What would it feel like to more fully arrive in our bodies despite everything we may have learned to feel about them, our society subtly telling us that we are the wrong size, shape, color, or gender? In many ways the influence of the patriarchy may weigh hardest on us here, in the realm of the flesh. The 1,000-pound chain of our cultural programming wants to desperately wrap itself around our bending arms, our wandering legs. It longs to snarl up our movements and embed in our skin.
The truth is that our understanding of body is messy and nuanced: body can be identity, it can be pain, it can be ecstasy, it can be a vehicle of liberation, it can be aging and death. What a dear body endures, what it holds in all of the places that have turned more like stone than pulsing tissue—a lifetime of emotion held in our flesh—is like a mighty castle of accumulation.
The body tells us much about how we have lived and what we have returned to again and again. The body reveals what our time and energy has been devoted to. The kind of past we have lived. If we have prayed on our hands and knees. That which we have taken a shovel to and buried alive within us. That which has been hushed.
In this way the body has an elephant’s memory, quietly holding on to traumas, fears, and experiences that might not even be relevant to our lives anymore. What a challenge it is to be present with the depths of ourselves. Long ago we may have been convinced that it is easier to view our bodies as inherently separate, steely machines to do our bidding.
But the truth is that we only feel truly alive when we are inhabiting ourselves fully. The act of ignoring our bodies sets up a block into further intimacy (in-to-me-see) with the deepest source of our being. The body holds its own wisdom, its own sage voice. It wants to be invited into conversation with you. More than just a flesh house, more than the material container for your time on Earth, our bodies are radiant fortresses of life. They are astonishing, fragile, ferocious temples of holy complexity.
According to the rich philosophical traditions that make up traditional Chinese medicine, the body soul (or Po Soul) is one of the five souls a human being contains. Also known as the corporeal soul, this more primal part of ourselves forms soon after conception, pulling essences and an imprint of ancestral inheritance from our mothers. This animal-like self rules the autonomic nervous system and unconscious instinct, naturally knowing what to do at birth: breathing, clutching, suckling, fighting for survival. Perhaps the most powerful force the body contains, the corporeal soul seems to have a life of its own. Its energy keeps the lungs breathing, keeps the heart beating, keeps the digestive organs firing, all without conscious thought. It never sleeps, never pauses, never forgets to pulse and push us alive.
From an ancient Taoist perspective the body soul contains more of the yin element, linked to the lunar cycles and the dark feminine of ourselves. In the body, the corporeal soul holds the power of the womb space (or the imaginative, creative center in those without a physical uterus), connecting us to all of the females in our ancestral lines. For every single woman who came before you in your matrilineal line that gave birth to a girl, who gave birth to a girl, who gave birth to a girl links you to a sacred chain of creation going all the way back to Mitochondrial Eve, that one single black-skinned, empress-creature we have all descended from.
Growing in the fertile dark of your mother’s womb, you were an egg inside the ovary of the fetus of your mother, which lived inside your grandmother's womb, and she in turn lived inside her grandmother’s womb, and on and on. In this way the body soul connects us to the animal wisdom of our ancestral line, the bright bones of inherited intelligence of those that lived well and died well before you.
When we really still ourselves with rapt attention, we find that the body soul longs to return us to our deepest source of knowing. Memories of our wild woman instinct travel through water, through blood, through breastmilk, through body essences, floating the old road rivers back to primordial oceans, connecting us to the reign of that First Woman. Without this connection, women are subject to the cages of their cultural programming and expectation, their inner ears and eyes closed, stuck in a sanitized, domesticated world. Under the surface a spiritual crisis ensues, an existential loneliness that keeps us always hungering for sacred connection.
We must redeem the body soul from distorted influences that have deemed it as dangerous, negative, sinful, or unimportant. For even in old texts of traditional Chinese medicine, patriarchal pressures demonize the body soul as corrupt, destructive, our “instincts gone wild.”
Indeed the body soul may be where our instincts have gone wild, in the most courageous of ways. Tuning into our body soul, wholeheartedly greeting all of ourselves we may better understand what in us is cooped up, unexpressed, or unappreciated. What is buried, but waiting to be resurrected. It is time that we recognize and deeply cherish these places in us- the broken, wounded, discarded inner lands- that we want to run from, defend against, or distract ourselves from engaging with. In the process of searching these inner caverns, a fire is lit, a light turns on and reveals the best of a life we have not lived.
The body soul reminds us to not turn away from the richness in our lives, even when it shows up in ways we don’t expect or don’t want. Working with our somatic memories, rooting in physical matter, turning inwards with an unwavering commitment of self-reflection opens a doorway into understanding our authentic nature.
So in this moment, let us temporarily cease the distractions of our lives and hear the voice of our bodies. When you slow, stop, and drop into yourself right now, you might ask:
“Dear body, what do you need?”
And as a follow up you might question:
“What kind of qi can I gather up for you?” (in fresh air, in deep breaths, in nourishing food, in a change of situation or posture, etc). Again, return to the simplicity of “what do you need?”
Here are a few more ways to tune into the body soul:
(Originally posted on Elephant Journal on 8/27/20)
Photo: Chris Campbell (Unsplash)