Spiritual practice

That which is funny cannot be serious. That which is practical cannot be clever. We divide the world into this and not-this, because the world is complex, and these separating frameworks help us to understand it, even when they are wrong.

Within our lived regular and ritual practices, one such separation that is overdue for dismantling, is this:
That which is physical cannot be spiritual.

In yogic practice this manifests in a hierarchy of approaches to the work, wherein the physical asana are often seen as a mere preparation for the purer, more advanced practices of meditation. The less a practitioner is in contact with their body, the more purely spiritual they become. And yet, every spiritual experience beheld by a human being, was experienced by a physical body. The most ethereal divine vision is only available to a living, breathing person.

Indeed, there is much to suggest that this need, this seemingly universal yearning to explain the supernatural, or at least supra-mundane aspects of existence, is born from our most visceral selves.
I must credit Matthew Remski with the theory that our first notions of infinity arise from intimate sensation. If you run a finger over your hand, the resulting proprioception is finite: it has a clear beginning and end. And yet if you swallow, the resulting interoceptive sensation has no noticeable ending: it is, to all intents and purposes, infinite. And so it may be that meditation leads us naturally to contemplate infinity, because the process turns awareness inwards, to a field of sensation that is infinite, in comparison with the more finite external senses.

So it is too that our experiences of physicality are the channel, if not the root of theoretically super-physical forces. Almost all practices of embodied movement and meditation make some reference to ‘energies’ that cannot be seen with the eyes, or heard with the ears. East Asian martial and therapeutic arts speak of chi or ki. Yogic and Ayurvedic metaphysics refer to prana, Shakti or Kundalini, depending on the type, source or intent of the energy. European alchemists and early medicine referred to the four humours of the body.
Within the physical arts, we may in fact herein be describing interoceptive focus (simply becoming more aware of a part of the body); heat and pressure; or the circulation of lymph, blood and other fluids. In recent years, there has been debate as to whether the source of such inner metaphysics is the fascial network of fluid and fibres that form and flow, being made and unmade on a moment to moment basis. Fascial fibres are hollow, lending credibility to the idea that they could be a previously unknown circulatory system. They certainly hold and release along lines of tension. And between bodies, the sensations of heat, pressure or tingling that can be felt when one body approaches another might be electromagnetic rather than divine in origin.

What is clear is that these forces are felt. They arise or at least effect the field of sensation. Regardless of any scientific or supernatural explanation, they exist within our experience. And so, as far as our practices are concerned, let us embrace a radical uncertainty. Let scientific researchers and theologians worry about the ‘true’ nature of infinity, and pranic energy. For the dedicated practitioner, it really doesn’t matter.
When we practice our yoga, whatever its form, as if prana is a real, observable, and above all, malleable element: one that we can observe and channel; lifting ourselves to the heavens or rooting into the earth, our practice is immeasurably enhanced.

When we turn our awareness not away from the body, but deep within it, we find echoes of the incomprehensible infinity that surrounds our bounded existence; our finite planet.
When we treat the world as if it is alive with meaning, with purpose; as if every breath, every sensation or smallest emotion is a steppingstone to greater understanding, we treat all beings, breathing or not, with the respect our planet needs to thrive.

Even if an eternal self exists beyond the physical life, there is nothing of this eternal self that is inherently more sacred than our physical selves; nothing that is purified by its separation from matter. Such disassociation is, I believe, more of a pathology than a spiritual practice.

And there is nothing more miraculous than our very fragile existence, thriving and growing in a bubble of matter; spinning through the void of space at the mercy of forces beyond our comprehension.
Whether it works for you to envision deity to explain life’s existence or not; however you label those experiences you cannot logically describe, and whatever your explanation for how and why it’s all here; these can only be your best working hypotheses.

Regardless, this doesn’t make your practice a spiritual one. Any physical practice, any ritual, regular practice engaged in by a body, becomes spiritual when it is imbued with an intent to honour, to respect, to cherish the life within and around you. A truly spiritual practice demands no specific metaphysics, no particular beliefs. It asks only that you pay attention to that most intimate relationship: between the breathing self, and the life that sustains it.

If you know this, how can you ever separate the physical from the spiritual practice?

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