Physical spirituality

I sat in my back yard in the sunshine, in my t-shirt, unusual in England in December. As the cobweb shivered in a breath of wind, the long anchoring strand vibrated, and for a fraction of a second would reflect light then not. The light flickering along the strand was beautiful, and I paid it my attention. There is my body, warm, breathing, apparently still yet with so much going on, and a particular experience of a strand of spider-silk and of sunlight which I have spontaneously decided to give my attention, a physical process of sensory organs and brain processing.

Cartesian dualism, the idea of a soul, and the Enlightenment concept of the rational human mind for which the body is hardly more than a life-support system have split us in two, distorting and reducing our experience. I am not a spirit in a material world, a soul having a physical experience, but an animal, honed by half a billion years of evolution into more than is contained in the concept “mind”.

I am an animal, and part of my ongoing process of maturing is escaping the constraints of the mind I have been taught to value into the experience of my whole self and its whole capacity. Because of my particular experience, I call this learning “spiritual”, and yet so much of my “spirituality” relates to inhabiting my physical being, nerve cells, receptors, senses, processes. More broadly, I consider maturing is the process of learning what it means to be human, escaping constraints on ones humanness imposed by society or circumstance, and learning to use full human capacity- including “spiritual experiences” which do not make sense to the rational mind.

I could not see what I had not been taught to value. Then I saw it and because was terrified of it, I saw it distorted. Now I see it face to face. Finding it seems a spiritual experience and much of what I find is related to being an evolved animal in a physical space- of course, because that is what I am, rather than a soul or a mind. What I experience as mind is part of the animal.

It is good for us to spend time outside. It makes us feel better. This may be the skin using sunshine to create vitamin D, or being away from work for a moment (for those of us who work indoors) but for me it is the unpredictability of outside, the increased sensory stimulation, with more things moving and alive. We leave our most controlled environment and become animals in a habitat. If after at least eleven years of education, mostly sitting at desks listening speaking and writing “sensibly”, we have learned to value our minds this helps us value our bodies. Others may have had a more physical childhood than I, and still value their minds more. I walked over hills with my dog and with the Scouts, and leapt from a pile of bales of hay into a pile of sawdust at the nearby farm with the farm worker’s children, and am still doing this “spiritual” work.

I was thinking that my belief in God is different from my belief in Ediacarans, but it is not, not really. I believe in God, Father and Mother, Almighty Creator, in a way which cannot be expressed as a logical sequence of propositions, but is emotional, is a matter of trust. And I believe in pre-Cambrian fauna, but I could not evaluate the logical sequence of propositions used to say what they are: I could not date the rocks, or assess evidence whether they are multi-cellular eukaryotes or colonies of bacteria. Again it is finding trust, emotionally, in something greater than myself, in the truthfulness and co-operation of my culture.

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