How ‘at one’ are you with your body, and what reasons might there be if your body-sense got separate(d) from your soul-sense?
This piece starts with the difference between feminine and masculine spirituality, and introduces a few reasons why living in a physical body isn’t always easy.
It then invites a shift to the beloved body and how we can start to re-instate our body as a sacred place and love it from within.
Feminine and masculine spirituality
Minke de Vos (2016) distinguishes between feminine and masculine forms of spirituality. She writes that masculine spiritual practices generally focus on capacities of the mind, mindfulness, emptying the mind from distractions, stillness meditation and so on. I would describe this as an upward energy, emphasising the ‘top’ part of the body, and the connection with sky, heaven and universe. These are great practices for self-reflection and expanding consciousness.
In contrast, De Vos describes feminine spiritual practice as “devotional, embodied, and celebratory” (2016: 29), often including physical practices such as dancing (!), singing, circular sharing, nature communion and sensuality. I would call these practices more immanent, bringing the spiritual energy downward, into the body, and in direct connection with matter, physicality and the earth.
When I use this distinction I don’t refer to male/female gendered characteristics, but to a sense of complementary energies, like yin/yang, that always exist in all of us. In general, the mentally oriented types of spirituality receive more attention in our culture, and an important part of my work on embodied spirituality is about re-honouring the body as a sacred place full of spirit. However, returning to the body can be a bumpy ride, as our physical experience is often far from sensual or celebratory.
The Cultural Body
Whatever culture you live in, I am sure you hear many confusing messages about the body. In most religious cultures, the body received a very bad press, often equating nature and especially the body with wild, ungoverned, sinful, and other ‘ungodly’ values.
In popular culture, the female body became objectified, sexualised, given value mostly through the male gaze, and not by its own strength and miraculous life-giving power. Also, cultural gender stereotyping strongly affects people whose sense of identity doesn’t match with their given body.
In medical science culture, the body is seen as a machine, with defects that can be repaired, and imperfections to be improved. The advances of technology reinforced the pressure of popular culture to ‘beautify’ an otherwise perfectly healthy body to meet some idealised beauty standards.
Finally, in academic culture, the body is mostly perceived as a container for the brain and to transport the intellect from one meeting to the next.
The Challenged Body
Every body has its own rhythms and timings. We often only take notice, when something is out of balance, which happens to most of us at some point.
Sometimes our physicality gets challenged on a more regular basis, when we are transgender, live with asymmetric bodies, experience chronic pain, or are healing from intense surgery.
There is also the challenge of the ever-aging body, veins that get more fragile, wrinkles that crackle our skin, joints bruising or swelling more easily, the increased vulnerability of illness and ultimately death. What happens to our body-perception, when we consciously re-anoint this place as a sacred vessel?
Image credits: The Unbroken Body. Mover: Eline Kieft, artistic rendering by Florian Divi (2020).
The Unsafe Body
For many people, women especially, the body categorically feels like an unsafe place. Our integrity can have been violated through harassment or rape, which of course makes the body the last place we feel safe.
Also, apparently more innocent, verbal messages that taught us not to enjoy our own bodies or experience sensual pleasure with another person can erode our sense of body as ‘allowed’ or ‘hallowed’ territory.
With all the cultural hang ups described above, that might lead us to believe it’s better if we don’t think of it at all. This often leads to a degree of dissociation that reinforces the separation between body and the sacred. How can we renegotiate our perception of our own body as safe place and sanctuary for our own sacred soul? The answer to that might be different for everybody and every body, depending on what you experienced in the past.
The Beloved Body
Parking these challenging views on the body for a moment, have you have considered your body as the only being who is with you your entire life? Rather than neglecting, reprimanding, fighting or punishing this ‘innocent’ creature, how would it be to make friends with it and care for it like we care for someone we love? Could we extend this loving capacity to our own body?
In a beautiful audiobook The Joyous Body (2011), Clarissa Pinkola Estés invokes:
Let it be known that the body was made in ecstasy so that we can experience consciousness. Let it be known that spirituality, religiosity, sexuality, beauty, and nature are physical and emotional gateways to consciousness. Let it be known that every type of body is desiring and desirable till the very end. (Pinkola Estés 2011, audio book chapter 2).
Pinkola Estés speaks of our good and benevolent body as the ‘beloved consort’ who relies on us for nurturing and safe keeping. Whatever challenging past or present circumstances we have lived through with our body, how can we considerately care for it so that we and ‘it’ “can thrive and feel supported” (Kieft, 2022: 53)?
Sacred Self Touch
Did you know that there is a deep connection between touch, relaxation and emotional wellbeing? Unfortunately receiving enough safe and undemanding touch isn’t often a given, even if we find ourselves in a loving, healthy relationship.
Therefore, I’d like to make a bold case for regular self-touch to regain a nourishing intimacy with our own body. I’m not (yet) talking about sexual touch here, although it can, of course, grow into that. I am talking about taking a moment to caress your body with loving attention, when you are in bed or under the shower, or getting dressed for work.
Give yourself even just five minutes of soothing, comforting touch each day, for example:
- a face, hand or foot massage
- a gentle caressing hug with both your arms wrapped around you
- breathing in and out as you draw long strokes over your torso (breathe in as you draw your hands up the midline, breathe out as they descend down the sides of your body)
- while you’re seated, rub your shoulders, legs or your knees
Image credits: Darius Bashar, Unsplash.
You can choose to do this naked or with clothes on, however you feel comfortable and most at ease. It is really okay to touch yourself this way. It is a form of loving kindness and self care, and you have a right to give this comforting, soothing, calming or any kind of touch to yourself, your beloved body, and celebrate the mystery from within.
De Vos, Minke (2016). Tao Tantric Arts for Women. Cultivating Sexual Energy, Love and Spirit. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books.
Kieft, Eline (2022). Dancing in the Muddy Temple. A Moving Spirituality of Land and Body. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
Pinkola Estés, Clarissa (2011). The Joyous Body. Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype. 5 vols, The Dangerous Old Woman Series, vol. 3, audio recording, chapter 2. Louisville, CO: Sounds True.
You can still join my Embodied Spirituality Masterclasses until December 2022! It’s a deep journey into a way to experience the sacred from within the moving body, meeting nature as a teacher, explore consciousness, trance and ecstasy and much more. You can check it out here.
I’d also like to invite you to a live weekend workshop I teach in London, 17-19 February 2023, for women who experienced Early Pregnancy Loss, to work through this devastating experience in an embodied, archetypal and ceremonial way. All information and registration here.
Eline Kieft danced from a young age, including rigorous classical and contemporary training to become a professional dancer. She then studied anthropology, deepening her fascination with worldwide similarities between indigenous traditions regarding intangible aspects of reality and other ways of knowing, including embodied epistemologies and shamanic techniques.
She completed her PhD in dance anthropology at Roehampton University, trained in depth with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Eline worked at the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) at Coventry University for five years, where she created a Somatics Toolkit for Ethnographers, and pioneered soulful academic pedagogy. Her recent book Dancing in the Muddy Temple: A Moving Spirituality of Land and Body was well received as a unique blend of theory and practice and a medicine for our times.
She is now a full-time change-maker and facilitates deep transformation through coaching and courses both online and in person. Her approach The Way of the Wild Soul offers a set of embodied, creative, and spiritual tools to re-connect with inner strength and navigate life’s challenges with confidence.