Embodied World

We just returned from a walk in the woods. Given I now wear a full length leg brace, going up and down hillocks is a growing challenge. In spite of this, we made it up to the ridgetop and walked for some time among columbine, pink and white trillium, and yellow lady slippers; the latter are arguably our showiest orchids, and are a joy to behold. In the forest the spring wildflowers seem to create communities of like-minded individuals, the more showy species seldom overlapping in the thick mats of plants that makeup the forest floor. 

This morning is chill although there is the promise of a warmer afternoon, and a showery overnight; the sky has assumed a milky, vaguely threatening, overcast, yet we still hoping for sun. The trees have mostly leafed out, and the leaves are growing rapidly, closing off the panoramic views through the forest.

I was reminded several times this week the stories we tell determine our world, and within each of us, and our communities, there may well be several very different narratives operating at one time. This seems true in the inner world the outer worlds.

I was also reminded that my body dictates most of my experience;  it is a consummate, and demanding, weaver of tales and creator of meanings. Clearly, while we may not be our bodies, our bodies have lives and we are, like it or not, along for the ride. When we do not acknowledge our bodies’ needs and aspirations we find ourselves carried into actions that surprise and bewilder us; acknowledging bodily aspirations and desires, but refusing to make no accommodation for them, is not helpful either.

I grew up in a Christian church setting where the body and soul were placed in opposition to each other. This always appeared odd to me, as I seemed to know innately that my body held a deep and abiding wisdom and that I benefited from paying careful, respectful attention to it. I know now that if I listen closely to my body’s stories I enter a profoundly networked world, a vast interconnected fabric of being. Should I imagine myself to be a free agent in the world, I soon bump up against the likelihood biological processes have dictated many, if not most, of my actions. When I am able, even briefly, to set aside the arguments between my mind and body it becomes starkly obvious that while mind and body are inseparable my body usually has its way, and that fighting against the aspirations of the body is like waging war on Nature, a losing proposition.

The Church took aestheticism from the teachings of St. Paul, who in turn spoke from being deeply embedded in the conflicting worldviews of his day. One may argue the Church also utilized Paul’s teachings to justify colonialism and environmental degradation, although I find it difficult to imagine Paul would have condoned the enslavement of anyone. Still, there is little doubt that Paul felt deeply conflicted and confused about his life as a body, and that we are still struggling with his desire to be other than embodied in an embodied world.

Surely, if we are to heal the wounds within ourselves and the Natural world, we must find ways to listen to, rather than negate or reject, the complex, demanding, even conflicting narratives that comprise lived experience in a human body in an embodied world.

21 thoughts on “Embodied World

  1. Very fine post Michael! The yellow orchids are beautiful. They are rare here. I know where a few grow, but they will not come up for another month yet. I enjoy your writing and thoughts. Here it is a beautiful day. It is a long weekend for us in Canada. If it remains clear I am going to spend the night in the bush looking at the moonless sky. Have a wonderful weekend. Bob

  2. Reading The First Paul by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan helped me understand better the conflicting attitudes of/by St.Paul.

  3. I am convinced that there is a close connection between the way we treat our body and the way we treat the Earth. No respect for our own body usually equates with lack of respect for our environment. The two go hand in hand. Love those yellow Lady Slippers. We have some tucked away in our area as well.

      1. Good question – perhaps we can begin by looking at the interconnection between a healthy environment and a healthy body? I personally love Mary Reynolds Thompson work “Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness.” I really resonate with her landscape archetypes that reflect our own body/mind/spirit. But, you are right, it’s probably too esoteric for people who are just beginning to look at the connection.

  4. “we must find ways to listen to…the complex, demanding, even conflicting narratives that comprise lived experience in a human body in an embodied world.” I love how you phrased your conclusion and I think it is interesting that such realities come to us amidst nature, which excels at embracing the complex and conflicting.

  5. Just returned from two weeks camping in the Western US, surrounding myself with spectacular experiences of the physical… and, of course, the spiritual side gets pulled up with it. I was 47 years in the Christian doctrine & philosophy, and I wonder at the Pauline theology of separation between body and soul. I sense a lot of FEAR in his thinking. It is a kind of fear that needs to control experience and meaning and keep it within limits and boundaries…or else…what? It will not add up to the comfortable story of salvation and human supremacy? What If…our complex human brains are really no more important than the orange veins in a lady slipper petal? Does that make us more common or the orchid more splendid? Or both? – I gotta tell you, Michael, that in returning to 160 e-mails, I’ve saved your posts for last because I want to read them slowly and carefully and respond. You always have such stimulating observations and thoughts. I truly appreciate what you have to share!

    1. I have returned to this note many times, each time taking pleasure in your kindness and thought. I suspect we are no more important than any other organism. A bit of humility would surely help. Perhaps we could be allies to the Earth rather than adversaries.

  6. I began reading this post with a remembering nod, of seeing trillium and lady slippers, and (in my case) Indian pipe orchids growing on back trails in the woods. I ended with a nod of recognition to the wisdom of your words. Your posts always, always give me something intimate and for my larger understanding too. All the best to you Michael.

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