Remember the story of Icarus, son of Daedalus, who, with wings of wax and against his father’s instruction, flew too close to the sun? Or Harry Potter, Quidditch Seeker, who flew high, fell to the ground and had to have his broken body’s bones re-grown with Madame Pomfrey’s potion? Whether modern or ancient, myths can teach us where potential pitfalls lie in our human existence. The beauty and light of Higher Wisdom is so compelling that we long to linger in its presence, forgetting that we are joined to our flesh in a contract with life itself.
Living within the limitations of a physical body is continually challenging for the spiritual seeker. As we gather knowledge and increase our awareness of the Infinite, our spirit expands and we feel more acutely the restrictions of the flesh as if we are trapped in dense matter. We want higher mind, higher energy. The world of substance and feeling contained in the body, home of the soul, seems tiresome and heavy. We experience frustration with life’s slow, plodding give and take. Sometimes we feel good, sometimes not. We want to feel good all the time, like those fleeting numinous moments when we touch God. The more such moments we experience, whether in meditation, prayer or spiritual community, the more we crave. This frustration causes many to seek oblivion, either through addictive substances and behaviors or through ignoring the body in pursuit of Higher Mind.
In the Christian model, Jesus was a relatively young man when crucified. Yet this example seems lost in the current accepted interpretation that he died for our sins. Along with Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden, what are we to surmise except that bodies are sinful and that fully inhabiting flesh is somehow inherently wrong? I would suggest there was a good reason why Jesus was moved to present his resurrected form in front of witnesses three days after he was pronounced dead. For why did he feel the need to demonstrate this by ingesting fish and honey?
It seems to me that Christ’s act of death and resurrection, when taken symbolically, represents renewal through refining one’s understanding of what it is to be human. Life is suffering, but we do not have to martyr ourselves. Jesus demonstrated that we need to sanctify or purify the flesh, not lay down our lives for it. That was His burden, and one which he took on for humanity to remember for eternity. When we take in sacrament, we symbolically purify flesh and blood. These are substances of the body. Yet if at the same time we are in effect saying to ourselves, forgive me God, for my very humanity makes me unworthy, how can we ever purify what we feel to be inherently evil? Is not the sacrament, or sacredness, then lost?
If we embrace the example of Jesus or any enlightened Master, we learn that dedicating ourselves to seeking insight and understanding means we need to undergo sacrifice. This surrendering can be more or less painful, depending on our attachment to things or concepts. Remember Siddhartha, who surrendered his riches and noble heritage to wander and experience life in the world? He then sat with all of life’s unfairness, seeking to know its nature more profoundly and became enlightened, or Buddha. Jesus was likewise a wanderer. Most of us are not called to sacrifice anything as great as these two men, but rather we are challenged to forgive ourselves and others, accept our circumstances in life not as punishment but rather learning of some kind, and surrender our need to figure out the Divine Plan. We then may experience a sort of rebirth.
Each time we surrender and open to the divine potential within, we likewise feed the soul. If we fail to embrace our human experience, wanting to skip this little lifetime journey in favor of something less painful and challenging, we may be doomed to repeat life on Earth until we integrate what we came here to learn. The body is the instrument we are given to navigate this realm. Many have left the body behind in favor of a supposed superior intellect. Nowhere is this depicted more clearly than in stories like Shelley’s Frankenstein or C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. In Frankenstein, we observe the hulking monster, dragging itself along, body animated by a superior brain. Hideous Strength is a Hitler-esque tale of men and one dictatorial woman who join forces to create a superior society and who take orders from their chief, The Head, an actual severed head fed by tubes and animated by wires.
We can leave our bodies out of the equation, yet integrating higher mind and body joins spirit and matter in a dance of true transformation, depicted by our Jesus figure. And think about it; a world like ours with such incredible sights, smells and textures surely offsets the challenges of bridging flesh and spirit. It’s an incredible gift; a life worth living mindfully and living well.