Working With The Body
by Robert Augustus Masters
An integral approach to healing means (1) that the psychological, the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual are permitted to work in fruitful tandem; and (2) that whatever constitutes one — at whatever level or dimension — is worked with in the context of one’s innate wholeness of being.
For example, bodywork — massage, structural integration, cranialsacral work, Feldenkrais, etcetera — would through such an approach be conducted in a way that effectively connected it and its results to one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. This is an intuitive, deeply felt process, known from the inside.
Without such connection, we are marooned, left clinging to — and probably overrelying on — particular aspects of ourselves. We may meditate deeply, but find ourselves cut off from the depths of our emotions; or we may be able to openly contact and express such depths, but find ourselves overwhelmed by or too easily caught up in them; or we may change our way of thinking, so that we can better regulate our emotions, but find ourselves stuck in disembodied rationality; and so on. We may conceal — and not necessarily deliberately — what isn’t working behind what is working for us.
The healthy integration of self — the healing of self — needs a suitable crucible for whatever changes are necessary. That crucible, that container for Awakening’s alchemy, is ideally present both inwardly — in one’s commitment to healing — and outwardly — in supportive environments, like the company of kindred spirits. This is beautifully represented by the classical Greek word temenos, meaning a sacred enclosed space, a vessel or environment wherein transformation occurs.
In what follows, an overview is given of what it means to work with our body, our mind, our emotions, and our spirituality, and how such work can be beneficially conducted.
A. WORKING WITH OUR BODY
Insults and injuries
To work with our body is to be compassionately and wholly attentive to our body as it now is. To this end, it is useful to cease viewing our body as a thing, a mere container for our supposedly higher dimensions. It is also useful to stop viewing our body as being “down there,” somewhere below our head. When we envisage our body from the vantage point of our cranial headquarters, it may very likely seem as if we are above it, and not necessarily just in a physical sense. We may even blame our body for bringing us down. But the fault is not in our body, regardless of its condition, but rather in what we are doing with our body.
What we essentially are makes its appearance not in a body, but as a body. This does not necessarily mean that we literally are our body, but that our body expresses rather than contains us.
The body does not lie, but reveals.
Whether or not we listen to its messages — as articulated through its tensions, aches, leanings, cries, asymmetries, oddities of gesture, and so on — it is always revealing who we are busy being moment-to-moment. The damage (and not just physical damage) we have done and have had done to ourselves is eloquently present in our bodies, regardless of the compensatory twists and turns we have taken.
If the subtler messages of our body are not attended to, then more overt or dramatic signals may well ensue. If these are not given sufficient attention, then even more blatant signs — serious malfunction, and so on — may arise. Like the steed that needs not the whip, but only the shadow of the whip, we need to heed the language of our body when it is but a whisper, and heed it with our full, undivided attention.
Body-attuned practices — like hatha yoga and the many kinds of massage — can, when infused with mindful attentiveness, help us to more fully embody our fundamental nature. Then we begin to realize, and more than just intellectually, that body and mind are not really apart, that the body is the visible part of the mind and the mind the invisible part of the body. Then we are literally in touch with our innate wholeness of being. Such contact is the foundation of healing.
By not letting our body speak its mind, we miss the wisdom that can arise from and through the awakening body, the body that is consciously lived, respected, and felt.
We can work on our body from the outside — for example, through typical exercise or conventional physiotherapy — and we can also work on our body from the inside — as through various meditative or awareness-centered disciplines. Ideally, the body is worked with both from the outside and the inside, in conjunction with fitting psychological/spiritual work, so as to bring about a deeper, more dynamic connection with one’s physicality. That connection, that congruent bodily anchoring, not only helps quiet and clarify our mind, but also helps us to more deeply contact and embody our spiritual dimensions.
The body asks only to be loved, lived, and illuminated. The body is not a burden with which we’ve been saddled. It is not an obstruction to wisdom.
We only need to shift from having a body to being a body, and from being a body to Being. Then we can feel, right down to the tips of our toes, how natural it is to be whole, no longer separating body and soul. In permitting a fuller, saner, nonproblematic embodiment of our essential nature, we make possible a life for ourselves that is of benefit not just to us, but to all beings.
It is crucial that we not only love what outlives this body, but this body also, for it too is a weaving of the Real, a unique flowering whose rise and beauty and singularity ache to be known before its demise.
About the Author:
Robert Augustus Masters is a psychotherapist, group leader, bodyworker, and teacher of spiritual deepening practices, integrating the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual in his practice. He has authored eight books, including Divine Dynamite, Darkness Shining Wild, and, most recently, Spiritual Bypassing. His essays have appeared in magazines ranging from Magical Blend to the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, as well as in several anthologies. And running rampant through all his writing is poetry, keeping his prose on its toes.