The Duality Battle

Discussion post I submitted for my Atlantic University TP5020 Course – November 20, 2019

Much of our human history has careened between two poles.  On one hand, there are examples of cultures devoted to the purely physical aspects of our existence.  For example, ancient Rome, with its orgies, hot baths, and intricate plumbing system saw carnal pleasures and luxuries (for the upper class anyway) as paramount.  Other cultures and religions worshiped fertility, the Sun, the earth, and other material realities.

On the other hand, many of the Christian denominations over the past 2,000 years viewed anything related to the body – and in particular sexual relations – as sinful and bad.  The only route to salvation, they believed, was to deny our human reality, desires, and emotions, and through this struggle, somehow be transformed into beings worthy of achieving God and eternal life.  

For example, Martin Luther famously said, “[Man] is a bad tree and cannot produce good fruit; a dunghill, and can only exhale foul odors. He is so thoroughly corrupted that it is absolutely impossible for him to produce good actions.”  Or as Jorge Ferrer puts it, “many religious traditions and schools believed that the body and the primary world (and aspects of the heart, such as certain passions) were actually a hindrance to spiritual flourishing – a view that often led to the repression, regulation, or transformation of these worlds at the service of the ‘higher’ goals of spiritualized consciousness” (2008, p. 1).

Fortunately, as Eastern contemplative esoteric religion has met Western Christian logical physical-oriented faith over the past 100 years plus the burgeoning fields of psychology and humanism, the reality that we are both a body and a soul is starting to resonate.  In other words, it isn’t an “either/or” – totally spiritual or totally physical – both it’s a “both.”  

The term Ferrer uses to describe such an integration is embodied spirituality whichenables us to transform and expand our consciousness.  As Ferrer explains, “Embodied spirituality…views all human dimensions – body, vital, heart, mind, and consciousness – as equal partners in bringing the self, community, and world into a fuller alignment with the Mystery out of which everything arises” (2008, p. 2).

Efforts to achieve enlightenment and increased consciousness must involve our corporal bodies since that’s what we are. We are physical beings, and we receive information through our five senses.  We have a critical mind that enables us to discern and learn about spiritual realities.  We can study the saints who have come before us, copy their religious practices, or become a shaman.

When we want to meditate in order to achieve a state of greater awareness and expanded consciousness, for example, we employ tools that will stimulate our various “physical” senses.  Chanting or drumming music for our ears, candles and sacred symbols for our eyes, and incense for our smell all help us get into the appropriate “mood.”  

A similar approach of using a person’s physical functions is employed by shamans to get people prepared for journeying.  As Adam Rock notes, “historically, the shaman has employed a variety of techniques for the purpose of precipitating a shamanic journeying experience (e.g., the ingestion of plant hallucinogens, sensory deprivation, sweat lodges, pain, and ritualistic dancing)” (2006, p. 45).  

These techniques certainly wouldn’t work for an angel.  The body, therefore, is a threshold that must be transversed to reach past the critical mind, to the subconscious, the soul, and to ultimately reach the Universal Consciousness.  Without our bodies, we’ll never encounter our souls and true spiritual potential.  And without our spiritual side, we’ll never truly evolve.

References

Ferrer, J. (2008), “What does it mean to live a fully embodied spiritual life,” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, p. 1-11.

Luther, M. #8: Werke (Wittenberg Edition), Vol. III, p. 518. As quoted: Br Jordan Zajac OP (nd), “Luther’s ‘Dunghill Covered By Snow,’ In Luther’s Words – The Total Depravity Of Humanity,” retrieved from: https://soul-candy.info/2016/05/luthers-dunghill/

Rock, A. (2006), “Phenomenological analysis of experimentally induced visual mental imagery associated with shamanic journeying to the lower world,” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 25, pp. 45-55.