Monday, October 15, 2012

Soul Food

Recently, a friend and I chatted about ballroom dancing. My friend is a lovely woman, with a classic and timeless beauty. I watched her dance once, and even while dancing with an amateur partner she exuded a captivating grace. To me, ballroom dance represents the epitome of elegance: Audrey Hepburn in motion, if you will.

I asked my friend to tell me her favorite dances. The first answer came easily and seemed a natural fit. For smooth dance, she loves the flowing elegance of the waltz. She hesitated a bit on her choice of a favorite rhythm dance. "I used to hate the cha-cha-cha," she said. "The movement is different, and I've had to work very hard at that dance." She went on to describe her early discomfort with the dance, the syncopated hip movements and the sensuality that challenged her and dragged her far from her comfort zone. But she has grown to love the form, and I sense that she has discovered much about herself in the process, a self awareness that has nothing and everything to do with dance. Our food came and the conversation turned to other topics, but I have reflected on our chat and how dance fits into my own musings of late.

Yesterday, needing to ponder through my conundrum of the week, I threw on sneakers and left my quiet house just after dawn, needing the movement of a brisk walk in the wind to set my thoughts in motion and help me sort through them. For a while, I just let the wind move through my head as I felt the rhythm of my footfalls and let my mind wander. After a time, the thoughts began to arrange themselves into patterns.

I have been examining some of my own prejudices and reactions lately. Many of us at times seek to deny the physical appetites in order to enhance the spiritual. For example, Hindu monks eat only to sustain life. Catholic priests and many Buddhist monks take a vow of celibacy. Even in mainstream society we periodically fast for greater religious insight, subjugating the physical. We read scriptures like Matthew 26:41, which says, "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" and we come to the seemingly logical conclusion that the spirit is superior to the body. For me, that occasionally evolves into the error of associating things primarily physical with weakness.

My light bulb moment for the morning walk started with a scripture. Doctrine & Covenants 88:15 reads, "And the spirit and the body are the soul of man." The soul, the post-resurrection self on the path to perfection, is comprised not of the spirit alone, but of the spirit and the body. We bury the spirit in baptism and the body in death. Through the Savior's atonement, both spirit and body rise again, joined inseparably.

From Art2Be
I thought back to the cha-cha-cha and other similar journeys of self-discovery that blend the physical and the spiritual (or mental/emotional). For instance, years ago, while at a conference for music teachers, I attended a session on Body Mapping, a therapeutic tool that brings together physical experience and artistic expression.  Therapists use the technique in diverse settings, from working with victims of AIDS to helping musicians and dancers understand dysfunctions that inhibit their art. As described in the session I attended, therapists ask their patients to illustrate their body (or the affected part of their body, in the case of an injury or other physical dysfunction). Regardless of the degree of artistic talent, the process of putting pencil to paper allows the patient to better identify, describe, and understand physical pain and the emotional trauma that often accompanies that pain.

Other examples spring to mind. In college, I once crawled underneath the sink in my bathroom in order to stimulate creative thought and push through writer's block. (It worked, by the way.) My son relieves stress by playing his more energetic piano pieces very loudly and rapidly, with lots of arm pounding and foot tapping, his body swaying as his mind breaks free. My husband laces his spiritual lessons with insights gained on the football field.

I recently ran into what was, for me, a surprising connection between the physical and the emotional/spiritual. David Schnarch, a respected clinical psychologist and author, asserts that "sexuality is a powerful window into who we are," that our sexual attitudes and habits provide significant insight into our approach to life, and vice versa. I have thought, and even written, about that a fair amount...although most of that writing will never appear in this blog. His is an intriguing thought.

Whether in terms of sexuality or philosophical conundrums, artistry or athletics, I am beginning to glimpse a vision of the power behind the union of the body and the spirit. To re-purpose an oft-quoted scripture: "neither is the body without the spirit, nor the spirit without the body, in the Lord." Just as the harmonic blend of two voices produces a sound that transcends the reach of either voice on its own, we open ourselves to new vistas of emotional and physical possibilities when we work to unite body and spirit on equal terms.

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