How do you incorporate your body into your spiritual practice?
Tonight is the second session of the “Pilgrim Principles” class I’m teaching at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church here in Seattle and we’ll be spending time exploring the second pilgrim principle: “A pilgrim practices somatic spirituality.”
The word somatic means “of or relating to the body.” Somatic spirituality, then, is a spirituality that doesn’t ignore the body (as we so often do when it comes to matters of faith), but rather embraces the body as both a valued participant and conduit in our spiritual search.
A spirituality that incorporates the body is essential for the pilgrim, because a pilgrimage is not only a journey that takes the pilgrim to a foreign land, but also a journey that engages the senses—taste, touch, sight, smell, sound—each serving as windows that can lead to Sacred Encounter and transformation.
I know this to be true now more than ever because of my daily walks in the nearby forest. I began taking these walks simply to get exercise, but it didn’t take long for my daily walk to become one of my most treasured spiritual practices.
I don’t listen to any music or podcasts on these walks, nor do I bring any reading for inspiration. Thoughts will fill my mind, as they inevitably do. But I’ve learned to allow them to come and go, instead surrendering to the steady movement of my steps and the stimulation of my senses—the sound of the trickling stream, the sight of the bright green moss beside the overcast sky, the feeling of the cool breeze against my cheeks and the soft forest floor beneath my feet.
In the few months since I began my daily walks, the sights and sounds and smells of the forest have become ministers to me in ways distinct from the prayers or passages more typically associated with the spiritual journey. As Mary Oliver says in her poem, “When I am Among the Trees,” these walks in the forest “save me, and daily.”
I want to share this poem with you today, alongside images captured from my daily walks over the past few months, in hopes that they might inspire within you a more somatic spirituality that comes to save you, too.
“When I Am among the Trees”
by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
Find this poem and more of my personal favorites, including “When Roses Speak, I Pay Attention,” in Mary Oliver’s volume of poetry entitled Thirst.
How do you practice somatic spirituality? How does incorporating your body into your spiritual practice “save you daily” as Oliver implies? Share your response to the question or the post in the comments.