The Medieval Catholic mystic, Meister Eckhart, described for us Westerners a way out of our dualistic dilemma: body and soul. His vision told him, “The soul does not so much dwell within the body as the body dwells within the soul.” Of course, this was considered heresy because it challenged the Church’s belief that the body was a lowly thing to be discarded for eternal life as a spirit. Earning heaven was what one physical life was all about.
But, conceive of your body as a Russian doll contained within another larger doll and even larger forms. The essence of each suffuses the smaller ones in a continuous stream. They are not separate, but emanations from the largest to the smallest. One way to look at it is to imagine that the realm of spirit can emanate an individual packet of spirit we call soul, soul can emanate a mental body, mental body can emanate an astral body, astral body can emanate an etheric web to contain the emanation we call a physical body. All the bodies can come into form and go out of form in dynamic universes like ours. But here we are for now, embodied spirit. Mystics see these auras. What a stupendous creation taking billions of years and who knows how many permutations to create human animals on Planet Earth. Body in soul.
Dualism is really a problem of consciousness. We are what we are, we just don’t always know it. Descartes had it backwards. We make up mental constructs of opposites when they can only exist as dynamic wholes. Take attraction and repulsion. For something to hold together it has to have just the right balance between these two. Think subatomic particles. Think relationships. Health in the cells requires just the right mix of toxins and nutrients. As a doctor friend pointed out to me years ago when I wanted to be a healer, too pure or too polluted will make you sick.
Hatha Yoga knows this of old. Where seeming opposites exist, yin and yang, the yogi knows that they form a third reconciliatory thing, the Whole that joins them into a circle. Or, viewed from a three-dimensional perspective, a spiral that keeps evolving like our DNA? Dynamic balance is achieved this way.
But, “Perfect balance would be death,” as Mabel Todd observed in The Thinking Body. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court Justice, wrote a monograph about walking in which he pointed out that in walking we experience a balance point for a split second and then we fall forward, catching ourselves as we go. That’s why Islamic art is not perfectly symmetrical. Or why a Navaho rug has an uneven thread. It is a dynamic universe, always changing as Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, pointed out long ago when he wrote, “Everything changes (everything moves).”
Even the sun and moon-opposites of the meaning of the word, “Hatha,” is really a way of sorting out in our minds how things work. In some western cultures the moon is feminine and the sun is masculine. In Mediterranean cultures the feminine power to create life takes a reflective role as the moon to the generative masculine sun god. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a masculine “God the Father” who harkens back to the sky god with his thunder and lightning and no “God the Mother.” Jesus is “God the Son” but Mother Mary is not a god but an earthly body. She basks in his glory like the moon. Joseph Campbell has given us a story in The Power of Myth from a Native American tribe in which the moon is masculine and the sun is feminine. In Japan, creation was seen as coming from the sun’s body, hence a feminine goddess, Amaterasu, their “rising sun.” The wholing truth is that our Earth depends on both planetary bodies for it’s unique way of operating. A child is the third reconciliatory thing needing both the masculine and the feminine to exist. We tend to project our form of heterosexual reproduction onto our gods, which is why I prefer to call it “godness” instead of god or goddess in English because it traps us in static polarities.
Our archetypal stories are a way of sorting out the qualities and forces that we discern in the world and in ourselves. Hence, the panoply of gods in Hinduism each representing different characteristics and counterbalanced by their polar opposite. Light and dark is everything in Egyptian mythology. Modern physics is beginning to understand how much dark it takes for light to emerge and to be reabsorbed into the dark.
Yogis seek conscious unitive experiences in “this very body.”
Enlightenment is available to the yogi directly through veering consciousness to our physical bodies because our macrocosmic universe is contained in our microcosmic selves. We are a pinch of star stuff. We are all mystics in hiding.
Martha Murphy Hall