Winter always makes me think about the body.
Not in the play-all-day show-some-skin ways of summer, but in the gentle rhythms of rest and relaxation, hibernation and holy listening. Winter encourages me to listen to what is moving below the surface and waiting to patiently to sprout like a bulb in spring. Just in time for the arrival of spring and the season of Lent, Christine Valters Paintner is releasing her latest book, The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women, inviting us to attune ourselves to the Sacred insight stirring within, from breath to bones, waiting to be released.
Today I’m sharing an interview with her on her new book and how to begin to tap into the body’s wisdom. The book doesn’t release until March 3, 2017, but you can enter to win a copy of your own at the bottom of the post! (Only US readers eligible.)
1. Your new book is called “The Wisdom of the Body.” When did you begin to discover the wisdom of your own body?
I had been diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 21, an autoimmune disorder which attacks the joints. Five years later, at 26, I was on disability from work because of the fatigue and pain. It was during that year I stepped into my first yoga class and was lucky enough to have a wonderful and gentle teacher. Yoga was an invitation to become more present to my body and listen to its wisdom, rather than just resist its pain and limitations.
2. What wisdom can our bodies offer us that our minds or experiences cannot?
In the introduction to my book, I quote from Buddhist author and teacher Reginald Ray who describes the body as “the last unexplored wilderness.” I love that image because the image of wilderness for me evokes a sense of finding wisdom at the edges of life, beyond the linear ways our minds tend to work. For me, the body offers an intuitive, somatic, and emotional knowing which when I allow it to guide me, brings me to richer places than my thoughts are able to. Body knowing has more in common with dreams in that what is offered to us from the body does not fit into our neat mental categories. It calls us to a much wilder and freer sense of ourselves and what is possible.
3. In my rule of life, called Pilgrim Principles, the second principle states that “a pilgrim practices somatic spirituality” (spirituality that engages the body). How can our bodies impact our spiritual journey?
By bringing our bodies into our awareness, we have access to so much more of ourselves. I believe very deeply that the divine communicates with us on a variety of levels. For me, the incarnation means that flesh is made holy. Learning how to honor our flesh as sacred, rather than something to be judged and resisted, opens us to a much wider and more compassionate journey with ourselves. I think this is especially true when our bodies are struggling. I know for myself, my experiences of profound illness and deaths of those close to me have demanded that my image of God be broken open. There have been some really painful seasons as I struggled with this, but now my spirituality embraces the vulnerability of the body as a central aspect of my lived humanity.
4. I know that in recent years pilgrimage has played a big role in your ministry, too. While we’re on the subjects of body and pilgrimage, what is it about a physical, exterior journey that can so deeply impact the interior journey and our journeys in everyday life?
The poet Wallace Stevens wrote that “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” What I take this to mean is that physical engagement of our bodies can reveal wisdom that is not accessible by other means. A simple example is when I work on a creative project and I start to feel stuck or blocked, going for a walk almost always opens up new paths of thinking. The body invites us into that nonlinear, intuitive awareness, and so when we journey in a physical way, with mindful attention, it opens up truths for our lives that might not be revealed any other way.
5. Finally, if someone wanted to open themselves up to receive the wisdom of the body but didn’t know where to begin, how would you suggest they start?
I always suggest to begin with the breath, because it is something we all have access to and can be a very simple practice. Just spending time becoming conscious of the inhale and the exhale, then slowing down the breath, so it becomes longer and slower, has an immediate impact on our bodies creating a more restful and less-anxious state. Yoga has many different kinds of breath practices, but starting with something as simple as a slow in-breath and out-breath for maybe ten breaths total and then just noticing the impact on your body and mind can be a powerful place to start.
The Wisdom of the Body releases on March 3, 2017.
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE is the online Abbess at AbbeyoftheArts.com, a virtual global monastery offering resources in contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of ten books including her newest, The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women. Christine lives on the wild edges of Ireland with her husband where they lead pilgrimages and retreats.
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