In college, I took up running because it “unwound my brain.” That’s what I said. Studying wound it up so tight I couldn’t cram anymore information into it, and jogging unwound it so that I could fit in more information. So that. I ran so that I could use my brain. I did not run for my body itself. My body was a vehicle to carry my head to class, home again, into conversations, etc.
Everything I did with my body was for my brain.
Poor body. Totally ignored. Totally subjected to the Cartesian divide between body and mind.
Years after college, yoga helped my mind connect to my body.
In class, on the mat, the instructor would ask us to notice our neck muscles. Sometimes our necks try to hold all the tension when really our necks have nothing to do with what we’re trying to do. For instance, right now, imagine that you are a string puppet and someone has tied a string to the crown of your head. They are gently pulling up on the string, and your head lifts up and back slightly to the wall behind you. What do you feel?
I feel relief in the back of my neck and calm in my forehead. I notice muscle tension and then I am able to let it go.
As instructors reminded me to do this over and over, the knowledge gradually crept into the rest of my life. I would be sitting at a traffic light and notice my chin jutting forward and my back rounded as if my body position would help the light turn green faster. It wouldn’t. There was nothing on the road that my neck tension would help. So I relaxed the neck muscles and breathed deeply at the light instead.
Around this same time, I listened to the lunch conversation of some pastor friends of mine as they discussed the presence of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is everywhere,” they said. “We just have to pay attention.”
I knew this, of course, but in that moment, I connected my muscles to the Spirit. “I wonder if learning to pay attention to the presence of the Holy Spirit is like learning to pay attention to my muscles,” I said, explaining what I was learning in yoga. “It’s learning to become aware.”
The pastors agreed. “God is in your muscles,” one of them said. “It’s called panentheism: God is in all things, like Colossians says. Pantheism says God is all things, but panentheism says God is in all things. For instance, God is not that tree, but we can see God in that tree. It’s a Celtic concept of the incarnation of God.” Panentheism. God is in all things. God is in me. God is here.
As I write this, I notice–again–my neck jutting forward as the muscles in the back of my head and shoulders try to write this blog post for me. I press my head back, relaxing the muscles, noticing the non-anxious presence of the Holy Spirit with me.
Where do you meet God in your body?