Loving the body with your whole soul, loving the soul with your whole body.
The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account.
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.
—Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass
Modern psychology has mostly neglected the body. With a few notable exceptions (for example, Stanislov Grof, Marion Woodman, and Arny and Amy Mindell), psychotherapists have tended to the mind as if it lived in a home set apart, away from the body. From the Western point of view, ideas reign supreme—ever since Plato denigrated the physical world as a mere shadow of some supreme ideal.
Popular culture, on the other hand, is obsessed with bodies. We use bodies to sell everything from vacation trips to feminine hygiene products. We exercise and go to gyms to look more youthful, muscular, toned. We submit to plastic surgery to tighten our faces or to get just the right contour and fullness for this or that mound of flesh. In this culture of consumerism, bodies are used to “make the sale” by getting us to want more and to believe we are, in the final analysis, deficient.
In 14th century India, the mystic and poet Lalla sang her poems in the nude in front of astonished audiences. If we have the courage, like Lalla, to lay ourselves bare, what do we see? The Biblical account of Genesis, our collective story about the origin of all things, tells us that in the beginning we stood naked and unashamed. In our original state and without the knowledge of good and evil, our bodies existed as an outward manifestation of the soul. Only when the first two people ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil did the soul became separated from the body.
According to the Jewish Talmud, this is what enabled human beings to move beyond the static condition of the angels and into the realm of experience. If Adam and Eve had stayed innocent, free of the ability to think critically, they never would have left the Garden—and no learning or growth would have been possible. In this sense, the woman, Eve, by eating first of the forbidden fruit, became the mother of our story. Her desire to know (and thus to be like God) started us on our journey through this world. Yet, here in the labyrinth laid out between the two poles of Heaven and Hell, we often get lost. Without reminders, it is easy to mistake the soul for something other-worldly, pristine, and remote, and in so doing we may eschew the body as a lowly thing— or make a golden calf out of it, cynically trading the Divine for the pornographic.
We need reminders, constant reminders, that the soul and the body need not be set against each other, that their apparent separation is a condition of mind only. The English poet William Blake proclaimed, “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a/portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in/this age.” With the eyes of the lover, Whitman saw that the body “of the male is perfect and that of the female is perfect.” The lover’s secret is that the divine and the physical are in essence the same. The alchemy of love reconciles the inner and outer worlds.
The Greeks had a word for sexual love, eros, but limited the term to describe love or affection between unequal partners. The word agape, on the other hand, was reserved for something more complex, the self-sacrificing, contemplative, and eternal love expressed towards a spouse, a family member, a teacher, or a student. Early Christians used the idea of agape to portray the love between God and His creation. Here we encounter, once again, a dichotomy that places the physical and the spiritual on opposite sides of a great divide. So the question remains, how are we to bring together eros and agape, desire and love? How are we to rejoin the body with the soul?
The answer, I think, lies in awareness and intention. Take this moment to stop reading. Stand up or lie down on the floor and stretch everything. Bring your awareness back into your head and neck, shoulders, arms, hands. Move your awareness into your back, your buttocks, your loins, your legs and your feet. Take your time. Notice as much as possible about the sensations you come upon with your awareness. Notice areas of tension, heat, cold, aches, fullness, or emptiness. Notice how energized or tired you are.
Now come to stillness in either a sitting or standing position. Choose one hand to represent your soul and the other to represent your body. With your “soul” hand, find and make a movement that represents your soul. If there is no movement, just allow your hand to be still. Whether in stillness or movement, let yourself experience whatever your “soul” hand is doing. Now, with the other hand make a movement that represents the body. Experience this movement separately from the movement of the “soul.”
Allow the “soul” hand and the “body” hand to express their movements at the same time. As they move, gradually bring them together and allow them to interact. Notice how the interaction between the two hands changes what each hand is doing, how bringing awareness to the interaction may lead to new movements and experiences. It may feel like the two hands are making love. You may sense a fight wanting to break out. Perhaps they are indifferent or regard each other with cold suspicion. Trust the imaginative power of your body.
Notice that the body has its own language and “reason.” Notice how you feel when your two hands interact, what happens to you internally and externally. Last, find a way to bring this interaction to a close. When you feel the process has finished reflect on what you have learned.*
This mind-body technique joins awareness to movement. Mind-body exercises work because
they unite what is visible and invisible within us. When we direct our awareness to any physical activity (from eating to roller-blading to making love), we bring soulfulness to that activity, for the soul follows awareness.
Awareness unfolds the experience of the body into a new realm of wonder where the unexpected can and often does happen. When the body is activated in this way, it inclines towards its original source, the state in which the first man and woman found themselves prior to eating the fruit of knowledge.
The body loves the soul by expressing itself, by becoming the physical expression of our deepest spiritual yearnings. The soul, in turn, has always loved the body, its most outward and beautiful form. As Blake understood, the ultimate love affair is between the Eternal and Itself—but this love affair could not be realized without “the productions of time.”
* This exercise has been converted from the work of Arny and Amy Mindell, two psychologists who have pioneered a unique approach to psychotherapy called Process Work. Though the structure of the exercise is theirs, the content is mine and I accept complete responsibility for its success or failure.
Jon Scheffres (Guruprasad Singh), MA, LPC is a psychotherapist, lecturer, and a KRI Certified Kundalini Yoga Teacher practicing in Salt Lake City. Email him with your thoughts on happiness at: firstname.lastname@example.org.