Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Your Body is a Sacred Friend

 "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."  1 Corinthians 6:19-20

"To keep the body in good health is a duty...otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear." -Buddha (Prince Gautama Siddhartha, 563-483 B.C.)

"Yoga is really trying to liberate us from...shame about our bodies.  To love your body is a very important thing."  Rodney Yee

     The spiritual faiths and traditions of the world are unanimous on this point:  we are to love and respect our bodies.  Our relationship with our body says something essential about the condition of our soul.  From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we inhabit a body.  Our bodies are our vehicles for experiencing the world, the creation of the Divine.  Our lives are inextricably linked to the state and condition of our bodies.  Our life force diminishes when we are ill.  Death comes when our hearts stop beating.  No matter who we are, where we are, or what we believe, we wake up each morning in a body, and we relate to that body all day, every day.  We can choose how we want to relate to our body: as a cherished friend, a child that we neglect, or even as an enemy whom we despise.  

     In our walk with the Divine, we are reminded not to take our relationship with God for granted.  We endeavor not to take our friends and family members for granted.  What friend is closer to us than our own body?   How easy is it to take our body and our health for granted?  Tragically, for some of us, neglect of the body turns to its destruction before we can undo the damage wrought by neglect, stress, and lack of awareness.  

     As it is for many people, illness was a powerful reminder for me to reacquaint myself with my body and to treat it with greater respect.  I am fortunate that I discovered this in time to set my healing in motion through the regular practice of yoga, a regular cardio regime and meditation.  I also pay more attention now to nutrition as a way to love and respect my body.  

     I would like to relate to my body as a sacred friend.  I have never liked dieting, because I see it is a deprivation.  I don't want to deprive my friend.  I want to cherish her and give her good things.  I want to be aware of harmful excesses and toxins, but at the same time I want to enjoy the experience of being in my body.  I don't impose rigid rules on my friends, or on my body.  I believe in little indulgences, often, without guilt.  I like half and half in my coffee, whole milk in my tea and butter on my bread.  If I bake desserts, I eat them.  When I want french fries, I eat french fries.  Nothing is really off limits.  Dieting as deprivation often does more harm than good, because it reflects an adversarial relationship with the body.  Jesus was not a proponent of strict dietary rules.  His response to his culture's insistence on strict rules was clear: "You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do."  Matthew 15:11.  

     My faith practices have taught me to love and respect my body.  Yoga, in particular, is teaching me to pay attention to the experience of my body, to treat it with kindness, and to inhabit it with grace.  

     When I first committed to a regular practice, I met a truly inspirational friend in a yoga class.  Her name is Amanda Winters.  She is a health coach and nutritionist who is working towards her yoga certification.  She is a single mother who runs her own health and fitness business. 
Since I have known her, she has consistently supported me and my family members in making better choices about what we eat and how we relate to food and our bodies.  We support one another in our yoga practice.  Amanda has a set a great example of living out the value of service in the yoga tradition, by volunteering to teach yoga classes to economically disadvantaged women in the New York area.  Through her own struggles with multiple food allergies, she has found a way to nourish and balance herself and to transmit her experiential wisdom to others.  I truly value her friendship and I am dedicating this post to her work with women and families who are dedicated to improving their health and the way they relate to their bodies. 

     Each of us have unique DNA and our bodies are beautiful expressions of that uniqueness.  No matter what we do, we transmit our contributions and connections to the rest of the world through our bodies.  Believing that the soul lives on when the body dies is an even greater motivation to appreciate the body while we still have it.  Your experience in your body is precious and temporary, so make the most of it.  
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship."  Romans 12: 1.  If you love God, you will love your body. 


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Easy Silence

My husband keeps the world at bay for me.  When I heard this song this morning, "Easy Silence," I wanted somehow to dedicate it to my husband.  It's not because our house or much of anything in our lives is silent.  The song made me think of him because his constant presence and support in my life brings me home to ease and silence, even in the midst of the whirlwind of life. 

When you meet him, you may not think of him as a quiet man.  His voice can be heard across a noisy restaurant or a bustling field of 4 year old soccer players.  When I met him 8 years ago, one of the things that attracted me was watching him sit outside of the main dining room at Club Med in a lounge chair, extending high fives to each person as he or she entered.  He likes to make his presence known.  I am just so thankful that he is present for me. 

Anyone dedicated to a spiritual path knows that family life, while fertile ground for growth, is also a minefield of disruptions and distractions.  Those of us with families, spouses, and otherwise busy earthly lives are what the yogis call "householders."  We have a particular role at this point in our lives that necessarily confines us to a certain type of spiritual practice.  We are not monastics.  We are not young seekers, able to travel light and devote all of our time to growth and study.  We are not retired adults in the winter of our lives, serenely dispensing wisdom to our communities.  We are in the thick of life, right now. 

My husband and I are very different from one another.  When we were deciding whether or not to commit long-term to our relationship, he said to me: "I just don't know if we are looking for the same things.  You are in a different place than I am."  That is still a true assessment of the two of us.  However, he supports me on my life journey more than any other person ever has.  He does not consider himself spiritual.  I still can't understand football rules well enough to intelligently discuss a Steelers game.  But he is the person who makes it possible for me to go to yoga classes at night or on the weekend.  He is the one who puts the spreadsheets together for our church's finances.  He is the one who encourages me to meditate at night before bed while he watches football and folds laundry.  He encourages me to read the Bible or the Yoga Sutras while he reads crime novels or historical fiction.  We can't always discuss what we read.  Our interests do not often meet.  But we make enough room in our relationship and our lives for the interests and goals of the other person.

My husband never gives me the third degree.  In turn, I do not question him or challenge him regarding his preferences.  I don't care about the way he dresses.  We don't fight over which television shows to watch.  If our TV is on, it's either Nick Jr., ESPN or Mythbusters.  I don't even like TV.  But I don't mind that my husband likes it.  I respect him and his choices.  He respects me and values what I value.  There is an unspoken mutual support between us that allows us to confidently engage in life.

We talk.  But there is no expectation in our discussions.  I don't try to make him feel better and I don't expect him to give me pep talks.  What's important is that we know what's going on with the other person; he knows what I am thinking about, what I am going through, what my hopes are.  I know when he is suffering, when he is enjoying something and when he needs space to simply be.  We don't fill our time together with a lot of chatter.  It works for us.

Every marriage is different.  Personally, I wouldn't want to be in a marriage where we had to do everything together, in step.  The nature of life is change.  None of us stay the same as we were on our wedding day.  We keep evolving, and the gift of marriage is to have someone there for you to support your evolution.

My husband keeps the world at bay for me.  He lightens every load.  He is the most steadfast person I have ever known...ever.  I am forever grateful for the easy silence he makes for me.