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Spirituality Essay:

Physical Spirituality    ( April 2008 )

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In past sermons, I've often mentioned the Three UU Qualities of a Spiritual Life:

  1. An attitude of questioning leading to a life of dynamic growth;
  2. Growing in our ability to give and receive love;
  3. Having our lives be of service.

I've thought of proposing that this might be one short - that there should be a fourth: Living and celebrating a robust physical life.

Physicality as a spirituality quality? This runs counter to traditional spiritual concepts, I realize.

Throughout the ages, most religions have considered the physical / body / material inferior and base . . . the source of sin and depravity even. The mental / intellectual / mystical was superior, the true path to spirituality.

Many of us grew up in religions that feared and put down the body and, thus, our physicality -- something to suppress, control, or rise above. My own upbringing, Christian Science, stated that my body wasn't "of God" . . . it was something bad to be ashamed of and "overcome."

How does a robust physical life help us in our spiritual growth? Letting go of the important discussion of physical health, exercise, and a vigorous life for now, I'd like focus here on the proposition that bodily sensations, awareness, and pleasures are spiritual . . . and are a primary doorway for growth in our spiritual lives.

May I offer that most of us would consider "making love" to be one of the most exalted, spiritual experiences available in life. Why spiritual?? In it we experience: the dissolving of ego; our becoming "one" with another (and sometimes with the universe); an unmatched being-in-the-here-and-now experience; peak pleasure; "total-self" communicating and love-giving; changes in who we are and how we see the world . . . .and many others. If we accept that these are spiritual gifts given to us through and by our bodies, we can recreate other similar spiritual experiences in almost any physical activity in our day-to-day lives.

Space limits a fuller discussion, but noticing the spiritual components in our physical movements can open whole new doorways of spiritual growth. May I offer first, that all physical pleasure is always spiritual . . . as it nourishes, stimulates, and validates who we are and why we're alive.

One beautiful way to start building the body-spirit connection is purposely slowing down whatever activity you're involved in. Going at half (or even slower) speed accents the sensations and deepens the connection to the process . . . .in Buddhist language, becoming fully "one-with-the-experience." Showering is a perfect discovery activity for this.

In those special moments when you, the activity, and the universe all seem perfectly interconnected, you'll sense it as a soft warmth, or even a "glow" in your body; it can move to a tingle on your skin in heightened occasions, or (if you're really tuned in) a vibration from deep within.

Jogger Noticing and honoring the spiritual gifts of our bodies and our physicality is a very large subject . . . we'll look at other aspects of this in future columns. In fact, I think a whole sermon beckons next year.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
Read more Spirituality Essays
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