Category Archives: Physicality
Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West by Benjamin Riggs presents an argument for the value of the role our basic awareness and lived experience plays in our spiritual growth. He draws from his personal experience and blends spiritual truths and practices from both eastern and western traditions.
I found his premise and subject interesting, though I was expecting the majority of the book to delve more deeply into the material that actually comprised just the last 70 pages of the book. The majority of the book was devoted to a building argument that western spirituality is too focused on thoughts and emotions and misses the body, which he defines as the underlying basic awareness of reality, that our lived experience and physical presence builds upon.
Though I was engaged by the intention, I was somewhat disappointed by the execution. Riggs tended to globalize his experience overmuch and built his argument on assumptions that were not thoroughly supported. In particular, he spent a good portion of the middle of the book arguing with imagined naysayers who are unlikely to read the book anyway, which caused the section to feel preachy and slowed the pace significantly. I was also extremely disappointed in the entirely unnecessary and prolific use of gender-specific language throughout the book. But that is all I will say on that point.
Overall, it was an okay read. I most appreciated the intention and topic presented in the book. I expect to keep it on my shelf and reread it. If you are sensitive to strong language or spiritually synchronistic remarks, then this book is not for you; however, it might be helpful if you are experiencing a faith shift or have been burned by fundamentalist religious circles.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
I’ve been doing these “Spiritual Practice of…” posts for so long now that practically anything I do seems like a potential spiritual practice. Since I’ve already written about how everything is spiritual, I won’t belabor the point here but it does amaze me to consider what an effect this series (and HBTB in general) has had on my spiritual and daily life. I find myself somehow more integrated, more holistic. And isn’t that the point?
So, dear lovely readers, let’s get down to business with the
Spiritual Practice of Drinking Wine (or how wine tasting taught me mindfulness)
Since moving to the Santa Barbara area more than two years ago and living so close to wine country, my husband and I have enjoyed the luxury of trying a variety of higher quality wines at a relatively lower price point than other parts of the country. And being surrounded by wineries and wine drinkers has made the wine culture more accessible.
Here are some things wine tasting can teach us.
1) Prepare. Since I am nothing close to a wine connoisseur, I always like to read the descriptions that usually accompany a wine tasting and ask questions of the server about what the winery is known for, the process of making the wine, and what experience they want me to have. I pay attention to key words like “earthy” or “finish” and try to prepare my palate to experience fully the wine I am about to taste.
2) Breathe. Experienced wine tasters will tell you the first thing you do when you receive a glass of wine is swirl the wine around a little in the glass to aerate it and then stick your nose in and breathe deeply to experience the wine first with your sense of smell.
3) Taste. Wine tasting is not really about drinking wine at all. It’s about tasting. When you taste wine, you don’t just drink it. For one thing, you usually get at the most about an 1/8 of a glass of any wine on the tasting list. That’s not even enough for one gulp. Tasting wine is about really, really tasting it, taking a small sip of wine in through your lips, rolling it around in your mouth so that it touches all parts of your tongue, and even sometimes slurping or gargling a little before finally swallowing. The point is to engage your sense of taste fully with every sip. Some dedicated wine tasters will even spit out the wine after tasting it so the alcoholic effects don’t hinder the next tasting.
4) Notice. Here is where mindfulness really comes in for me. At every point in the process of tasting a particular bottle of wine, my attention is fully claimed. From the moment the wine enters my glass, I am observing the color, feeling the weight of the glass in my hand as I swirl, breathing deeply to smell as much as I can from what the description tells me to expect, and then finally taking a small sip onto my tongue to contemplate the flavor as it slowly makes its way to the back and down my throat. I savor. All my senses are engaged. With this sip of wine in my mouth, I am fully present in this moment in an embodied way. Then, before I take another sip, I consider the finish and the aftertaste. I compare it to the other wines I’ve had and to my expectations from the description.
5) Repeat. And then, slowly, I go through the process again. Do I pick up any nuances I missed on the first sip? Is my palate more discerning on this trip than last time? Can I appreciate the wine more fully than I did last time?
6) Share. Wine tastings, like many activities, are more fun with friends. Since my husband and I often go together, I like to ask him about his experience of the wine we are tasting. What did he notice? How did it compare to other wines we have tasted? I find that sharing in his experience and sharing mine with him creates a greater depth. My wine tasting experience would be incomplete without this opportunity to share with and learn from each other.
7) Change. I have found that since I started wine tasting, I accidentally apply this method to other beverages I try. New blend of lemonade on the menu? Let me swirl it around in my glass and breathe it in first. It’s led to some odd looks from dinner companions, I’ll admit. But that has only further impressed upon me the benefits of drinking wine as spiritual practice. Slowing down and allowing our activities and experiences to fully engage us in the present moment—fully engaging our bodies, minds, and spirits—helps us cultivate a valuable and lifelong habit reminiscent of Brother Laurence’s practicing the presence of God.
What do you think? Let your voice be heard in the comment box below!
One of the central themes of holistic body theology is cultural discernment. Our culture has many valuable gifts to bestow, but there are also many lies and harmful beliefs perpetuated. That’s why media literacy is so important. We have to recognize the messages around us and decide for ourselves whether we will accept them as truth or not.
But before we can even develop that discernment, we have to first know who we are. If our identity is not sure, then we are so much more easily swayed by others’ attempts to tell us who we are or who we should be. As Christians, we identify as children of God. The foundation of our identity is built on Jesus, the incarnate divine being, perfectly holy and fully flesh.
Holistic body theology, then, is about realizing our embodied holiness in our everyday lives. This is hard enough for those of us who live out our lives in quiet and relative obscurity. How much greater the struggle for secure identity and wise discernment among the many messages of our culture when in the unique opportunity to create those messages for ourselves.
I don’t usually engage in ongoing conversations about the latest thing in popular culture, but Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus carries too important a message to worry about getting caught up in current debate. Regardless of the various opinions floating around about Ms. Cyrus’ motivations, etc., Ms. O’Connor’s effort still gets kudos from HBTB for being willing to speak hard truths about the reality of sexual exploitation of women working in the music industry.
Here are some highlights from her letter:
[…]Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent[….]
I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and it’s associated media.
You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever … Don’t be under any illusions … ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty…
Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you[….] And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself[….]
Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted … its so not cool Miley … its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. We aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers … that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career[….]
The value of Ms. O’Connor’s open letter is that her message is for more than just Miley Cyrus and other women in the music industry. It is also a message for those relative-obscurity-living-in people like you and I. We have a responsibility to engage wisely in the world around us. When we buy magazines or watch videos on Youtube or tune into entertainment news, we are telling the media and the world what we are interested in. “Sex sells” is a well-known and proven marketing adage for a reason. Sex sells because people buy it.
So, my dear lovely readers, here is my open letter to you:
Know who you are. Make choices that reflect your identity and honor your worth. Live a life that sells what is truly worth buying. Live a life worthy of the precious, beautiful, unique, beloved child of God that you are.
You, dear readers, are worth more than your body. You are worth more than your sexual appeal. You are too valuable just because of the simple fact that you are a human being on this earth to believe anything less about yourself or about any other human being on this earth. You are worth more than the low, base messages in the media. You and I, and Ms. Cyrus and Ms. O’Connor, and every other person deserve better. We all deserve to be known and honored and valued and loved for our whole selves — mind, body, and spirit.
Let’s sell that for a change.
I ran across this video and wanted to share it here. Back in 2006, Helen Fisher shared some of her research on the brain chemistry of love. It’s a bit longer than most TedTalks, so if you’re running short on time, I recommend jumping to minute 7:45-13:20 where she talks about the impact of women in the workforce and gender differences in the brain or to minute 13:20-18:00 where she talks about sexuality, love, and marriage.
Hello, lovely readers! I’m back to blogging after an unofficial month-ish off. Did you miss me?
After some much needed rest and a break from productivity, I’m excited to get back to HBTB and share what has been coming up for me this summer.
Learning to rest and to allow myself to feel unproductive has been an ongoing challenge. There is always that lingering guilt and pressure to perform and to do so that I’m not wasting my time or being lazy.
But I have found that if I can get to a place of allowing myself to become restful and to be, then I am able to experience so much needed restoration and rejuvenation that I could never access otherwise. It is a constant choice toward balance, a journey to the middle. I’m getting there.
In my own spiritual life, I have found such peace and life in pursuing contemplative forms of prayer. One way that I am moving toward balance in my life is seeking out forms of meditative movement that provide the opportunity to release my mind from the rigors of left-brained living as well as engage my body in the overall spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of my whole self.
There are a number of forms of meditative movement around. Some, like body prayer, can be very overtly Christian while others, like Yoga, are more accessible to a variety of faith traditions including those who claim none. In my search for a gentle, meditative exercise that would be kind to my currently limited physical condition, I came across Qi Gong. Similar to Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and other movements, Qi Gong is the practice of visualizing the healing flow of energy throughout the body using a series of stretches and motions designed to promote healing and health.
Here’s a description of Qi Gong that I really like:
If the language of “energy” is uncomfortable to you, you might like this meditation on The Lord’s Prayer using Qi Gong movements:
For me, talking about the healing flow of energy always makes me think of the active movement of the Holy Spirit, which is the presence of God within and around us. I often visualize the Holy Spirit as a wisp of smoke like from an extinguished candle or a living ball of gentle light. Sometimes the light becomes a bright fireball in my mind’s eye!
What about you?
Do you have an image that represents the presence of God in your life? Maybe you like the scriptural images of wind, water, or a white dove. Share your image in the comment box below. I always love hearing from you!
with Kristi Rice
1) Describe your experience in other cultures and the attitude toward/relationship to body image you observed there.
2) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?I find that in one sense I am more conscious of my body because of the frequent comments from friends or strangers about my body. If I have been away for more than a week, people who I greet on the street are likely to make an assessment like, “You’ve gained weight! Must have been a good trip.” Or “Did you get sick? You’ve lost weight.” Often, we will hear both paradoxical perspectives in the same day, so we’ve learned to laugh and not take it seriously. Yet, the Congolese perspective has made me less self-conscious about my body size also. I have learned to appreciate being healthy more than having certain image. As white people living in an African country, we are often stared at, scrutinized, and touched simply because of the novelty of seeing a foreigner up close. So – it really helps to be comfortable with who you are!
3) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you relate to others?I feel a greater sense of freedom in relating to others. Joining the Congolese in their culture of being frank and open about our bodies seems to help me be more “real” in other aspects of the relationship. Last year I shared with Therese, a Congolese friend, about my embarrassment and annoyance when people on the road would make comments (sometimes shouting comments) about my body as I was jogging. Therese laughed, shared her own even more humiliating experience, and told me I should not let it bother me. Those shared experiences are so encouraging and helpful!
4) How has that relationship/attitude affected your spiritual life?Living in Congo, where we are daily confronted with people who are hungry, sick, or desperately poor, has prompted me to be grateful for the simple, basic things in life, like being able to choose the food I eat or walk up the stairs. I am grateful that God made me the way he did…in my case, it is much more valuable for life in Congo that I don’t have food allergies than that my body were thin or beautiful. The nudge to be grateful as well as the openness about body image in Congo has enriched my sense of who I am as a creation and daughter of God. In spite all of my faults, sin, and stumbling, I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of.
5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?Reiterating what I have learned to appreciate about Congolese culture, take a risk with being open and honest –with yourself, with others, and with God. And be grateful … for whatever your body looks like and the way God created you to interact with the world.
What about you?
Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. You can also post anonymously if you wish.
I’m not a cook. I don’t make food; I just heat it up. Or order it. I’m really good at ordering. My husband, on the other hand, is a very talented cook. He enjoys creating something delicious and wonderful out of a whole bunch of unassuming ingredients.
So what can we learn from cooking about the spiritual life?
Cooks are patient. They don’t rush through the process but take their time to make sure everything comes out as it should.
Cooks are creative. They look at seemingly incompatible ingredients and see delicious possibilities.
Cooks are collaborative. Ever watch the Food Network, or do a web search for a certain recipe or cooking method, or walk down the cooking isle in a bookstore? Cooks love to share and learn and *ahem* brag.
Cooks practice self-care. My mother always used to say while cooking, “Don’t muzzle the ox!” That was her blanket permission to eat whatever you want while you’re cooking in the name of taste-testing.
Cooks are diligent. They do what they do over and over and over again. They do it day after day, meal after meal. They are dedicated to their craft.
Cooks are intuitive. They test out new recipes, experiment with new ingredients, and use measurement systems like “dash” and “pinch.”
Cooks are brave. They share what they create, usually quite proudly. They enter contests, go on competitive reality TV shows, apply to work in restaurants, produce blogs or books or movies that chronicle their craft.
Cooks are caring. They provide daily sustenance for those they love the most, for themselves, and for the hungry around them. They bring cookies and cupcakes to the school bake sale. They serve in soup kitchens. They share their casseroles and pot roasts and pies at pot lucks.
If you’ve ever wanted to be patient or creative or collaborative or practicing self care or diligent or intuitive or brave or caring — well then, you should take your cue from cooks and practice spiritual cooking.
* HBTB does not promote or condone smoking. It is general knowledge that breathing nicotine into your lungs is toxic to your body. This post is designed to focus on what smokers can teach us about the spiritual life.
The Spiritual Practice of Smoking (while not really smoking)
- Smokers listen to their bodies well.
- Smokers know the importance of taking regular breaks from the daily grind.
- Smokers appreciate the calming effect of deep breathing, in and out, in and out.
- Smokers understand the camaraderie of taking breaks with other smokers, sharing the experience of smoking together.
- Smokers enjoy getting away from it all, going outside, and having a moment apart just to tend to their body’s needs.
Next time you find yourself rushing through yet another busy day with your head spinning and time flying by, take your cue from smokers:
take a moment to step outside
experience the community of shared interest and activity
tend to your body, your mind, and your spirit every day
with Eric Hall
1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise. If it has changed over time, describe the change.I started exercising when I was a sophomore in high school. I think I mainly started to become more attractive to women and to feel better about my physical appearance. My exercise habits have changed over time depending on how busy I have been. In 2007 I exercised for around 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. In 2009 I ran 7 days a week. I still exercise but it usually last around 1 hour each time and it happens around 3 times a week.
2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?It has helped my self-confidence when it comes to my looks. I have had compliments about my muscles. That always makes me feel good. Right now I am still in pretty good shape but I am very aware of unwanted fat on my body. At times that fat makes me feel less secure about my appearance (I know this is unhealthy).
3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?It has given me conversations with others that exercise. I know to some girls it has made me more attractive. At least from their comments that is what it sounded like. It has also taken me away from spending more time with people (I will talk about this more in questions 4).
4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?At times my exercising habits have become an obsession. I refused to spend time with others because I HAD to get my exercise routine done. I, one time, made my family wait an hour after they had driven 6 hours to come see me because I HAD to exercise. This was extremely unloving and very selfish. This was a sin, so obsession with exercise negativity affected my spiritual life. But…I do believe that as a follower of Christ I am to be a holistic person. This means I should try and be as healthy as I can be spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do believe it honors the gift that God gave us, our bodies, when we exercise. But as I mentioned, exercise can sometimes become an obsession, which is unhealthy and sinful.
5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?Exercise, but within reason. Don’t let it become an obsession. I do believe that it can be a way to honor God, which is great. I also do not believe that it is wrong to also do it to make yourself more attractive to yourself and others.
What about you?
Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. You can also post anonymously if you wish.