Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Embodied like me

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.


Judith Laura said...

Hi Inanna,

A quick comment on your statement, "My body is more than just the vehicle of my consciousness; it is my consciousness." If you body is your consciousness, do you think that consciousness is inseparable from the body? If so, then I don't see how there can be consciousness after death (which I think is what most people mean when they say "life after death.") If consciousness is separate from the body, this doesn't necessarily diminish the body for me. What it means to me is that consciousness (same thing as soul??? different???) is embodied during our existence on Earth. But that consciousness may continued to exist in some other state after our bodies die. To me this means that both the embodied and the non-embodied states are holy, sacred. Like you, I think a lot of about death. I wrote one of my columns in The Beltane Papers about it a while back. The column is also posted on this my website here:


Inanna said...

Hi Judith,

I'm totally psyched that you read my blog.

I think that your description of consciousness as embodied on earth but not necessarily embodied before or after life on earth is the best way to make sense of what happens, if we believe in life after death of the physical body (as I do). My statement that consciousness is necessarily embodied, but not only embodied, is a logical contradiction.

But I worry, as you acknowledge, that the body becomes devalued if we focus on the life of the soul/consciousness/spirit, or on transcendence, as Christianity does. I really, really want to (re)value the body, and life on earth, and humans' relationship to the earth. And maybe it's sufficient to value the earth and our bodies as well as the entire journey of the soul or consciousness. But I also think that my consciousness has a certain quality because it's in the body it's in. Maybe it loses that quality when it leaves the body, or maybe it maintains that quality like a memory.

I don't know for certain what I believe. For now, I want to sit with the paradox that my consciousness is my body and isn't my body, as well as engage in conversations like this one, to explore what I believe.

Inanna said...

Oh, and I'll definitely check out your article. Thanks!

Nio-HH said...

I love to believe in a life after this one, but I'm not sure how deep I believe it. To me it's almost fanciful thinking: one minute I believe it wholeheartedly and other days I shrug and say "who knows."

What I do believe, deep in my soul, is in reincarnation in some sort. I *have* been here before, this I have no doubt about. And I will come back again (I hope as a tree that doesn't get cut down or a house cat that gets spoiled).

There are days when my soul aches for days past. But I can never put my finger on when and where. I'm drawn to the middle ages in Ireland, but is it because I lived then or because I find it interesting?

I don't take as good care of my body as I should. Mostly it's the hurdles I have to overcome that seem insumountable. But maybe it's cuz I know I'm coming back no matter how well I care for her.

As for Dead Like Me, it's one of my favorite shows and I wish they would put back on (there's a petition you can sign if you Google "dead like me"+petition). I will never look at a Post-it the same again.