spoken or not, is unimaginable without the support of body. Within fairy tales in particular, the body plays a special role, for marvelous and terrible things happen to bodies in these tales. They turn into birds. They are placed into iron hot shoes and made to dance until they drop. They make love to stars. They talk to fishes, cats, and wolves. They hold little ones who are afraid, or they wrangle daring escapes. They die and with true love’s kiss come back to life once more. All things rich and strange happen to bodies in stories just as they do in every day life and this reminds us that the reality of body for us is a great mystery and question. The body is not an illusion but it is a source for illustration ~ for the ever-changing body is one of many gates opening up to the pathway in between the worlds; the one that leads straight to real magic.
One fairy tale stands out above all others when it comes to delighting in the body and speaking with wisdom, and that is the Ballad of Tam Lin.
The Sacred Art that Tam Lin speaks especially profoundly to is Alchemy and Magic and the virtue or native power of Love. We see all of these come to bear at the climax of the tale when the faerie knight Tam Lin changes from one form into another, while his lover Janet holds onto him. Wolf and Bear, Lion, and hot iron bar, Janet holds on as her lover transforms until finally he returns to his true state – that of a naked human being.
It is her love that allows her to hold on, her love that allows her to see the transformations for what they really are: exaggerated illustrations of what every body does – transform, each and every day. It is a physically riveting tale – one about bodies that reminds us that the best magic is embodied, and that we best weave enchantment into this world here and now by giving our body a place of honor within our Sacred Arts practices.
As I mentioned, each Spinning Gold module includes multiple Sacred Arts acts and crafts, and in Module One when we encounter Tam Lin and fair Janet, I share one of my favorite kitchen magics with you – the humble yet effective sacred vessel known as a salt jar. Here is one set of instructions on how to create one for yourself – it is a wonderful activity and allows you to get physical with your magic making.
Get to Know the Spinning Gold Guest Teachers for 2017-18!
When it comes to having an embodied practice of the Sacred, no one does it better than my dear friend Myra Krien. Myra is an exquisite belly dancer based in Santa Fe, and a gorgeous soul. Lineage is important to Myra’s own path – she is the granddaughter of Alan Watts, and – even more significant for her own path – the great granddaughter of Ruth Fuller Sasaki, a woman who was a trailblazer in bringing Buddhism to America.
I love her dearly and am deeply honored to have her wisdom included among our Spinning Gold guest teachers. Myra also has a lot of wisdom to share about how we come to know our singular, exceptional bodies…Listen to a clip of our conversation here!