Friday, September 18, 2009

The Body and Spirit

It seems that every time I hear a poem I like I find out that it was written by Mary Oliver. What spoke to me in this poem, which is untitled, is the idea of the spirit embodied. The body, so often in our culture is considered inferior. It is so often thought to be something we have rather than something we are. But what is our spirit if not for our body?


An untitled poem by Mary Oliver

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body's world,

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is --

so it enters us --
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Courage to Relax

What a perfect picture of relaxation and bliss.

I love this kitten because she illustrates perfectly the vulnerability in and pleasure of relaxation.

To drop into full relaxation requires us to drop our defenses. This is not always appropriate, of course. If we are in danger, instead of relaxing, we want to gear up to fight or flee. This protects us. Unfortunately, all too often, however, we operate with a perceived sense of danger. Under constant stress, we tense up against it. We tighten our muscles in defense, our body becomes contracted, our chest sinks, our shoulders hike up, our belly is tight. We go about life wearing armor to protect ourselves.

To drop into full relaxation requires courage to let go of that protective armor. Our belly softens, our chest opens, our shoulders drop. Our body relaxes and opens. Some people find that it is difficult to relax, that dropping that armor is not so easy. If this describes you, be patient and gentle with yourself. After all, it takes courage to let go and to be open.

Albert Einstein once said that the most important question was, "Is the world a safe place?" The stress that we feel on a daily basis can lead us to approach the world as if it is not safe. We tense up against the fear. We take shallow breaths so that we don't take the world in. We guard ourselves with tense muscles to keep the world at bay.

There many choices of activities that are calming and offer a respite from a world perceived as unsafe- yoga, massage and other forms bodywork, and meditation are some examples. The more you give yourself the opportunity to drop the armor, the less you will feel the need to put it on when you don't really need it.

Wishing you balance,