Spiritual Networks

How the Body is Sacred

Allan Schnarr, M.Div., PhD.
Copyright 2007

The author of this article regularly offers a workshop on body-centered meditation
called Indwelling. For information, please call Allan at 773-564-9172, or email feelingeverything@comcast.net.

The Precious Present

This moment is all there is. A few moments ago I was out for a walk to get a sandwich. The sky looked ominous. I walked quickly, happy to make it back before the storm. Now, that walk is a memory. Like all of the past, it exists now only as a thought I'm not out walking, not hurrying along looking at the sky. Right now I'm sitting leisurely at my desk, smiling at the roll of thunder that is happening even as I'm writing.

It hasn't started raining yet, or at least not loudly enough for me to hear. I am imagining the clouds bursting at any moment, and the rain pelting the windows. I smile again and relax even more so into my chair. I love the sound of a heavy rain - when I'm sheltered from it. I foresee the rain falling in the future. It's not happening now. Like all the future, such imaginings are just a thought at the moment.

What separates the present moment from the past and the future is embodied experience. I experience the precious present only within my body. I hear the thunder. I see these words leaping onto the computer screen. I feel my body's contact with the floor, the desk, the chair. I feel the delight flowing through my whole body as these thoughts I treasure find form on the page. I am writing this now, loving my awareness of what is happening now. This is it. Now is all there is.

My body is sacred because it anchors me in the present moment. When I drift away from awareness in my body, I slip into my thoughts about the past or the future. I am no longer present. I have lost touch with my participation in divinity. One of my ways of identifying God is Full Awareness of All That Is Now. Herein lies the mystery of eternity. For God, the present moment is eternal. It always was and always will be. It holds all that has been and all that is yet to be. The way I join God in this full awareness of all that is, is by staying with awareness in my body.

Conscious Space

Bodily awareness occupies space. I experience directly the quality, and the changes in the quality, of the energy within the space my body inhabits. If I take a moment to listen inward right now, I notice a warm heaviness around my eyes, a mild tension in my jaw, an uplifting sensation at the corners of my mouth and in my cheeks, the subtle movement of my breath, and a pleasant warm glow throughout my whole body - to name only a little of what could be noticed. There is always so much happening in the space inside my body.

Every part of the body is gifted with awareness, some more keenly sensitive than others. When I'm deeply relaxed, I can feel my heart beating. When I tense up after typing for a while, my shoulders and lower back complain. Sometimes one part calls for attention, sometimes another, or several others. To be present is to notice what is happening inside my body. Herein is my space. Within this space is the experience that tells me who I am now.

My body provides a clear boundary between what is me and what is other. As such, my body is the foundation for every relationship. The other exists in the space outside my body. At all times there is an exchange of energy happening between my body and all that is other. Breath is a simple example. As I inhale, I take in air from outside myself. My body receives oxygen from the air. When I exhale I give away carbon dioxide in exchange. The trees nearby take in carbon dioxide and give away oxygen. My body is always exchanging with trees. Perhaps that's why I love them so.

Similarly, I take in the light and sound, an exchange of energy providing me with information about all that is other, my surroundings. What is happening in the space around me impacts me, through my senses. My inner world shifts in response, and releases energy to complete the exchange. This receiving and releasing of energy is most evident when I am interacting with another whose consciousness is evident to me. I see your eyes twinkle when they meet mine. I feel a warm surge of pleasure rising from my belly, and beaming in my face. Your glow increases and we are drawn into a hug. Information about your inner world traveled to mine, where changes happened. Information from inside me then found its way inside you. This is how it is when two bodies are connected. Inner life gets communicated back and forth across the space between us.


The exchange of energy between one body and another is nothing less than the movement of Spirit. Within each body is the divine gift of awareness of the whole. At any given moment, all that is happening inside me coalesces into a feeling. My feeling tells me the meaning I give to what I am experiencing right now. In an open relationship, this feeling is then communicated to the other body. This other associates a meaning with what I am feeling, has a feeling of his or her own, and communicates this response to me. A week ago I ran to catch a tow truck about to remove my illegally parked car. I was feeling desperate and let the driver see it. He wasn't about to break company policy and give back my car, but I believe he did feel compassion in response to my letting him see how I was feeling. He offered me a ride to the lot, and saved me hours of aggravation. I felt grateful and let him know it. As we drove along he was congenial with me. I consider this to be a Spirit-filled exchange. The truth of the energy within each of us, our feelings, guided our connection in a way that was of service to both of us. He got to do his job humanely, and I got to minimize my distress.

A feeling identifies the quality of the energy within conscious space. It tells me how I am experiencing Spirit at the present moment. Each feeling invites acknowledgment of what is happening inside me. Each feeling offers opportunity for expression so that another may connect with my experience. An empathically attuned other resonates with the quality of my inner world, joining me in the way I am feeling. It is such feeling-with-another that bridges the gap between one conscious space and another, allowing two separate beings to feel connected. In Western spirituality, this sacred communion is the essence of divine life: traditionally, the fully communicating Spirit flowed between the other two persons in God. Practically, this communion happens between people when they are attuned to each others' feelings. To commune with another is always an experience of God. It happens within and between bodies, always and only in the present moment, anytime, anywhere - even between a tow truck driver and his captive!


Awareness is the opportunity for choice. Awareness of a particular feeling within my body always invites me to decide what to do with the energy that has stirred. To whatever degree my bodily experience allows, I get to keep a feeling private, and/or to choose the manner of its expression. When I first caught up with the tow truck driver, I was feeling desperate and angry. I chose to let the desperation show. The anger I kept to myself. I was in a position of needing his help, completely at his mercy. I didn't want to alienate him. Then, as we drove along, he began to be cordial with me. I was still feeling angry. I did not want to get friendly with him. Every time I felt the inclination to be pleasant, my anger rose up to stifle it. I didn't tell him about this. I simply chose to keep my distance with silence. I assume he recognized the choice I made.

Intentionality is the way I share in the divine power of revelation. Like the God who revealed him/herself to Moses at the burning bush, I get to say who I am. I am who I say I am: I define myself at every moment that I am present to the experience within my body, and decide what to do with the energy that is moving therein. Whatever my feeling, there are countless options as to whether and how to express it. I could have had a tantrum with the tow truck driver. I could have revealed the colorful expletives that live inside me. I could have told him how I judge his way of doing business to be unjust. I could have defended myself as a victim, away from my car only a few minutes. I could have given him the finger as I finally drove away. I decided to reveal myself to him as a person who respects someone with power when s/he is humane with the less powerful. I hope that, through my body, he recognized what I intended to communicate.


The purest divine intention is love. Love is the universal creative force making all well. Love embraces what is, just as it is. Love engages energetically with what is, to make it even better. Bodies are made by love, for love. A body naturally embraces the present moment, just as it is: this is the meaning of conscious space. My body grounds me in the truth of what is happening now. A body engages naturally with its energy so that its wellbeing is assured and even improved. Every feeling is simply about supporting wellness in the body. When pleasurable feelings arise, the body is oriented toward allowing those feelings to last. When painful feelings arise, the body is moved to allow those feelings to pass. To love somebody is simply to intend for their pleasure to last and for their pain to pass. This is how love is the natural state of a body,

the very purpose of its existence. Bodies exist to provide awareness with choices about how to make all well. Bodies are made for love.

Each body is made by love, for love of itself. My body exists for its own wellbeing. Its feelings offer guidance about which experiences support its wellness and which do not. My feelings orient my choices about how to love myself, how to make myself well. My body also teaches me about its interdependence with other bodies. My own wellbeing depends profoundly on the wellbeing of the other bodies in my world. In my body there is no dichotomy between self-love and love for others. What makes me well is good for others. What makes others well is good for me. My feelings naturally show me the way to flow with this ever shifting balance. So it is that, as emotional wisdom grows, I learn the meaning of loving my neighbor as myself.

Be true to your feelings and all will be well.

Feelings are love's power and its wisdom. Being in the truth with my feelings is simply the way I join God in the ongoing act of creation. God is always investing in making the world a better place. The more I listen to the wisdom inside my own body, the more clearly I get to join in what God is doing. I get to embody love, to be an incarnation of the divine.

How sacred my body is! Trauma

The embrace of the present moment is shattered by trauma. Trauma is intolerable experience. Something is happening that is too much for my awareness to hold. My father is striking me so hard that I can't believe I will survive. A teacher has ridiculed me and everyone is laughing. This is not happening! My mother does not want to know about my fears. A dear friend has just died. I refuse to accept it! Two skyscrapers have been leveled by airplanes. Three women in my neighborhood have been raped. I'd rather not know! The harshness of life is too much for me at the moment. I can't accept what I'm seeing and hearing. I won't allow what I'm feeling. I'm not thinking what I'm thinking. No way. No how. Not now. Not ever.

Trauma threatens my way of being in the world. It shakes my world view. Trauma shatters trust. It makes the dependable suddenly unreliable. It always entails some severe loss. My first response is always denial. It can't be real. It's too much to handle. I can't accept it. It's not happening.

When faced with trauma, in order to hold myself together through it, I shut down awareness of what is happening. I literally do not allow myself to experience it. The choice to avoid awareness, however, is costly. I have to shut down the flow of Spirit.


The way I stop my body from experiencing what is happening inside is by tightening muscles. I freeze the energy in its tracks. I am not feeling that! In particular, I tighten

muscles that naturally move with the flow of my breath. The greater the trauma, the shallower my breath. Breath is the carrier wave for emotion. If I'm barely breathing, I'm barely feeling anything. If I'm barely breathing, I'm barely alive! This descent into stasis isn't a problem to the extent that it's short lived. When the tension becomes chronic, however, the body is in trouble. Lactic acid and other toxins build up in chronically constricted muscles. Blood flow is severely diminished. Pain builds. Tissue breaks down. Awareness is withdrawn. Eventually the muscle sheathing knits together to create immobility. Now the muscles no longer have to work to block the feelings. The chronic constriction has become embedded. No need to fear that traumatic feeling anymore. Its pathway has been permanently blocked.

I long ago shut down anger with numbing tension in my neck and shoulders. I shut down sadness with tension in the back of my neck and around my eyes. I literally never felt these feelings. Not that I couldn't think about them. As a colleague said to me many years ago, "Allan, I often hear you talk about your feelings, but I never get the impression that you're actually feeling anything."


As a result of trauma, the blocking of some emotional experiences becomes chronic. This means I have more and more experiences that have not been resolved, more and more unfinished business. Avoidance has become a major coping strategy. Whatever it is, if it might be threatening in any way, steer clear of it What you don't see, can't hurt you. It's not important anyway. No big deal. It doesn't matter that the backlog grows. It's not even there if you don't think about it. It's not under your control. Stay focused on what is. That's what thinking is for: control. The past predicts the future. You have to learn from the bad things that have happened to make sure they don't happen again. It doesn't matter that you have to learn from them without ever actually experiencing them. Forget about it. Avoidance is the key. Keep thinking about what has gone wrong and how it might happen again. Figure out a way to make sure that it doesn't. Ignore that mounting depression because you're trying to do the impossible. Disregard that creeping anxiety about something soon to go very wrong. Get your mind focused on what you can control. Forget about the rest.

Buddhists call this mental chaos monkey mind. In Alcoholics Anonymous it's called ‘stinkin thinkin’. Psychologists call it intellectualization. It takes many forms. All of them keep awareness hypnotized with thoughts about the past or the future. The precious present is lost.

Body Loss

When thinking about the past and the future hijacks awareness, along with the present moment, the body is also lost. Conscious space is doomed to unconsciousness. Feelings become sources of chaos rather than sacred guidance. The flow of Spirit through the channel of the body gets dammed. The static energy interferes with natural healing processes. The psychosomatic trigger of potential illnesses gets pushed. Other bodies become objects to be controlled, kept at a distance or consumed. The body is no longer allowed to participate in making all well.

When the body is lost, love is lost: things can only get worse.

The good news, however, is that the body is resilient and persistent. It continues to call for the attention it needs. Pain is a particularly eloquent plea. So can be other symptoms, diminished capacities, and illnesses. The message in all such suffering is that the body is holding something that needs to be released. Such a body needs help in remembering how to let go.


For all to be well again, awareness in the body must be restored. For most, this requires a commitment to a therapeutic discipline. One form is psychotherapy, the "talking cure". Good psychotherapists know that therapy only works if it entails more than talking. Research has shown that bodily experience is the key to effective psychotherapy. This means that the client is not just talking about unfinished business, but actually experiencing it. The disallowed feelings must be felt - and understood. Thought must find its rightful place as the student of bodily experience. Thoughts and feelings need to learn how to work together again. The mind must find its natural place, within the body. The therapists job is simply to make the relationship safe enough, so that what has been avoided can be allowed. This means joining the client in loving her or his bodily experience. It means recovering the precious present.

Embrace your feelings and all will be well. Psychotherapy simply means learning to love yourself again - in your body, here and now!

Some psychotherapists focus primarily on the bodily experience of their clients. These are known as body-oriented or somatic psychotherapists. There are many other forms of body work as well, all oriented to support the reawakening of conscious space. Those that entail the support of a therapist include various forms of massage and energy healing. Other healing practices are forms of self-discipline, such as yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, and meditation. *

Healing awareness in the body is not only possible, it is a divine imperative. It is the work of the God who is love, to make all well. I do not have to heal alone. I can't. I just need to find ways to reconnect with my own body, and with other bodies who are living in love. Then the new life happens. The withheld truth emerges. I am set free.

*A wonderful compendium of many of the alternative forms of the healing of bodily awareness is Discovering the Body's Wisdom by Mirka Knaster (Bantam, 1996).

The author of this article regularly offers a workshop on body-centered meditation called Indwelling. For information, please call Allan at 773-564-9172, or email allanow@comcast.net.


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