River waters nudge the levee. Wind borderline terrifying. Windows pelted, elder trees topple. Grateful for bodily safety but my heart aches and my spirit feels damp as the yard. Pervasive grey outside matches my inside. Winter is not my happy-joy season. I’ve learned to appreciate the gifts darkness bestows. Just not today, thank you.
Now I could run this story line all day. Or all week. Or until spring delivers us. But, if I’m honest, the physical yuk—chest knot, leaden belly, shoulder sag, teary—didn’t last that long. Once I let it have its way with me. Here’s what we know: the felt experience of emotion, the actual physiological response time, is about 90 seconds. Any additional time is about resisting or running with the story. Really.
Once I let it have its way with me. Well, what exactly does that mean? Here’s the simple: be with the experience of breath and physical sensation in the present moment. Oh that. But really, take a moment. Consider the multitude of ways these bodies speak.
Can I open my eyes right here, take in the whole room? What sound is audible? What’s the weather report inside my chest and belly? Speedy? Still? Spacious? Chilly? Constricted? Hot? My breath: easy, shallow, holding, fast, deep, gaspy, labored? Signals emanate from all the parts: head to spine to tail to hips to thighs to shins to feet. Heartbeat to shoulders to elbows to hands. Organ body, orifices, thirst/hunger/taste in the mouth/smells. How is my left side compared to right and which way is north? How is my body arranged on this chair and can I feel the pull of gravity? What’s it like right in my smack dab center?
This is the physiology, the fire of neurons, language of our body. And I’ve been ruminating about this language and how it informs spirit. The term spiritual transcendence has some relevance here. Transcendence: from the Latin trans-, meaning “beyond,” and scandare, meaning “to climb.” A spiritual state of moving beyond physical needs and realities. Many have chimed in about this elevated state. So many! I love Viktor Frankl’s concise definition in Man’s Search for Meaning:
- a shift in focus from self to others
- a move away from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation
- an increase in moral concern and (as a result)
- a preponderance of emotions like awe, ecstasy, amazement
Indeed. What a beautiful list. Who doesn’t want that? I’ve also been curious about the look-alike: not transcendence, but spiritual bypass. I’m pretty sure we’ve all been in the presence of or (yikes!) heard ourselves spouting bypass-ese. Using spiritual concepts to avoid emotional challenge. Like hearing the response “love and light” in the face of someone’s acute grief. Or using spiritual phrases as shiny defense mechanism. As in, “rising above” when confronted by an angry being. Dismissal instead of resolution. Glossing over rather than working through.
When we actually stand in the presence of grief, listen as the body speaks, feel 90 seconds of sensation crash over us…an authentic response has a chance to emerge. If we stay with rage’s physical discomfort for a full minute and a half we might set a clear boundary. Spiritual bypass? Maybe it originates in physical bypass. And the corollary: spiritual transcendence and all the promise it holds…deeply rooted in physical presence.
This is my experience. I’m about the body. Holding space in a variety of ways with infinite invitations to go in, track, stay in, tend, come back, notice. And you can count on this: the truth of all the feels, the beauty of authentic insight, that divine shift in devotion from self to others, both motivation and morality deeply personal—all that emerges from a cellular level. With roots deep in these earthly bodies, spirit has an accessible physical conduit to render joy, to light us up in awe, to baptize us in wonder.
there is nothing more beautiful than seeing someone
turn on to their own divinity.” Gabrielle Roth
When I’m with you on the treatment table or the yoga mat or the dance floor…there is nothing more incredible than witnessing you turn on to your own brilliant magic. Thank you for all those moments.