I think that Pagans need to articulate theories of the body (or of bodies). No doubt such theories are implicit in many Pagan writings, but I want theories that are explicit, theoretical, grown from personal experience, and grounded in Pagan theo/alogies. I see my desire as one in line with Jason Pitzl-Waters's regular calls for a more serious and diverse Pagan book market. Pagans have unique perspectives on the body - on sex, pleasure, healing, and our relationship to the earth - that need to become serious contenders in the "marketplace of ideas."
Many people believe that some part of us lives on after the death of the physical body. I believe that. But what attitude, then, should we take toward the physical body? As a Pagan, I believe fervently that the body is sacred and holy, and that if we continue in some fashion after its death, that is no reason to minimize its importance. My body is more than just the vehicle of my consciousness; it is my consciousness. It is me. Insofar as I am a knower and a seeker, I am those things because I am embodied. Perhaps this is another of Goddess's paradoxes: I am essentially my body, but I am not only my body.
Adonis and I have been watching the Showtime series "Dead Like Me" on dvd. It's a quirky, sometimes sentimental exploration of humanity and death, with none of the pretensions of "Six Feet Under." (I know, I know - people love that show. I don't.) The show features a motley cast of grim reapers: humans who have died but who, for reasons unknown to them, and for an indeterminate length of time, have to stay on earth, find a job and a place to live, and gently remove people's souls in the moments before the body's death. The reapers hang out at a diner, where they receive their daily assignments on yellow post-it notes - first initial, last name, address, and time of death - from Rube, played by Mandy Patinkin. Rube is middle management. He also has an appreciation for the finer aspects of being alive, especially good food. In an early episode, he explains to Georgia, the newest reaper and our protagonist, who died when she was only 18, that a benefit of - and perhaps a reason for - occupying reaper-purgatory is to learn to appreciate the pleasures that only life in a body can bring.
When our bodies are causing us pain - whether psychic, emotional, or physical - we may wonder, if we're of a spiritual bent, why we chose to become embodied at all. Why come to earth when life on earth is so frackin' hard? The answer, I suspect, is twofold: life on earth, in a human body, is a source of enormous pleasure; and there are lessons the soul can learn only by being embodied, perhaps many, many times. As a Pagan, I believe that we emerge from the earth, from the bodies of our mothers, and that we return to the earth when our bodies die: from the arms of our mother to the arms of our Mother. The earth is our home and our sustenance, and that is a magical and beautiful thing. As for where we are, if we are anywhere, before we're born and after we die...I don't know. I don't know what the soul's journey is. But I do know, because I feel it in my bones, that the body's journey is not inconsequential to the soul's, and to speak of them as if they are separate only makes so much sense before it descends into nonsense.
I've been thinking about all of these things recently in relation to how I care for my own body. In some ways I care for my body very well, and in other ways I could stand improvement. (Yesterday my astrologer suggested to me that we can't even speak of "the body," as if it is a solid and discrete, individual thing. We each have many bodies - chakra bodies, subtle anatomy as well as gross, etc. So keep that in mind, if you wish.) Recent bloodwork and a meeting with my doctor have reminded me of something I know but usually choose to ignore: my triglycerides are high. The solution, on its surface, is simple: reduce white flour and sugar in my diet, and exercise more regularly. But I have an addiction to Coca-Cola that I find nearly intractable. (It's not, I know.) I need to give it up. I don't feel ready to give it up. And so it goes, year after year. I've recently started lifting weights, inspired by this amazing woman. I'm also inspired by a gorgeous new gym that's opened near me. I want to join, but it's more expensive than the other gyms, and I won't let myself until I'm a much more dedicated gym-goer. (The new gym is three stories wide open, all air and light, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out over the inlet; a spiral staircase connecting the floors; gorgeous new free and machine weights; a private weight room for women; a brand-new pool; gorgeous fleets of aerobic equipment in front of a wall of suspended flat-screen TVs; a beautiful suspended dance floor in the mirrored classroom; a juice bar, a spa.... Amazing.) I struggle with disordered eating. I want to weigh less, and it would be healthy for me to weigh less. But I love my body, and I want to do well by it. I want to be as strong and agile as I can be. I've suffered from chronic pain in the past, and I want to enjoy my pain-free body to its fullest. As I prepare my dog's meals - whole grains, meats, vegetables, supplements - I wonder why I don't feed myself as well. It's all in process, and I'm learning. It's ok, I tell myself. It's ok.
I'll continue all this thinking in later posts. But right now my body is telling me that, at 1 p.m., it's past time for lunch.