Friday, July 20, 2007

from mind to body

I swam on Wednesday, practicing the crawl stroke that I've been working on as preparation for a triathlon later next year. After two lessons I know the techniques of the stroke. That doesn't mean I'm a master swimmer or that I have no more to learn. But it does mean that I know, intellectually, how to swim. What I can't do yet is make my body do what my mind knows. That transfer of knowledge from the mind to the body comes not from more meetings with a coach talking to me about technique but from actually getting in the water and doing it, over and over and over. The help of a coach at this point is to provide a second perspective on what I'm doing in the water adding what he sees to what I feel on my own.

The spiritual task is exactly the same. It's easy to learn strategies for healthy spirituality, harder to live them out. We know what we ought to do, how we should behave, how we should conceptualize theological ideas of personal identity and the nature of God, and so on. But moving that head knowledge into the body where we actually live our knowledge is much more difficult.

Much of what we call spiritual work is head directed. We listen to sermons, read books, take a class, think deep thoughts. Even a lot of experiential spiritual practices are also head directed. The goal of meditation after all is not to be a good meditator, but to be a good person. And that means moving the insights learned, or experienced, through meditation or prayer or worship or study, into our bodies where they change the way we live.

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