Tuesday, March 31, 2015

No Pain, No Gain

The Spirit is the Great Integrator of the Mind-Body. And spiritual energy is the aspect of "self" we pay the least attention to. We educate the intellect, we exercise the body....but the mind and body continue to work together without our real awareness (a Spiritual awareness; a non-biased energetic awareness), often in ways quite traumatic to our balanced being - panic attacks, anger issues, overactive empathy, addictions of all kinds, emotional outbursts - while the mind is able to observe these run-away body responses, these physiological and psychological "habits," it often finds itself at their mercy. The body reacts and the mind justifies it.

Meditation is a practice that turns the attention toward quieter, more subtle levels of mind. Meditation, or spending time in silent prayer, is the pump-iron method for the Spirit. Practicing quiet time allows the mind time to integrate its "better judgment" or "no judgment" circuits with emotional centers in a way that subdues their reactivity. The scientific explanation for this is that meditation encourages the development of our prefrontal cortex, the evolutionarily newest area of the brain, and the region responsible for reasoning and executive functioning. The prefrontal cortex has authority over the evolutionarily older limbic (emotional) centers and can temper their reactivity into controlled response...or no response.

The benefits of meditation, or sitting in silence (no thinking), have been understood for thousands of years. But we now have objective evidence through scientific inquiry that this practice has profound effects on the autonomic nervous system (the fright/flight mechanisms that influence heart rate, blood pressure and a host of other physiological reactions associated with our basic need for survival, triggered in times of fear anger, embarrassment - these can be viewed as misdirected Spiritual energy or a lack of Spiritual integration of the mind-body.

You can talk about this in the language of Christianity. Our being in Christ-minded spirituality means to be aware/enlightened/integrated in mind-body so as to be a "logos" or ordering principle in life. Logos or "word" even implies that we "communicate" in an orderly, self-aware way; the way of Jesus.  The title, Christ is derived from the Greek term Khristós meaning "the anointed one." The symbolism of anointing in this sense is recognition of something spiritual, sacred and Godly. Khristós is also related to Keres, associated with anointing to purify or heal the body or rid the self of negative influence. Thus, as is the case in Paul’s writings, anointing can be understood as a state of mind (and body) in which both negative influences are dispelled and a greater state of sacred Godliness is assumed; or in the context of "re-ligare" or reconnecting (religion) to the Divine nature, to perceive with an illuminated or enlightened awareness.

You can talk about mind-body integration, enlightenment and self-awareness in other religious contexts and world philosophies. Human spirituality is fundamentally the same, regardless of how we contextualize it. Certainly, eastern religions have discussed this same human condition for thousands of years. Now we have science, and at the least, psychology, to describe the way we humans maintain a balanced mind-body relationship. In fact, psychology practices have been prescribing meditation as a means of treatment for "disorders" like those mentioned above for going on 50 years now.

But the real focus of this blog is on a step in the spiritual journey that is one we don't much like. It is called different names by different authorities, and it is the step in which our greatest spiritual growth can take place.  It is a time, intrinsic to change, that we will meet again and again during life, a time when things are no longer the way they were. It is threshold....and it signals either arrest or transcendence. These times of chaos cannot be avoided. As much as we try to avoid them, we often just don't see them coming. This step in the spiritual journey, or threshold time, is called samsara or wandering, wilderness or desert, depression (some forms), dark night of the soul, the wall, the shadow, suffering, midlife crisis, and more. 

Once again, it is that time when things are not the way they were -- and very likely we'd say, things are no longer as they "should be." 

The Buddhists say we suffer because our mind argues with what is. Many people who are not practicing awareness and spiritual growth intentionally will hit these bumps and not really understand what whats going on. They will look only at the outer circumstances and react to them. But no matter what the circumstances, the deepest and most essential (spirit means essence, btw) challenge for a person traversing these times is to keep the mind-body coherent and that is a spiritual job.

Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, in her book, When Things Fall Apart, says this: "Sticking with uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic – this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.
For practitioners or spiritual warriors - people who have a certain hunger to know what is true – feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back."

The spiritual path is a path of truth, even if it hurts. It is a path of intention toward integration of the mind-body, such that one can respond to life changes and know the self as a vessel of generative relationship, loving presence within and without. Love your wounds, love the thresholds, for they teach you to be a compassionate force in the world.

Namaste, _/\_Peggy @ ECUMENICUS

Art: Jennifer Broussard

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