The Embodied Path
The path of spirit is grounded in the embodied experience.
~ Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
The French Jesuit priest and mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was also a paleontologist and philosopher, once famously declared that humans were not beings attempting to have a spiritual experience, but were spiritual beings involved in a human experience. Through his studies in evolution and his spiritual reflection Teilhard came to believe that humans were not simply a highly evolved animal, but that our 'appearance on earth brought an added dimension to the world…, the birth of reflection: animals know, but man knows that he knows; he has ‘knowledge to the square.’*
Though I’ve never been Catholic, when I came upon some of Teilhard’s ideas many years ago -- ideas so at odds with the Catholic church that his major writings were only published after his death -- they greatly influenced my spiritual journey and deepened my sense of self and of others. Though I do not hold to most of Teilhard’s more specific religious views, what captured my attention in these particular thoughts was the idea of our embodiment.
Rather than what is often reflected in spiritual teachings as an ultimate escape from the body for someplace else that is better than our lives here on earth, acknowledgement of our embodiment in his particular way seemed to attest to our essence and to also imply that we are responsible for our actions in present time. There is no need to transcend the here and now, or to prove ourselves worthy to eventually access some distant shore. The hope I found in Teilhard’s ideas was that they seemed to point to the possibilities of our continual embodied evolution relationally, spiritually, physically, and even politically.
I have preferred this view and the challenge of its call. It is also likely what I found attractive in some early Universalist teachings that we are “punished” for our sins in this life, not in some place in the hereafter. It is not the idea of punishment which I’ve found compelling, but that of the embodiment of our actions. That we are creating something right here on earth and our actions have consequences that impact us all, and for which we are accountable, whether we accept accountability or not.
As embodied beings who wish to act and create meaning in the world, what happens if we embrace the power and possibilities of these mystical teachings?
How might the body be the Source of our Awakening?
*Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Pierre Teilhard de Chardin". Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Apr. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pierre-Teilhard-de-Chardin. Accessed 14 September 2023.
Artwork by Maria Vu, Abstract Female Body; https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-abstract-female-body-maria-vu.html
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