Embodiment

I grew up with the mentality that my body, my senses, anything of pleasure, were secondary to the things of my spirit and soul. The idea of embodiment, of celebrating and honouring the physicality, sexuality and humanity of my person was foreign to me. However, within the last couple of years, this has become a topic of great interest, for a few reasons.

Firstly, I have seen and experienced the ways in which being disconnected from the body can be destructive and disorienting. I am someone who lives, majority of the time, in my head. Often feeling, thinking and overthinking every little detail of my life. Though, most of the time, I am thankful for how I’m wired (I am a 4w5 for those fellow Enneagram nerds), I have learnt that for my mental health and well-being, connecting myself to my body and actually living an embodied life (how else are we supposed to live anyway?) has saved me more than once.

I also believe in an incarnational spirituality and theology. Dualism was very much a part of my upbringing. Though, I think in some ways my own personality found comfort in putting things into clear black and white boxes too. It somehow felt “cleaner” and less “out of control”. And yet, I follow a spiritual tradition that believes in an embodied, incarnational way of life.

After a rather life shaking experience I encountered last fall with my own mental health, and more recently with some closest to me, I was confronted with this idea of embodiment in a new way. It’s only now I am able to see that darker time as an invitation to shift some paradigms, and live more fully into the skin I’ve been given.

In an interview with Krista Tippet, Parker Palmer speaks a bit about his own boughts with depression, “I take embodiment very seriously, and depression of course is a full body experience, it is immersion. It’s an invitation to take our embodied selves a lot more seriously.”

Whether it be physical illness, mental, emotional or spiritual, we cannot ignore the fact that all of these things are interconnected. Our bodies and our soul are married in a sense. One cannot exist without the other. And sadly, it is more often the suffering in our lives that acts as a reminder to us; that our bodies are full of goodness and beauty, and are meant for wholeness.

I have been asking myself lately, what does it look like to embody the transcendent in my life? What does that look like for you? I often think we need practices to help us connect these aspects of ourselves, and questions like this can be a start.

Meditation and mindfulness have been crucial for me in connecting to my body and welcoming the day I’m beginning. Sitting outside on my patio in the morning, sipping my coffee and becoming aware of my skin, the body I am sitting in, from my head to my toes, I attempt to practice gratitude for this body I’m given. The house in which all things of my life is stored.

I try to become aware of the sounds around me, the tastes and the smells that bring me into the reality of that moment. And as I move out into my day, offering my whole self to my interactions, conversations, and my silences, I begin to feel a oneness with my flesh and spirit. It’s a slower rhythm and pace, but it’s slowness that helps us wake up a little, I think.

I remember years ago, I was going through somewhat of a spiritual crisis, and the ways in which I had connected with God weren’t necessarily opening me up in the same way. My Psychology Professor at the time wisely advised me to do something that I simply wanted to do, to try doing something tangible. For me it was baking. Running and exercise have always been helpful practices for me, but there was something about baking that opened me up again to the goodness of the created world, to a goodness that had to create such a playful and delicious thing. Most recently that practice became crocheting. The repetitive movements of my hands, and almost mindless motion of creating has become a meditative practice of learning to be completely present.

What helps you connect to your body? Do you feel like you have an embodied spirituality?

Maybe start with paying attention to when and where you feel disembodied and when you have felt that sense of embodiment.

I will leave you with one of my favourite poems. May you find a sense of home and wonder within your body while in this world.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I have collaborated with the wonderful Staci Lee Kennelly in some of these writing projects.  Please check out her work here:

https://alifedeveloping.org and follow her on Instagram at stacileekennelly 

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Home

Last month I moved into my own apartment for the first time. For the last four years I have wanted my own place, not only because I’m an introvert who needs some solitude to recharge and ground myself, but for creative purposes as well. To create spaces of beauty, openness and peace has been in me for as long as I can remember, and lately it has had me thinking a lot about home.

There is a longing in each of us, I think, for home. For that presence or experience that leaves us feeling safe, secure, comfy and accepted just as we are. Home and belonging feel almost synonymous in a lot of ways. I believe that it’s is a deeply spiritual thing. Not spiritual in the sense that it is detached from the reality of here and now, but it is both/and. It’s a hunger within us that transcends time and space yes, but is also met in tangible ways in our own houses, families, friendships and loves. We taste it around our tables, in our gardens and backyard forests; it beckons us deeper. Maya Angelou writes,

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Home is this hearth that we are invited to sit around and be surrounded by, and from its warmth step outside and embrace each other. I have wanted not only my home, but my heart, to be spacious and generous, accepting and warm to those who walk through these doors. I have wanted the presence of these small walls, and meek little chairs to house sacred moments. Where the tables we eat at and the kitchens we cook in, become places of safety and honesty, laughter and lament. I have wanted it because that is where I have felt at home most. Understood, belonging, and able to breathe easy. Our spirituality cannot be detached from place, this is where and how we experience anything and everything in this life.

Whether it’s in solitary spaces, or spaces with one another, we are never really alone. The invitation to come and be at home is like a cold drink on a hot day, refreshing and filled with sustenance for us to keep going. In the words of Ram Dass, “we really are just walking each other home.”

Who do you feel most at home with? Where do you feel that sense of ease, belonging and security? How can you be a hearth for others? How do you foster a sense of home in your relationships? How do you experience home in your own solitude, spirituality and social lives? 

Let me leave you with a blessing by the Celtic poet, priest, and philosopher John O’ Donohue:
May this house shelter your life.
When you come in home here,
May all the weight of the world
Fall from your shoulders.

May your heart be tranquil here,
Blessed by peace the world cannot give.

May this home be a lucky place,
Where the graces your life desires
Always find the pathway to your door.

May nothing destructive
Ever cross your threshold.

May this be a safe place
Full of understanding and acceptance,
Where you can be as you are,
Without the need of a mask
Of pretense of image.

May this home be a place of discovery.
Where the possibilities that sleep
In the clay of your soul can emerge
To deepen and refine your vision
For all that is yet to come to birth.

May it be a house of courage,
Where healing and growth are loved,
Where dignity and forgiveness prevail;
A home where patience of spirit is prized,
And the sight of the destination is never lost
Though the journey be difficult and slow.
May there be great delight around this hearth.
May it be a house of welcome
For the broken and diminished.

May you have the eyes to see
That no visitor arrives without a gift
And no guest leaves without a blessing.

 

I have collaborated with the wonderful Staci Lee Kennelly in some of these writing projects.  Please check out her work here:

https://alifedeveloping.org and follow her on Instagram at stacileekennelly 

 

 

 

Will you own your life?

These five words have been sitting in that deep part of my belly the last week or so. You know that core spot in yourself that holds those whispers and desires? Yes, right there this question has taken its seat and invited me to listen.

I was talking with my sister over breakfast this morning about these five little words. Sharing how easy it is to think that we are owning our lives, when really we are finding pieces of ourselves in others, in the people we admire, and in the people we don’t want to be like. We often unconsciously strive to do what we can to either mirror those good qualities, or run abruptly in the other direction from their vices.

I don’t think it is “bad” to see those who have gone before us and lived lives we respect or admire, whom we see bits and pieces of ourselves in. But, I think we get so lost and caught up in their victories, their successes and virtues, that we forget about their ache, their pain, their deep loneliness, loss and addiction that they too have had or currently experience. We forget that they are individuals with one name and one long story, separate from you and me. And that’s us. I am Melissa, and you are you. Though we may find threads that weave a similar pattern, they will in no way create the same outcome.

I am guilty of this. Of looking at individuals who have a certain disposition I find beautiful, or who are interested in specific topics, or books, living lives and vocations that I can see myself in. And though I look to them for inspiration, I cannot own their story, because it is not mine to own. My life, and yours, will unfold in ways we cannot even comprehend right now. We will struggle and ache through things we did not anticipate, and we will laugh with all the laughter we have in us, and celebrate things we could have never imagined for our lives.

But it is this life we’ve been given, the choices that we’ve chosen and the only days and years that will make up our one small and precious life.

So, as that little whisper followed me into today, let me ask you: will you relinquish the comparison and critiques, and fully embrace who you are in this world? Will you own your decisions, and see the goodness and beauty you have in them, and not what you are missing in spite of them? Will you tell your story, your pain, your joy and live into the things you know you MUST do? Not because it will look like this persons story or not, but because it’s in you, and simply because it makes you sing.

Will you own your life?

 

PLAY

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Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

A couple of months ago my partner mentioned to me a woman by the name of Staci Lee Kennelly. A film photographer and blogger who he had been following via Instagram. He said our writing and spirit are in some ways, one in the same. So, naturally, after creeping some of her work, and getting a glimpse into her philosophy of life, I quickly saw someone’s journey that I wanted to know about.

After a few messages back and forth, she generously asked if writing more consistently together would be something I would devote myself to. To have each other as a bit of accountability in the process. Of course I agreed (not hiding my excitement well at all) and thus here we are. You can find her info at the end of this post, and her own thoughts on “Play”.

Alright, here we go.

It occurred to me recently, that a lot of the time I see the world not as a playground, but as a war zone. Where every decision hinges upon my “certainty” that I can’t choose wrong, and thus cause a disaster around me, or even implode for that matter. Dramatic as that may sound, it really has been part of the internal foundation from which I live.

Being a person of faith, and one who holds spirituality very near and dear, you would think that seeing the world as a playground would come naturally. However, I don’t think that’s the case for many of us, especially those who practice from a faith tradition. Our views, even our unconscious views of God, shape the way we live our lives whether we are aware of it or not. But then there come moments where some of those views surface and you realize, “Good gracious, is that how I see the world?“. And so, we are invited to confront those paradigms.

If you know me, you will know that I take the world and myself quite seriously. I don’t think this is a bad thing, it’s just part of who I am. But, like every strength, there comes a shadow side. As I grow and learn what it means to be more integrated and whole, the more I hear the child in me screaming for her little voice to be heard, subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, reminding me of the importance for play, lightness and risk. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t honour the hardship, and struggle in which life brings; but I do believe there are ways for us to engage in the world around us and within us with more grace, beauty and kindness. We don’t hold this all together anyway. Why carry such self-imposed weight?

British philosopher and writer, Alan Watts writes

This is the secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” 

What if everything we do, everything we work for, who we are in relationship with, where we live, how and what we create, how we raise our kids and pay our bills, are all asking us to play just a little more with them, to enjoy them. What if they, and God through them, are asking us to laugh at our failings and our “not having a clue”, instead of walking with our heads hung low in shame or embarrassment. What if redemption really is that good…

I am not around children nearly as much as I used to be, but in many ways I think they teach us more about a “good pace” in life rather than all of our to do lists and restrictions. They remind us how to walk a little more lightly. That sometimes life is full of crawling, tip-toeing, climbing and falling, or climbing and building something. That dishes piling in the sink isn’t the end of the world, and the laughter of friends in the park is, often, the more important of the two.

So, how can you be more playful in your life? How can you be more lighthearted with yourself, with your family or your spouse? How can you start to see your work, your chores, and creativity more as invitations for enjoyment rather than pure duty?

A quote from the brilliant and witty G.K Chesterton, who seems to say these things better than most:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

– Orthodoxy

 

I have collaborated with the wonderful Staci Lee Kennelly in some of these writing projects.  Please do check out her work here:

 https://alifedeveloping.org and follow her on Instagram at stacileekennelly 

 

Hiraeth. [HEER-eyeth]

Hiraeth. It is a Welsh word that is quite difficult to describe in the English language, as it holds a depth of meaning and experience that words can’t always embody. For example, some words that are used to describe it are homesickness, nostalgia, longing or yearning. The word, though, is often translated to mean more than that. It is in some ways very multilayered, and encapsulates the feeling or experience of missing something or someone. It is a longing for ‘home’ in a place, person, or experience. In some attempts to describe it, it has been said that hiraeth is “a longing to be where your spirit lives”.

All my life I have lived with this sense of homesickness, a longing for that thing that I felt was missing. A yearning for something or someone that I sensed I had encountered long ago, as if it were in some other life. It is the awareness of this sense of ‘home’ that I have been before, that propels me to search for it again and again.

And so now, this hunger for an at-homeness, a spiritual home, a longing for beauty and belonging to be experienced in all of life, not only remains true within, but it fuels me to go find and discover it both inside, and outside of myself.

Though words are somewhat limiting, and can be tossed around quite fleetingly, it is in writing that I encounter a sense of at-homeness. Writing has always been a safe place for me. Reading has been a doorway into my imagination, and probably one of the best teachers I have ever learnt from. In and through the written language, I am more connected to myself and God, and thus others. And as my beloved Psychology professor and now dear friend would describe practices like this to be, it is my prayer. It unlocks me.

And so, my hope is that these writings, and small reflections may whet your own appetite for a rich and meaningful exploration. A discovering of an at-homeness in your life, and an acceptance of the hiraeth that you will encounter on the journey.