The embodiment of well-being

This is the fifth post in the six-part series, I Can't Get No Satisfaction.

Life always presents circumstances in which we are "forced" to move beyond our comfort zone. And for those of us who depend primarily on a sense of security for our well-being (you might depend primarily on a sense of self-worth, purpose, achievement, authenticity etc.), we need to learn how to carry our security (fill-in-your-blank) with us, find our security independent of circumstance. But this can be very challenging.

This is the work of growing up, of being human. And ultimately, I believe, it is an invitation to know the Divine as the provision of that security.

A spiritual "knowing" of this true security is what we seek but we are flesh, blood, and bone and we need physical things, not just a "spiritual sense of security". Security is a state of mind, a state of heart, but it is manifest as food on the table, safety in our neighborhoods, a place we call home, secure attachments to loved ones, communities.

These things satisfy our need for security but they also embody the spirit of security. Security and safety being a very trait of the Divine.

Biologically speaking, we need security to survive. Spiritually speaking, an element of the Divine is expressed in the search for, and realization of security. The Divine is the ultimate source of security, that Ground of all Being we want to root in, and grow out of. When we feel secure we have a sense of God. When we experience God, we're secure.

The same can be said for the pursuit of any other primary need we have. We evolved with our survival depending on us meeting that need. And when that need is met, when we feel it in our bodies, we have an insight, a physical experience that gives us a taste of the Divine reality behind the whole thing. Conversely, when we experience Divine reality we have a sense of those primary needs being met.

The physical, our material selves, our "earthy" experience, embodies the Divine.

This is part of the meaning and message of God in the world in Jesus. This is part of the meaning and message of God in the world in you.

And so a need for security (fill-in-the blank with your most pressing need) is really a need for the Divine. But this is not just spiritual. Because yes, our spirit needs security (fill-in-the-blank), but if our body is to live and house this spirit, our very bodies need this security (fill-in-the-blank) also!

We are not disembodied ideas.

After our first trip to the cabin in February, we returned two more times in March, making three weekend trips in five weeks. All the photos in these six posts are from those trips. It was a happy and healthy winter for me, without SAD or anxiety, in part because of these weekends in the woods.

Coming home tired and satisfied on Sunday night then getting up Monday morning to live my city life, I would feel disjointed, separated from my real self, which was still in the woods, skiing by day, and holed up in a little cabin by night. It's a type of disembodiment, like my spirit is somewhere else and my body is here.

But instead of dwelling on feeling disjointed, discontent, and out-of-place back in the city, instead of being critical of this tension in our lives (nature vs. city), I let my inner observer be curious about myself and my situation. Not judgemental, not making pronouncements about where I do or don't belong (belonging is a huge spiritual preoccupation of mine).

I chose to stay open to my experience, to my discontentment and tension, and be curious about what it might be teaching me. Observing my reactions and responses, my moods and emotions, paying attention to how my body felt, what my body said.

The body tells us, the body speaks. The more I learn about neuroscience and psychology, the more I recognize and appreciate what many eastern and indiginous cultures and societies have understood for millenia. The body, as much as the mind, is a seat of knowledge and wisdom. They aren't separate.

The way my body feels matters and it tells me things about who I am and what I need. It wasn't until my late thirties that I experienced anxiety in my body and it was that "bodily experience" that compelled me into searching for and practicing healing actions. Before that, anxiety lived only in my head as negative thinking, but when it became real in my body, that's when I had to listen.

I'm learning to listen to my body. But also to use my bodily experiences as a means to affect change in my thinking. We are wired this way, but I'm just being more intentional about it and I'm also hacking the system a bit to emphasis the positive to counteract my negativity bias.

The body not only tells us stuff about our emotional state, like the barometer of our well-being, but it can feed back information to the brain to change our emotional state. Amazing.

My well-being does not live in a Maine cabin we visit on the weekends. It does not live in our bank account. It doesn't live on a boat in Berkeley. Or reside in that laundromat in Albany. It is not dependent on a future life with less city driving.

My well-being, as a physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive state of being, lives right here. In me.

Which is not to say we don't pursue changes and activities to improve our situation and our well-being - physical, spiritual, or otherwise. When Damien secured a new job this winter it brought considerable relief to our family finances and released a lot of tension in our marriage around income predictability.

And skiing all winter, downhill with the kids and cross-country with Damien, positively affected every aspect of my life. I felt it in my body. I felt it in my mind. I felt it in my relationships. I was happy.

We are not disembodied ideas, we need to know things by experience to believe them. We need to experience love to feel love. We need to experience joy to feel joy. We need to experience security to feel secure. We don't feel ideas. We feel experiences, people, and situations and these physical encounters are what give us a sense for the metaphysical.

This is what I mean by embodiment.

But action and activity, positive experiences and momentum will not resolve the fundamental tension we feel, because the tension lives in us, in our contradictory, complicated, ambiguous and nuanced lives. The well-being lives in us, but so does the discomfort! And when we seek to resolve the discomforts in one area of our life, the nature of being human (complications, ambiguity, nuance, etc.) will just pop up somewhere else.

Each new situation we encounter where the tension pops up, we will have a chance to go back to the drawing board of our lives, examine hang-ups we didn't know we had, further excavate self, and make choices to let go, accept, or affect change. Knowing that if we choose change it will expose more tension, more growth. You can't escape it.

To be concluded in the next and last post...

« The irony of the real me
Filling the infinite »
  • Karen Toews

    Karen Toews on May 3, 2018, 5:26 p.m.

    Loved how clearly you've written about something that is so complex to understand and work through. Your lovely photos trigger memories of sharing your Maine winter get-aways; also inspiration for 'building' meaningful nature experiences for myself and others. Thank you xoxo Mom


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