“Place your bare feet on the earth or your opened palm upon a tree, and you will start to feel better, no matter what your ailment. The earth and the tree are not healing you. They are Reminding you of What You Are.” Sera Beak, Author and Redvolutionary
The word ‘occupy’ conjures up a variety of situations based on its historical use. In my parents’ generation, occupation referred to an invading army taking over a country, as with my mother’s native Norway and the Nazis during World War II. In more recent times, it has come to represent a social and political movement with, for instance, the Occupy: Wall Street activism. For me, there is a more critical application of occupation for every one of us to practice: to fully occupy our bodies and our deepest selves in order to heal ourselves and our planet.
To occupy is to take up space, inhabit. In so much of spiritual and religious teaching, the object seems to be to subdue and subject the body, or even divorce ourselves from it altogether in the name of transcendence and oneness. Spiritual practice of all stripes becomes focused on, for instance, controlling desire. Renunciation takes on the meaning of doing without physical comfort and most certainly without pleasure. Denying the body became the way to Heaven and peace and contentment in mainstream religion, and we are closer to that line of thinking than we’d like to admit in New Age spirituality as it is sold and practiced. When is the last time a spiritual teacher suggested a hot fudge sundae as a spiritual practice? And yet, a sweet, creamy, chocolatey treat may be exactly what is needed for the soul to fully experience this life on a particular day.
Western culture has incorporated this theme of subjugating the body so completely that we no longer see it, although our bodies feel it. From our calendar with little or no connection to nature’s seasonal rhythms (even the month has long since lost the connection to the moon’s actual cycles); to work schedules that shape our days around the needs of machines or dollars rather than bodies and minds; to food sometimes so far removed from its source that the body can’t recognize it as nourishment; we deny our true nature as nature.
As one of my yoga teachers liked to say, people in Western culture seem to walk around all day ‘like brains on sticks.’ We are so caught up in our thoughts or external distractions, we miss most of our actual experience, as when we stick earbuds into our ears and divide our attention between what the body is doing and the music we are hearing. We do our best to ignore and suppress and sometimes even oppress our bodies and their signals, tuning out the little pains and discomforts in the name of convenience or fear or simply because we can no longer hear them. Until the body’s voice becomes too loud to ignore, when the little pains and discomforts become disease or dysfunction.
Here we are as human beings, by definition beings of flesh and blood. To be fully human requires being fully present with and as a human body. Rather than spirit trapped in flesh, we are soul expressed as flesh and blood, emotions and sensations. We are made of the same stuff as everything and everyone around us. We are inter-connected as individuals as well as collectively with each other and our home planet. In divorcing ourselves from our bodies, we have also divorced ourselves from nature. We see ourselves as separate from, and either superior or inferior to the creation around us. Our view of separation has resulted in dire consequences for both humans and nature. We don’t make the connection that our warming planet might be a consequence, at least in part, of the same patterns of over-doing and over-consuming that make inflammatory diseases so common in our bodies.
What does it mean, what does it feel like and look like to be fully embodied, to feel and sense and experience to the extent of our capacity? For one thing, being fully in and as the body means being comfortable in our own skin. Embodiment requires a compassionate embrace of every cell, every wrinkle, every ache and pain and sensation, whether we choose to like it or not. Radical self-love begins on this material plane of flesh and blood. It does not matter the state of health or dis-ease, the level of physical ability, whether we can perform arm balances or not. The current state of the body reflects the current accumulation of life experience, family and ancestral history, cultural and environmental influences. We may not have control over all illness and injury that comes our way, but when we fully occupy our bodies, there is less room for disease and more support for our bodies’ own natural inclination to be healthy.
What we get from this radical self-acceptance is a more full and complete experience of life, and of our selves. We get a model of how to be in relationship. Just as important, when we come home to our bodies, re-sensitize our selves, we realize our role in the greater natural world. The inherent intelligence of nature is reflected within the body in form and function, and rhythm. We can sense that local, in-season foods are more nourishing. Not surprisingly, eating locally and seasonally is gentler, too, on the earth. When we are tuned into our natural circadian rhythms, we are more inclined to get up and go to bed with the sun. Again, this pattern creates less impact on our planet as we reduce our need to light up the night.
Fully inhabiting a body – occupying our selves – is a declaration of ownership, acceptance, and authority. My body, my life, my health. Embodiment is the path to the full expression of ourselves, our souls, as well as realizing our innate connection with the world around us. And when we finally get it, that what we do to ourselves we do to the Earth, maybe then we can heal both.