The Embodied Spirit

Kaaren is a voice teacher I met several years ago who came in for a complementary Rolfing session and immediately proclaimed, “James, I have to do this, but… I have no money for it (she was in the final stages of studying for the priesthood). I wonder if anyone in your family would be interested in voice lessons…?” It was a match made in Heaven since my daughter had been badgering me for months about doing voice lessons. Our sessions were a combination of Rolfing and wide ranging discussions on many aspects of embodiment and spirituality and the need to be grounded on earth as we reach to the heavens. For her ordination ceremony she asked my daughter Juliana to sing and asked me to speak about embodiment. I of course agreed and then forgot until the last moment when I realized with panic that I had only a few hours. Usually I am a slow writer, but it seemed like some angel came and sat on my shoulder and in one hour this is what I came up with:

Kaaren and I came together through a friend and began exchanging bodywork sessions for singing lessons for my daughter. It quickly became clear that these sessions were special times for all of us, a time to remember on the one hand to stay grounded in one’s body even while on an intense spiritual quest, and on the other, to transcend embodiment into the realm of the spiritual – to give voice to the music that comes from the dialogue between these seemingly opposing ends of the spectrum. We were reminded time and again that the truest notes, the most exquisite music is liberated from the instrument whose strings are well anchored in both directions…

When we minister to people’s suffering, their aches and pains and disease, to the parts in them that feel uprooted or homeless, our reaching out to them must come from deep inside, from a place of wholeness. To truly hear their story, we must be able to hear our own story. Both of these require us to be good listeners. To quote Rachel Remen:

“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us. Not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing. Silence is God’s lap.”

In this silence our stories can emerge. Sometimes we find that the binding in our flesh and bones is driven by suffering in the heart; that our spirit cannot breathe because of contractions in the flesh; that the deepest music of our soul cannot sing out with joy because it has become a prisoner of the many ways we have contracted and braced against the harshness of life. When we listen generously to people, we create a holy silence where they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.

One of the lessons that emerged from our time together was one that we can spend a lifetime learning: that all of the elements of our lives, the physical, emotional and spiritual joys and suffering, all of the experiences that are part of our story are inseparably woven together and are all worthy and requiring of our attention.

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