Body/Soul -- A Meditation
Of The Whole Personby Joanne Alves
Do not disdain your body, for the soul is just as safe in
its body as in the kingdom of heaven -- though not so certain.
It is just as daring -- but not so strong
Just as powerful -- but not so constant
Just as loving -- but not so joyful
Just as gentle -- but not so rich
Just as holy -- but not yet so sinless
Just as content -- but not so complete.......... Mechtild of Magdeburg
Before beginning these meditation exercises it is important that we both understand the word "soul" in the same way. In the West "soul" usually refers to the psyche, of an individual. In the East "soul" refers to the spirit present in every living being. It is not the body which we see, nor the psyche which is called 'the subtle body'. It is the spiritual spark, the "I" or "I am" of each person. It is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss (sat-chit- ananda ). It is that part of each living being which shares in the "Nature" of the "Eternal Divine Person", a sharing in quality not quantity.
This poem by Mechtild of Magdeburg is powerful beyond the words expressed because it comes from deep realization, from intimate communion with herself and with God. It calls out for us to share in her transcendent experience, not to copy it but to experience it in the way to which each of us is called.
That is what these exercises are about. But before you begin them read her words a few times, become a little familiar with them.
Start by quieting yourself. Music is an excellent way of quieting the mind such as,Mozart flute concertos, an Indian raga or Gregorian chant. It is preferable to use music which has no words.Now bring yourself into the presence of God - a short prayer, or mantra or whatever way you want to do this.
Stay with this stillness for a minute or two. Even if mental stillness does not come to you sit still:
Now read the poem Mechtild of Magdeburg.
- As you sit still close your eyes, be with your body and your mind for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Note its pleasure or its pain. Do nothing about it. Just notice whatever is happening and be still....
Stop at the words which attract your attention.
If you are satisfied repeating the line you have chosen, stay with it throughout the exercise
- Repeat them over and over... mentally, or out loud, or in a whisper. Whatever feels comfortable to you.
- Don't try to find a meaning in the words you have chosen, or why you chose them or anything like that. Just hear the words. Let them sink into you...
- Let the sounds resonate so that the heart can be given a chance to understand these words, not the intellect. The heart is closer to the soul than the intellect.
- Saturate yourself with them.
- Repeat these words for as long as you are benefiting from this... How do you know if you are benefiting? In the same way you know that you have eaten to satisfaction.
Go back to the poem, read on...
Stop again when a line or a word resonates with you...
Repeat the process...Remind yourself through this exercise not to force a realization. That much painful mental effort has to be wasted time. It may be that no earth shattering "awakening" ever comes to you... But one day while your brushing your teeth, you might notice that you are a little more comfortable with what you see in the mirror... This is not an accident!SECOND EXERCISE
Write the first two lines of the poem in letters that are big enough to be seen with minimum effort an arm's length away.
Sit or kneel with your hands folded across your chest.
With gentleness, but firmly, say to yourself:" (Your Name) ... do not disdain your body, for the soul is just as safe in its body as in the kingdom of heaven - though not so certain."Repeat this to yourself as an affirmation for at least seven times and then sit quietly, eyes closed.
Repeat the words again when you want to reaffirm your experience or to refocus.Remind yourself through this exercise not to force a realization. That much painful mental effort has to be wasted time. It may be that no earth shattering "awakening" ever comes to you... But one day while your brushing your teeth, you might notice that you are a little more comfortable with what you see in the mirror... This is not an accident!
Since the body is not to be disdained, it is now time to pray "with" the body, not in spite of it. In churches, synagogues, temples, we have adopted a variety of ways of dressing which we associate with prayer, which help initiate us into a prayerful attitude. Now I suggest the opposite. Jesus said if we want to pray we should not make a big show but go to our room alone. So let us do this. For this prayer exercise we will not put on fine chasubles, or prayer caps or shawls, or ceremonial feathers. We will stand before God as we were born, as we are in the most intimate moment of human exchange ... naked.
Go into your room, lock the door so that you feel completely comfortable.
Light a candle, and place it close to where you are sitting
Now take off all of your clothing, carefully, thoughtfully, just as you would if you were a priest and you were putting on vestments for a ceremony about to happen.
Stand, but be careful that your body is not stiff or slouched.
Let your hands rest on your thighs, or bring them together in an attitude of prayer.
Quiet yourself by becoming aware of your breathing for a minute or two.
Now slowly raise your face upward toward God, now your arms, and repeat the words of the poem three times. Stay with this for as long as your arms can tolerate it:
Stand and repeat the same exercise, except this time lower your head to your heart, to the indwelling spirit, the shekinah, the Lord in the heart and fold your hands over your chest.
- Sit in stillness for a few minutes.
- Open your eyes. Look at your naked body and repeat the words at least 3 times.
- Now sit in stillness for as long as you want.
Now if you want you can move your arms, hands, body in dance movements expressing to God whatever is in your heart: joy, fear, surprise, love...
End the exercise by just sitting for a few minutes, in silence or in prayers of your own words.Remind yourself through this exercise not to force a realization. That much painful mental effort has to be wasted time. It may be that no earth shattering "awakening" ever comes to you... But one day while your brushing your teeth, you might notice that you are a little more comfortable with what you see in the mirror... This is not an accident!
Joanne has combined, in her spirituality and teaching, the practices of both East and West. Presently she lives near Bancroft, Ontario.
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