Embodied Life™ Newsletter Archive

All articles written by Russell Delman

On Life, Death, Love and the Embodiment

March 2, 2020

In this moment, I want to celebrate the great gift of embodiment AND wholeheartedly embrace the impermanence of this body. Both the celebration and the acknowledgement that all that is born must also die seem essential and of equal importance.

What a double edge is this human body! We have pleasure and pain, ecstasy and agony. Through our physicality, we can connect directly, viscerally, with the people we love and the sensory gifts of life. Even our most sublime, transcendent feelings of beauty, love and peace can be more easily shared with others through the location in time/space that our physicality affords.

Love also transcends our bodies. As we continue to celebrate the influence of a loved one who has passed away, we can experience that "love is stronger than death". Still, there is something reaffirming in our physicality, even in its impermanence. All physical beauty is temporary, which enhances its preciousness. The natural world is full of breathtaking wonder and, its destruction unavoidable. Where can we perceive the reality of impermanence more directly, impactfully, than in these very bodies? Can we celebrate the gift of embodiment, even as we know that all physical phenomena are passing away?

My body and your body are dying at this very moment. In spite of all the helpful practices, including Feldenkrais, mindful running, yoga, meditation, prayer, excellent food, great health care, etc., this body is decaying each year, each day, each hour. Knowing this deeply for many years, I am still surprised when my joints are stiff in the morning, my flexibility a bit decreased. When I finish this writing, I will be closer to my death than when I began. This is irrefutable and illuminating to acknowledge and embrace.

I am embarrassed by my attachment to this body, my vanity and concern with appearance. Though I call my work "The Embodied Life", I have always been clear that the physical body itself is not of main importance. Rather, physicality is a reliable doorway to the present moment which is the ground for Awareness, that most rare human capacity. Said another way, this body draws us like a magnet to THIS spot, THIS moment, exactly where we are, the only place in the universe where our living is occurring. Grounded in this moment through embodiment, we can enter the more subtle realms of the human being where Love can be experienced. Our embodiment can be a great ally in this process of learning to love.

Many great teachers refer to the rare, unique gift of the human body.

-Rudolf Steiner referred to the admiration angels can have for the learning that can only happen through the human body. Learning to grow our capacity for love is one of these opportunities.

-The Tibetans refer to: " The 'precious human rebirth'. 'Precious jewel' (Rinpoche) describes the human body, since it is considered very precious and very difficult to get. Once obtained, it is of inestimable value".

-"There is no place of pilgrimage as fabulous and as open as this body of mine, no place more worth exploring". Siddha Saraha (8th century Buddhist adept)

- "In the deepest, darkest mysteries of their bodies, people discover their own salvation". Goethe

These bodies of ours are doorways for learning to love each other in the deepest sense of agape or self-less love. This love requires the capacity to place another or others before oneself, without ignoring ones own life needs. Caring for whatever is most needed in a situation is the unique, often challenging calculus, of this kind of love.

I believe the direction of humanity is to live with this love as the center. By love, I simply mean a caring for all of life. Caring is natural for human beings when we are not confused or lost in our fear and pain. In modern life, many of us are disconnected from this naturalness. Antidotes include spending more time with the natural world. Even in a city, one can commune with trees and other gifts of nature. Cultivating moments of silence without screens, books or conversation can restore our sense of connectedness. Finding ways each day to step out of habitual patterns of thought can revitalize our natural caring.

For love to blossom, more than any single thing, we need to step out of our conditioned, self-protective reactivity through cultivating Awareness. Without Awareness, we inevitably repeat the attitudes and actions of the past. When controlled by our mostly unconscious, biological history, our DNA will bias us toward fear and suspicion of any "others". This is the opposite of a loving attitude.

For us to become truly human, we need to grow enough loving, caring Awareness so that we can open our hearts to all of life. Naturally, this also includes taking care of our own life by maintaining intelligent boundaries and protective responses when truly needed. Awareness allows new choices, new possibilities to arise. Awareness allows us to question deeply our "self-stories" that keep the old, reactive patterns alive.

To love another, to love nature, to love our planet, to love anything, requires our willingness to experience loss. This is intimately connected to experiencing the reality of impermanence. If we try to prevent the feelings connected to loss, we will limit our hearts to the crumbs left on the plate of love. Love and loss live together in the human heart, without love, loss does not touch us deeply.

Two close friends have died very recently; a few others have terminal diagnoses. Both were young by contemporary standards, both took excellent care of their mental and physical health yet, rather surprisingly, their bodies were no longer capable of supporting life. I can accept the joy and sorrow of caring; I can rejoice in the unique impact each of my friends has had on both my life and, in a much larger way, on life itself.

Many years ago, I made friends with the reality of dying. Each day, after my morning meditation, I say hello to my death. This is a life-giving, inspiring practice for me. I get inspired in two ways: 1) it reminds me to live this day as well as possible, and 2) to know all the things that worry or bother me will soon be irrelevant. Still, when I encounter the death of a friend or hear stories of children dying, tears can come with a sense of profound loss. I know that death is truly not a problem AND there is this attachment to people in their bodily form. Can I know them without their body? Can I know myself beyond embodiment?

In gratitude, I sit here, seeing the colors, hearing the sounds and enjoying each breath. I bow to the simple, extraordinary offerings of this moment. That my body is capable of receiving this moment, of doing so many things with relative ease is a celebration. I bow to the effective practices and teachings I have received which make this life so rich and my body/mind so capable. Still, I know that if I am lucky enough to age further, pain and dysfunction are inevitable. I want to keep both eyes open for the rapid passing of this one, precious life.

Everyone I know will die either before or after me. Remembering this, love seems the only answer to the mysterious question of life. All difficulties and conflicts diminish with this awareness, as the desire to share love expands.

My body and your body are dying at this very moment. This is not a problem when we can invite the passing of life to be a reminder of what is most essential. To offer our love in some form, whether through actions, prayers, simple acts of kindness or heartfelt gratitude is our calling. This is my intention as I hear the church bells ringing loudly out of the window and prepare for a walk in the delightful, fragrant afternoon air.

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