Over the past 20 years, I’ve been blessed with many moments in which fully aware or embodied presence has intersected spiritual transformation, both in my own life and in the lives of others. In my work on a crisis hotline, I’ve held space for strangers to open up and speak freely about pain, grief, and despair. In my work as a minister, I’ve held a couple’s hands as I blessed their marriage, and I’ve held space with the dying and their loved ones.
In my work as a doula, I’ve supported women draped over my arms as they pushed new life into being; I’ve also held crying fathers in hospital hallways while their lovers were being prepped for emergency surgeries. In my rape crisis work, I’ve held the hands of women in hospitals through fear and sorrow, and I’ve facilitated support groups for survivors to reconnect with their own embodied sexuality and the fullness of its complexity as they worked toward greater compassion for themselves and their processes.
I’ve worked to build a practice of presence and compassion in my life that extends beyond my family, even beyond people. Last spring, I was late to a party because I’d stopped to help a stumbling fawn out of the highway. Seeing that it was unable to move, I sat with it at the edge of the woods and sang it to its sleep.
Each of these experiences has transformed me, my way of viewing the world, and how I see the role of touch and presence in friendship, service, and worship.
My last post for Feminism and Religion explored the idea of intellectual curiosity as spiritual activity when viewed through the context of embodied divinity – divinity that is embodied in our world, those we meet, and our own bodies. While a view of divinity as expressed through and present in the material universe makes intellectual study a sacred act, it also makes holy those moments of connection in which we experience greater understanding of our selves as expressions of the divine through encountering others in their own divinity. Sometimes this is through allowing ourselves to be fully present witnesses to the experiences and stories of other people; many times it is through sacred, consensual, healing touch. Both of these – conscious presence and sacred touch – represent bodily ideals in my belief and practice.
The embodied divine can be present in flowers, in rivers, in fawns and mountains and osprey. It can be erotic – found in the skin of a lover and the places where our bodies touch. It can also be intimately platonic – found in shared time, getting lost in conversation, or dissolving into a hug with a good friend. It can be given in the form of service, love, and devotion; it can be received through our humility and willingness to be vulnerable, to allow others to touch our lives as well.
In my life, I’ve experienced the embodied divine in both individual and universal ways. I’ve experienced this awareness through recognition of self and other as of the same fundamental substance, and I’ve experienced it through the mystic dissolution of self in trance or meditation. I’ve experienced embodied presence in the creation of an interpersonal dyad in which our individual understandings of self expand to produce a new, broader shared consciousness – this happens to me frequently in my ecstatic dance or hooping practice, when the other and I become one in our flow of movement and shared proximity. I’ve also had the experience of expanding that dyadic consciousness to include all of nature, becoming keenly aware of the unity of the whole of the cosmos.
This is not everyone’s path. We are not all called to serve as healers in crisis intervention or ministry or as professional companions to others along their way, even as we all bring healing into our lives and the lives of those we love. We don’t all experience bliss from the same sources; I find it in dance and touch and play and nature, where others find it in silence, art, or formal liturgy. Some may find their embodied bliss through sexual freedom and lavish intimate touch; others may find healing or power in preserving the most personal gifts of their skin and breath for themselves or the most intimate of their loved ones.
Our use of our own bodies has been regulated for so long that their actions and functions have been made to seem base by discourses that privileged the male perspective over the female and otherworldly promise over presence and expansive compassion. They’ve privileged the perfection of the mind over cycles of nature, the ecological complexity of our planet, and the exquisite mysteries of our cells and organs and emotions. We turn these patriarchal models on their heads when we welcome our bodies’ wisdom and presence, and allow space for the physical to teach and grow us just as we do the intellectual and transcendent. We can learn through reading and listening and study; we can also bring knowledge in through our fingertips, mouths, and movements, and in the ways we allow ourselves to be conscious and fully present in nature – awed by the stars, brushed by the wind, and pulled by the moon.
As I continue through graduate studies, growing my foundation of intellectual knowledge and critical skills, I am also making time for greater presence in my physical, cultural, and social ecosystem, drawing my awareness back down into my belly or feet when I’m feeling lost in a sea of often-conflicting ideas and theories. My spirituality is experienced through the expansion and refinement of my mind, but also through the workings of my body, intentional presence with others around me, and recognition that my life is part of the web of nature, not above it.
Christy Croft is a writer, teacher, and healer whose interfaith, personal spiritual practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. She is a graduate student whose current liberal studies program has focused on religion and social justice. She has facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, priestess, mentor, mother, and friend. Her research interests include spirituality, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy, and she sometimes blogs at The Sacred Loom.
Categories: Earth-based spirituality