What is sacred to you? The image of Notre Dame’s massive stained glass windows arises first in my mind, and then a cathedral formed by enormous trees sheltering the forest floor. The first moment I held my baby son in my arms felt deeply sacred. In fact, the occasional hug in which my ear is placed near his chest and I hear his heart’s steady beat still fills me with relief and quiet wonder.
What do I mean by sacred? That which fills you with a sense of awe, that effortlessly draws your attention so that you can’t help but pause, take it in, and remember for a moment how brief and miraculous life is.
We call certain places sacred—a temple, a holy marker, a cemetery, a river—and approach them with respect and dignity. When I visited Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu (a gorgeous Buddhist monument surrounded by monkey-filled trees), upon arriving at the base of the dome on top of the hill I immediately felt drawn to its powerful energy. Looking up at the golden eyes of Buddha against the blue sky, and watching the pilgrims circling the base spinning the prayer wheels and murmuring their mantras, my heart wavered and expanded and my eyes filled with tears. Sacred. Any place that thousands, perhaps even millions of people approach as sacred gathers palpable energy that can resonate in your body and soul whether or not you ascribe to the accompanying beliefs.
But we don’t have to travel far to find (or make) something sacred. A home altar provides a sacred place where we arrange objects that help us focus our attention on what is important to us and what we want our lives to be about. The objects themselves and even the IKEA coffee table they live on become sacred. We get disgruntled if an oblivious guest abandons their crumpled cup or gum wrapper there. If the forest or the beach feels like sacred space to you, the idea of leaving broken plastic wine glasses and crumpled paper napkins from your picnic to blow around in the grass and rocks is sacrilegious. You wouldn’t dream of it.
Why do we treat our bodies like they are less worthy than a temple or the forest? Is your body any less a miracle than the beach? Your human body is a work of evolutionary art, vastly more amazing in its complexity and mystery than the most elaborately constructed Gothic cathedral.
In the words of Walt Whitman:
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
…And the running blackberry would adorn the parlours of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is a miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels
You’ve heard, “Your body is a temple.” So how is your temple? Do you treat your temple like the sacred space it is? Or do you disrespect it? You wouldn’t dream of breaking into someone’s church or synagogue or mosque and spraying hateful graffiti on the walls. Yet many of us have no self-restraint when it comes to insulting ourselves, criticizing and abusing our bodies, and coming back for more. This is the equivalent of vandalizing our own church; using the altar cloths to wipe our feet, getting piss-drunk on the holy wine, and melting the sacred objects down to buy heavy weapons and, of course, more spray paint.
Six steps to treat your body like a temple:
1. Recognize its beauty. See how extraordinary your body truly is.
2. Approach your body with respect and awe. “Oh Nobly Born,” (as the Buddha says), be gentle with and dignified toward your body. Offer your body loving rituals of cleansing.
3. Treat your body the way you would any other sacred space. Don’t throw mental, emotional, and psychological “garbage” on it. Be kind and responsible.
4. Honor it. Listen to what food, movement, rest, and attention it needs and meet those needs appropriately. Dress your body with attention to the comfort and beauty that allows its beauty to shine fully.
5. Protect it. Avoid people who don’t treat your body with the respect it deserves, and situations which endanger its well-being.
6. Pause and enjoy it. Experience and appreciate your own aliveness. Slow down and savor your life.
Your body is sacred space. Meet it with reverence and delight.
Encourage others to treat their bodies as sacred space as well. Yoga master Richard Freeman says that once we’ve drawn the circle to show “everything inside this line is sacred,” we must to remember to erase the line as well. The circle helps us focus our attention, and then we recognize how the sacred lives within us and everywhere else.
Be the temple. Love your body, love your yoga, love the world.
I’d love to hear your ideas about other ways you can treat your body like a temple….
Love Your Body Blog Part 50