We are not Bodies

The body’s adventures always end in death. There is no way out of this. Death touches every aspect of the body’s experience: whatever happens, be it good, bad or in-between, is always terminal. There is nothing that is permanent or consistent in the body, what the body makes, or what the body does.

prismThus, so long as one’s identity, one’s selfhood, is entangled in any way with a specific body, then death will appear to be the end of that self, too. There is nothing the self can do to or with the body that will prevent this.

When these facts become clear, then the following possibility appears: we can question our identity and investigate its apparent location. We can see if we are bodies or if we are not.

You and I are students of A Course in Miracles because at some point in our living we became willing to look into the apparent finality of death, glimpsed its false premise and became willing – however dimly – to know the truth.

We asked a question and the course was given as (or as part of) the answer. This is why it behooves us to attend the course closely, in a serious and disciplined way. There are many trails to the summit, but we asked for one especially suited to our experience, and that trail was given. This is it.

Most of us do not seriously question our identity and investigate its apparent home in the body. The ego – which is literally (and simply!) the argument that self and body are inevitably permanently conjoined – is alternately vicious and wily in its efforts to get us to look away from it.

It is critical to understand that the ego is not a thing, but an idea. It is a pattern in thought, not thought itself. It does not have any independent existence or identity. When it fights, it is merely doing what it was made to do. When it pleads with us, the same. When it beguiles us, the same.

The ego is nothing more than  a part of your belief about yourself. Your other life has continued without interruption, and has been and always will be totally unaffected by your attempts to dissociate it (T-4.VI.1:6-7).

Ego is just a persuasive idea that we no longer recognize as “just an idea” or “just a pattern in thought.” Thus, questioning our identity and investigating its apparent home in the body feels threatening. And because the threat feels real, protecting against it – by ignoring it, arguing against it, projecting it – makes sense. What else can a body do?

So we look away. This looking away can take the form of opting for another path, or arguing with this or that ACIM teacher, or just raw denial. Maybe I’m a Buddhist! Maybe Ken Wapnick was right after all! I don’t have a problem with the body! These are all forms of negotiating with the ego, of trying to compromise with it, and they never work.

They never ever work. Indeed, they are part of how the ego sustains itself.

What do we do?

Imagine you built a little castle of sand at low tide. Imagine you love it and others admire it, too. How proud you are!

Then imagine the tide comes in and begins washing the castle away. You don’t negotiate with the tides. You can’t plead with the sea to stop flowing. You can’t compromise.

The sea just does what seas do. You have to let go of your castle.

Bodies die. Full stop.

It is possible to resist this fact for a long time, and to become discouraged and even depressed in the process. When death is allowed to appear to triumph over God and Creation, what other feeling is possible?

The other option – the one that A Course in Miracles offers – is simply to learn that “we” are not bodies. On that view, the body’s adventures (from food to sex to healing) don’t touch us. The body’s end is not “our” end. We no longer need “a way out.” We aren’t “in” in the first place.

But knowing this is an all-or-nothing deal and it can’t be faked. We have to let the body go entirely, without condition, holding nothing back, in order to learn that we are not the body. We can’t become cheerleaders for letting go while subtly or secretly holding on, and we can’t let go just a little. We have to let go all the way.

Critically, this “letting go” does not happen at the level of the body. It is a decision made at the level of mind. There is nothing the body can do to let go of the body; it’s like asking water to let go of “wet.” That’s not how it works.

This becomes a real challenge. We are so “in” our bodies, that we can’t discern what it means to make a decision apart from those bodies. We keep looking for an embodied experience of “nonduality” or “letting go.” We want to experience – in the body – bodilessness.

But the body doesn’t have bodiless experiences. You can’t change your body in order to change your mind about what the body is.

Only when we accept this can the Holy Spirit begin to actually teach us what mind is and thus allow us to change our mind about bodies and learn that we are not bodies and are unaffected by what appears to happen to bodies.

. . . [The Holy Spirit] knows the Will of God and what you really will. But this is understood by mind perceived as one, aware that it is one, and so experienced. It is the Holy Spirit’s function to teach you how this oneness is experienced, what you must do that it can be experienced, and where you should go to to it (T-25.II.6:2-4).

This is hard. It is painful. We come to the Holy Spirit in a sense of utter defeat. We become willing not because of valor or intelligence or holiness but because we can’t see any other option.

The Holy Spirit meets us at the bottom. And there it begins to gently but surely teach us that we are not bodies.

What do we do then with the body? How does one have a body and let the body go?

A Course in Miracles is clear that the best – really, the only – use of the body is to bring joy and peace to others. This is actually a profoundly simple exercise. It happens naturally when we stop emphasizing the personal nature of the body’s experiences. When the body is no longer “Sean’s,” then it naturally becomes helpful to others.

Here, I’d like to say something about prisms, which have been very helpful symbols to me over the years. There is an equivalent in your experience. (Or, if you like, you can become obsessed with prisms). They are a cheap and efficient way of experiencing a deeply instructive, natural beauty.

When I was a little boy I was obsessed with prisms – mostly in quartz and drops of water. I could ogle rainbows a long time. They were so beautiful. I marveled that the world functioned in such a way that this beauty could be so consistently produced.

Prisms made me happy and they made me feel that God was good and never not attending in a care-filled way. I kept an eye out for them; I had favorite rocks. I didn’t mind ice or rain at all. Prisms hid there.

One day, when I was seven, the janitor at our little local school, gave me an actual prism, turned me to the window, and told me to hold the prism to my eye. I had never done this before. I had no idea what to expect. I don’t know what I looked like when I followed his instructions but the janitor and the two teachers present burst out laughing. I can still feel how happy my obvious sense of wonder and amazement made them.

What I learned in that moment was that one didn’t have to wait on sunlight to hit the back pasture quartz rock or for raindrops to hang just so off the maple trees. You could take the prism with you. You could be safe and happy anywhere. The gift of beauty and joy was no longer conditional; it went with me.

That was forty-six years ago and a day has not since passed that does not include prisms. I hang them everywhere; I often have one in my pocket.

And here is the thing: the body is a kind of prism. Or you can think about it that way. Its value, as such, is that the light of Love may pass through it and inspire others by reminding them of the Love that is in them.

Prisms do not make decisions; they have a structure and they do what that structure does. Given light, they offer beautiful flourishes of light’s spectrum.

To let go of the body is simply to stop insisting it have a structure or purpose other than the one that it naturally has. When the body is given to God, then God becomes peace and joy extended to other bodies. We do nothing. That’s really important. Prisms don’t cooperate with the light; they don’t negotiate with the sun; they don’t decide to share beauty; they don’t decide who to shine for or when. They are what they are and what happens happens.

Thus, don’t be stressed about your body. You are not a body. But the body isn’t a bad thing. It’s not evil. It’s not a problem to be solved. It can make love, eat chocolate, drink coffee, go for long walks through the village and beyond. It can hang prisms everywhere.

Again, the body is merely a prism through which the light of Love passes or doesn’t pass. Ego and self-obsession are like curtains or veils obstructing the light. Drop them and the love will radiate naturally.

The happiness that we extend and share is not an ersatz happiness. It’s quiet and calm and nondramatic. It doesn’t make things worse; it doesn’t assert itself; it doesn’t insist on going where it’s not invited; it helps because it doesn’t want to hurt.

This happiness is loving because it expands us and our living – it opens us to others. It becomes us.

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  1. Greetings Sean, Thanks a million for this post. I was on the bus home from work, reading articles on climate change and mass extinction of our species. As you could imagine i was getting all confused and heading towards a bummer. Then inspiration shook me to read one of your posts, this post. Lifted me right up and out of the mire, just as well because its the weekend and i am home with my wife and young son and nobody likes a grouch on a weekend… thanks Sean, thanks without end…Richard

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