One night, 4-year-old Jamie woke up from a nightmare, and called to his daddy to comfort him. Dad went in, sat down on the bed, listened patiently as his son told him about the nightmare, and did his best to comfort him. Jamie started feeling better, but wanted his dad to stay for a while, until he got back to sleep. Needing sleep himself, daddy told his son not to worry – that the angels would look after him, all night long, and that God would never leave him alone.
“I know,” Jamie said. “But I need someone with skin.”
No matter how “spiritual” we become, we still have this situation of being in our bodies, in a material world. And while spiritual traditions may teach us that the soul is more important than the body in the context of eternity, those same traditions also teach us the importance of expressing our spirituality in our physicality.
On one hand, our bodies provide resistance training for us, giving us challenges to overcome in the form of cravings, emotions and addictions – and scriptures from all traditions urge us to overcome the “lust of the flesh” with the power of spirit. And they also look forward to the day when we can be free from the limitations of our bodies, and graduate into the blissful realm of pure spirit.
On the other hand, our souls need our bodies. A story about the Buddha illustrates this: After he attained enlightenment, he practiced strict asceticism. Preaching that the desires of the body are illusory and must be overcome with discipline, he denied himself the basics of physical survival. On the verge of starvation, he realized that, even if our bodies are less important than spirit, if our bodies don’t survive, then our spirits can’t stay around here on earth to continue learning and growing. Our spirits need these bodies to experience life on earth and learn from it.
No matter how spiritual we become, as long as we’re here, we experience life through the body. We are here to experience life and express our spirituality in the flesh.
As I mentioned in my post Love vs. Belief, Jesus Christ himself ministered to people in very physical ways, and taught the importance of physical action. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. He taught that our lives would be judged based on how we cared for each other physically – providing food and clothing to the poor, for example. Jesus taught that physical reality can be altered by spiritual power, but he always demonstrated spiritual power in physical ways.
Religion aside, us humans, whether religious or not, express our spirituality in physical action all the time. “Making love” does not mean conjuring up a belief about love, or expressing love in words, but rather getting right into the act of pleasuring another human being in very physical and intimate ways.
Love, community and joyful celebration are often celebrated with food. Parents care for their children by providing and preparing good food for them. Weddings are notorious for the consumption of food and wine. Family gatherings would not exist without plenty of food. Feeding one another is an expression of love and nurture that is very tangible.
But back to skin. Touch is an expression of love that we sometimes shy away from, since it has sometimes been abused by selfish people, and we don’t want it to be misinterpreted. And puritanical religions sometimes make us fearful of touching one another.
But our bodies were made to touch each other. We need touch. There were scientific experiments that demonstrated this in the middle of the last century, which you may have heard about. Doctors separated newborn babies into two groups: those that would receive only the nutrition and material comforts necessary for survival, but no human contact or touch, and those that would be held and touched the way we normally hold babies.
The doctors predicted that there would be some difference in the well-being of the babies, but they underestimated it terribly. They cancelled the experiment half-way through, when they found large numbers of babies dying without any obvious medical reason, other than that they did not get adequate human contact. It was scientifically proven that human beings need touch for their very survival.
In what ways can you express your spiritual beliefs in physical practice? What is one physical way you can express love by helping another human being today?
Hugs are a good place to start.
I know I could use a few.