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The Pain Deal

Here is a basic Sufi adage: The best way of knowledge is through experience. Just to be clear: ‘experience’ means doing an action rather than reading or talking about it. Experiential knowledge involves all our senses. It is three dimensional and multi-sensorial. It’s not that thought isn’t valuable, but thinking about an action must not be mistaken for doing an action, and information about a matter must never be mistaken for experiential knowledge of the matter. As well, there is the obvious reductionist fact that thought is body. Our marvelous, lovely thinking is the result of our nervous systems swilling endogenous or exogenous chemicals. Even fantasies of disembodiment—resurrection of the body in heaven, out-of-body travel, etc.—are created by the body. I think most of us arrive at metaphysical understanding from sincere contemplation and observation, but perhaps also from a wish to escape pain held in our tissues.

In Dancemeditation, we plunge into experience and bathe in the three dimensional waters of embodiment. Embodiment is not merely the act of being in a body, which is automatic. Embodiment is the act of knowing we are in a body. We are in a body, and we are our body. Embodied spiritual seeking, in my book, is a sort of vow, really—a vow to stop trying to get away from the body. I vow to stop running away. Turn around, go back, go into the fleshy cave, the personal prison and palace, the personal hell and heaven, the body I was born into. Embodiment is a vow to WAKE UP inside the body. We set aside the myth that we are some sort of water-in-a glass-spirit-in-a-body. (Inaccurate metaphors never help.) Boom boom goes the heart. Every day for all our earth time. We are that. And the whoosh of breath. We are that. We notice pain, all sorts—physical, emotional, mental. We are that. We come down to the ground.

When it comes to pain—an experience we all struggle with—brain is a kind beast. It pipes up, “Okay, I have a great little thought here. Let’s go down this thought trail. We will live in heaven after the pain and heaven will have no pain. Even if it hurts right now don’t worry, it will end and you will have a terrific pain-free time soon.” And of course if that story, which is a pretty common story, gets picked up a by a power-mongering institution it will slap on some conditions like, say, ‘obedience’. But since pain is compelling and we are gullible, body takes the brain’s hand and toddles down that merciful thought trail tossing pain into the Forgotten World. We grow numb. We find ourselves living inside a story, a weird little private story tower, and, you know, it gets complicated trying to coordinate these worlds with other humans.

Embodiment is wonderful when we are floating in fragrant meadows, our joints like butter. And it is really tough when aging, illness, injury, tragedy hobble us. So we might turn to the mind to invent uplifting tales of distraction. I’m all for that but only if we know that these tales are a respite and not reality. Only if we know what is really what. Spiritual path does not mean abandoning common sense and practicality. Metaphysical competence must rest on real world competence, and both rest on and in embodiment. It is no use hating the body, resenting her, abusing her, trying to get away. It is not possible to get away. Remember this: for our time on Earth, Body is thought, Body is Spirit, Body is All.

The experience, then, of embodied spirituality involves active engagement with our sensorial array—sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. As our sensorial awareness unfolds, the senses’ subtle edges expand to grow tender tentacles that touch Mysteries. We are awake inside an alchemical learning, a discovery of Beyond-ness. This knowledge is not a disembodied fabrication; it is a vine growing from the rich soil of embodiment.

It’s odd. By going into our humble personal body, our crazy isolated private tower cacophony melts away and we connect with the Real. We connect and belong.


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    1. Sheryl #

      beautiful, powerful words there. Thank you.

      June 16, 2012
    2. Such a cogent showing of body and spirit…….my fleshy cave, the only place I can dwell….this is so beautiful and provides so much for mind to chew on……..

      June 16, 2012
    3. I just reread this and find it so beautiful, so sternly beautiful……

      June 16, 2012
    4. Yes, I felt that as I wrote. It is an important truth. A beauty yet not so easy.

      June 17, 2012
    5. Loretta Armer #


      You have expanded my sense of Body through your writing. I love that it is ALL. It gives us many avenues of exploration whatever the experiences the Body leads us toward and the many levels of being with and communicating with Body. Being willing to go into the raw, uncharted territory which is ours is a gift. When my husband was dying after a ten year journey with cancer, he would tell people who were concerned about his pain and comfort that “cancer was the greatest gift and his Teacher”. Thank you for articulating that which is so subtle and divine, dear Dunya. Loretta

      June 18, 2012
    6. David #

      Dunya, Dunya, Dunya, do tell. I feel it.

      June 19, 2012
    7. So so powerful. Thank you so much for that.

      June 24, 2012
    8. celeste #

      I will be using this reading during my service at first unitarian church in Oklahoma City July 22, 2012. The title of the service is “hips don’t lie” and this will probably be the final reading. Credit will be given.

      July 19, 2012
    9. Thank you, Celeste.

      July 19, 2012

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