Written by Shai Tubali
Why we shouldn’t push away the body from the spirit
Many religions and spiritual traditions emphasize our spirit’s superiority over the lowly and non-spiritual body. In religions the body is often considered a host of temptation and lust. In subtler teachings of spiritual awakening and enlightenment it is the clearest symbol of earthly bondage and attachment.
To attain enlightenment, so we are taught, one must vehemently practice that “I am not the body”. We should, as much as possible, detach from the physical experience and leap to a state of non-attached consciousness to shift our identity from material beings into spiritual entities.
However, this type of teachings, I believe, lack a deeper consciousness of the body. In so many ways, the body is consciousness. We only need to know how to look into it deeply and intimately enough to allow it to surprise us with its deeper nature – that in reality, it is a portal to the cosmos, to limitlessness consciousness and to our innermost space.
Before anything else, we need to realize: to a certain degree we are already practising pretty wonderfully the enlightened teachings that tell us to detach from the body. Indeed, if we met some great Yogi and he or she would say: “Now detach from the body”, we could honestly reply: “But I am already perfectly detached. What do you want from me?”
As a matter of fact, “I am not the body” is anyway our state. Our daily experience is that we are observing our body from our mind. And funnily, we are not even the mind, since we are only located on one tiny island within the mind. On this tiny island we stand, hardly able to move, stick our flag of identity and declare: “Here I am!“ This is the island of our thoughts, memories and wishes; a small story that we have weaved around a sort of “me” through which we look at everything from a very separate and isolated angle. This island is most certainly not the body but rather a complete alienation from it.
From this perspective, it is not we who are meant to become free from the body; it is the body that is meant to become free from us – from this tyranny of concepts and painful isolation that is imposed on it by our thinking.
The new experience: “I am the body”
There are three ways to regard the body. The first is the thought: “I have a body”. We all have this sense that we are connected to a certain physical unit which is a possession that we need to defend and also nourish and pleasure. The body in this case is the vehicle through which we fulfil our desires and wishes.
The second option is to declare: “I am not the body”. We all have already fulfilled this to a certain degree, since “I have a body” is not an identity but only something we have. So we are just one step away from detaching completely and realising that we are spirit. Here our job is to move from body-consciousness to spirit-consciousness; to learn how to hover over the body so to speak.
However, there is a third possible experience: “I am the body”. This is a state of unity of consciousness and the body. This happens when the thinking machine is dropped, not the body, because you realise that the body has never been your problem.
What is the problem with this innocent sweet physical entity? If anything, I am the problem, with my attachments, fears and anxieties. I am like a driver who pushes one’s own precious car to the abyss. If a driver would do that, who is the problem, oneself or the car?
The only problem is the self: this mental and emotional entity that wants and desires and is full of anxiety. This entity isolates the body from the entire universe to which it belongs. Not only the body is innocent, but it is also already united. It is fully connected to the entire universe, since it has never developed its own separate consciousness. More than that, it holds in it the direct memory of where it came from – unlike the foreign entity of the self, which abuses abundantly its capacity to imagine by hallucinating that it came from elsewhere.
Thought is fantasy, and so with thought you can freely fantasize. It is wonderful to fantasize that diseases are curable and creative endeavours are possible, since this enables humans to break through limitations. The problem with fantasy begins when you can also fantasize a “me” that makes you enter a sort of hallucination in which suddenly the universe is “over there”, a distant object. How can this be? Are you something else? Are you watching from somewhere else? Can it be that you are not the cosmos when you speak of the “cosmos”? Of course not: you are life and you are cosmos. Still we imagine “Here I am”, and then we impose this on the body too.
Physicists say that the body is made of stardust. It is even more than that. It contains a very natural cosmic flow, because it holds in it the living memory of fifty billion years and even before that. It was there in the big bang; it doesn’t even need reminding. It is ancient, wise, connected and more deeply, already unified.
Why the body so often gets sick
When, forced by the thinking machine, the body becomes separate too – a body that belong to “me” and not to the universe – it begins to become agitated. That is also why it becomes very often sick. Most of our illnesses are psychosomatic, the outcome of the mind shaping and distorting the body.
Some speak of non-violence and ecological awareness; how we should respect the plants, animals and the planet as a whole. But what about our violence towards the body, when we fill it with anger, negative thoughts, desire, obsession and inner contradiction?
In itself, the body is not only mostly healthy but always naturally very happy. It abides in the now, and that is why people feel so healthy when they are deeply silent and relaxed. They feel at once that they are finally able to breathe. This is not because they become “spiritual” in the old sense of the word, but because they unburden the body from unnecessary thoughts. In the now the body is healthy, because the two belong to each other.
When we say we feel physically tired, what we actually mean is “I have tired the body too much with thinking, wanting, desiring and pushing, and have made it pretty miserable so now it is exhausted…” Remove this self, the tiring aspect – and shockingly, the body is again energetic and happy, because it is forever plugged in to the energy of the cosmos. It shares the same vibration and aliveness.
The body is naturally happy, with the same happiness you see when you watch a dog running on the grass or a child running around. Their happiness is far less disturbed, since there is not much of a separating entity controlling their body. At the same time, the body is also very quiet and relaxed. As soon as you drop the separating entity, you realise that the body is full of silence.
The body is not the source of desire
Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the body is not even desirous. Unlike anything they claimed about it in medieval times and in almost all religions – fear and guilt we carry in us to this day – it is not the body that is the source of evil. The body, the “flesh”, is not really full of desires and evil intent. It is the other way around: it is thought that is desirous. In reality, the body needs very little since it follows its own natural rhythms.
For example, it is not the body that thinks all the time of sex. The body is not the one that produces sexual thoughts and fantasies, abusing the sex impulse in a completely senseless way. Why would it constantly generate a sexual urge, when it is not even its natural rhythm? Bodies don’t do such things; only thoughts do. Only thoughts could get hooked on some pleasure and turn it into an obsession, telling the body: “Now I will take you here and there and you fulfil, fulfil, fulfil… and become intolerably fiery and explosive in my name…”
No body becomes addicted to sugar and no body suffers from obesity. No body wakes up in the middle of the night, thinking “Oh, I really fancy this pizza in the fridge!” If anything, the body is the one that whispers in your ear: “Please don’t! What are you doing? I am already full!” Whenever thought abuses the body, it sends signals telling it: “Please, what are you doing to me?”
The body belongs to the cosmos
This is where we begin to realise that the body is actually more spiritual than our conditioned mind. The conditioned mind is very distant from the spirit, just as it is distant from the stars, the rivers, the breeze and the trees. But the body knows all of them very closely. It immediately recognizes them and greets all – the moon, the sky, the clouds – with a warm “Hey, how are you doing?”
After all, the cosmos is a large body like one huge tree and the body is a leaf on one of its countless branches. How can a leaf not recognize the tree? It feels it from within and knows its own unity with the tree, and in such a natural, familiar and relaxed way. As far as it is concerned, there is no substantial separation. It is not that the body ends at its edges or outlines and then there is another “thing”. It operates as an energetic part of the whole, steeped in a state of ecstatic belonging and a sharing in the cosmic body.
One of the most beautiful sentences I have read about the body was surprisingly said by the great spiritual master Ramana Maharshi. He, who generally emphasized a total detachment from the body, said: “I know of only two real things: the Self (the one true Self, or consciousness) and the body. In between the two there came something that I do not recognize.” The one in between is, of course, the “I”, which to him was the unreality. This is a great teaching: between consciousness and the body there is no separation; both share reality.
Matter is not the problem. We don’t need to deny matter to become spiritual. It is like denying nature – why would you deny nature? You are nature too.
Indeed, we can think of the spiritual process as a process in which the body becomes purified of the elements that the self has instilled in it. The body has become unnaturally filled with memories, imprints, resistances and desires, and in the spiritual process it gradually returns to be innocent again; to be cosmic again.
It returns – yet with one major difference: all the awareness which we have cultivated in this process is sinking into the body and uniting with it. This is where we can move to the third possibility: “I am the body”, realizing that truly it is all vibrating with consciousness.
It‘s only our thinking that makes the body seem like an object of flesh, blood and bones. This is not the real experience of the body from within. Have you entered it once? Have you felt into it? Have you ever entered this cosmos?
Often in meditation, if we enter deeply enough, we suddenly feel that we don’t have a body. Then we think: “I have transcended the body!” But this is not what really happened. In reality, the body revealed itself as consciousness, showing that from deep within there is no separation between the two. Deep inside there is just pure space, because pure space, vibration and intelligence are all inherent qualities of your body.
Even the subtle anatomy that the Yogis spoke of – the Chakras and the Kundalini – are realities deep within the innermost of the body. It is a celebration of spirituality, and it has all the forces within to get you back home and make you feel that you belong again.
Meditate on the body from the inside
The body is full of space. If you enter it from without, you will only see that it is completely stuffed with matter. But fortunately we do not only experience life from the outside, but also from the inside. The fact that we have accepted this external concept of the body is just like if somebody would come and tell you: “You are an idiot!” and you will say: “Oh, I am an idiot.” and you would never question that because this guy told you so.
This is what we do with the scientific and outer knowledge of the body. Somebody comes and shows us that this is the body, and we say “Oh, sure. So now the only question is: where is my spirit?”
The mechanistic view also says that the intelligence of the body is only this interaction between substances. But really, the body is a field of intelligence. It is not physical; it is an energy field that connects physical elements. This field is indeed full of space and full of organising intelligence.
We know nowadays that physically we are a community. We know, for example, that large communities of bacteria constitute a huge part of what we call the physical body. So what is the organizing element? Surely, this element is not thought, since as we know, thought doesn’t even understand what is going on; in fact, when it comes to the body, it is mostly completely helpless. It is only when you enter the body that you realise that it is one energy field with an intelligence of its own.
It is easy to awaken this consciousness of “I am the body” in meditation. You simply let your attention fall into the body, by making it leave its central location in the head. Your attention and awareness are usually wrongly located in this one spot. Even in traditional meditation people give attention to certain regions of the body, like the nostrils, while still positioning themselves in one small point. But attention and awareness don’t have to stay in the head; they can also also be in your toes, fingertips and chest. The whole body is attention, so simply shift the very sense of “me” to a full body experience, spreading yourself all over the body.
Another meditation would be to redefine the most basic instruction of traditional meditation: “Go within”. Sure, you need to go inside – into your body. Habitually, when we follow such a guidance, we find ourselves entering some kind of an abstract and strange place. But if you understand this instruction literally and physically, you go to the very depth or the innermost of the body. You turn your gaze into this thing that we usually consider an object to discover that the whole universe is inside it.
Close your eyes and look into this thing that you usually perceive as an object, as that which others see or you see when you look at the mirror. Look as deeply as possible into that which you considered only flesh, bones and blood, and the first thing you will notice is that the body is not really material. It is so full of space that truly, its density is minimal. Then you realise that the space you see out there in the sky is the same space from which you look.
Of course, if you heavily abuse the body by overeating or overindulging in sex, you would not be able to feel this space. You would feel so stuffed and dull that your poor body wouldn’t be able to reveal its secret. That is why the most important element of spiritual diet is not what we eat but making sure that we always stop eating before reaching the sense of fullness. Always keep a certain tension, because if you lose it, you cannot be spiritual; you will just feel dense. Eat two thirds of your capacity to maintain this gap that ensures your body is light enough to show its light.