Why Do We Have Bodies?
"Those who gained enlightenment by seeing blossoms or hearing sounds, achieved it through the body." (Dogen, Zen Founder)
"Eternity was in our lips and eyes!" (Shakespeare)
Why do I have a body? Did I fall into this body by chance? Is my body a punishment? An exile? Is it, as Plato said, the prison of my soul?
Mind is the prison, not body. I am imprisoned by my thoughts. A gray wall of thought separates me from the world, and from other people.
If it were not for this body, I would be lost in a ghost-land whose geography fades to the distant past and future. Drifting through mental mist, I never seem to realize the truth about time: it only exists as thought. And thought cannot be present. Thought is always when or then, but never now.
This body is the doorway to now, the path that leads from abstract shadow to radiant sensation, the bridge to a place where people live. Sensations in the body are precious spiritual jewels, awakening what is. The simple sensation of breath, rising and falling through my body, transports me back from the dreams of past and future to the solid ground of Presence.
Is love in the mind? No, this is just the idea of love. Is God in the memory, as St. Augustine believed? No, this is just the idea of God - an image graven out of thought. Only when awareness is freed from thought, awake to the now, can I see a plum blossom, sunlight in a drop of rain, or the spark of divinity in the eyes of a homeless stranger.
Seeing God in a plum blossom simply means seeing the blossom as it is, unfiltered through the haze of names and descriptions. Seeing God means seeing the plum blossom bathed in the radiance of awareness. God is my act of seeing what sees as I see what is seen.
But then, there is pain. What about the body's pain?
Pain is the occasion for this sacred act of seeing what sees. Pain, above all, awakens me from the hypnosis of thought. When I am so absorbed in my mind that the sensation of breath or the beauty of a blossom are not enough to awaken me, then pain will surely awaken me! Nature sends enough of it each day: I need not seek pain. But when it comes, why not use it for meditation? I have the choice to regard my pain as a curse of suffering, or a bell of awakening. "Pain is inevitable," said a great master, "but suffering is optional."
A pain in my body is more spiritual than the most religious thought in my mind. Why? Because pain insists on my presence.
When I resist my pain, I "try not to think about it," and end up thinking about it constantly. Resistance usually takes the form of a running commentary, a story about my pain. "Poor me! Why me? I must have done something wrong to be punished this way! This pain won't allow me to be happy or achieve anything!" This is how I turn my pain into suffering.
Suffering is not pain, but the story I tell about it. When I drop this inner melodrama, and simply embrace my pain without resistance, I discover a wonderful secret. Pain is a furious insistent form of awareness, condensed into localized sensation. Yet it is made of the same stuff as the plum blossom.
This means that I can release my pain by entering deeply into it, passing through it to the other side. On the other side of pain is a silent space where I am more aware of Being than I have ever been. My pain has dissolved into pure silent awareness.
So I have learned not to resist pain. Recognizing that pain is just contracted consciousness, I taste it in the now, without naming it. I embrace the sensation without the melodrama of thinking about it. Embracing the blossom of pain allows silence is to be born right in the heart of it. The silence unfolds around the sensation too, as the space of compassion. This wide-open tender silence was here before my birth, and it will enfold my death. My pain is bathed in the spaciousness of surrender.
All that is required is to drop resistance. Allowing pain to be just as it is, moment by moment, converts the potential energy stored in the local sensation to kinetic ever-expanding clarity. The most spiritual sacrament possible is to witness this dissolving of pain into pure consciousness.
Experiencing that sacrament even once liberates me from ageless suffering. Then, through any sensation in my body, I can open the door of surrender that leads to peace.
Only one who has tasted love's vast space in her own body can enfold the pain of others with healing wings. When I pray for others, I don't need to involve a third party. "God's healing wings" is a sweet mental image, but it simply represents the space of compassion, first enveloping my own body, then expanding to enfold others. This is what Jesus experienced on the cross.
His body, in its pain, became the vessel through which omnipresent awareness entered the world. Descending through his wounds, Jesus emerged as eternal Spirit on the other side of pain. He did not separate from his body, or transcend his body. He passed right through his body, infusing consciousness into every photon of matter. He followed each vibrating quantum string to its source in divine silence. The body was his path to immortality.
When the I of thought is crucified, every particle of flesh becomes an eye that sees God. Then Spirit, or consciousness, is fully incarnate, perfectly human. Through this process of awakening in and through the body, resurrection is accomplished. Spirit and flesh are no longer two, but one radiance.
Like Jesus, I cannot achieve presence or compassion without my body. I honor my body. I worship God through my body. I will not wait another moment to caress my sacred body with this breath. I will open the eye of each atom!