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Introduction, Workshop 6: Body Practices

In "Spirit in Practice," a Tapestry of Faith program

Embodied spirituality views all human dimensions—body, vital, heart, mind, and consciousness—as equal partners in bringing self, community, and world into a fuller alignment with the Mystery out of which everything arises. Far from being an obstacle, this approach sees the engagement of the body and its vital/primary energies as crucial for not only a thorough spiritual transformation, but also the creative exploration of expanded forms of spiritual freedom.

—Jorge N. Ferrer

What would a truly "embodied" spirituality look like in the twenty-first century? Unitarian Universalists have much awareness of modern—and ancient—assertions that our minds and bodies are one. We understand that the two cannot be separated and that, in fact, any attempt to do so would almost certainly lead to a corruption of both.

However, the style of worship bequeathed to us from our Unitarian and Universalist forebears is generally sedentary: at our Sunday services we tend to sit in one place listening to readings and sermons, moving only when we stand to sing. In most of our congregations, we don't wave our arms, stomp our feet, kneel, or even clap; we certainly don't dance in the aisles. On the other hand, some Unitarian Universalist groups, such as the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and Young Religious Unitarian Universalists, have more movement-oriented worship. We can appreciate movement during worship as a way to put our whole bodies into the service. And beyond worship, we can explore ways to engage our bodies in spiritual practice.

This workshop is focused on having participants come to understand their spiritual journey to be not separate from their own physical experiences, but deeply rooted in them. An obvious choice would be to introduce one of the more well-known physical practices such as yoga or tai chi. Instead, in this workshop participants will be invited to have an experience of pure movement: what does it feel like to move your body freely, without purpose or intent, to move for movement's own sake? This will probably generate discussion, and perhaps even some discomfort!

Then a common, everyday physical experience—eating—will be engaged in with a meditative, reflective attitude it is rarely given. Such an attitude could be applied to any of the physical tasks we do. In his book Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers meditative verses from the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition for such things as brushing one's teeth and washing one's hands.

If a group has access to someone who can demonstrate one of the physical spiritual practices, that could be done in this workshop too (or instead). But the goal of this workshop is to help participants discover that something as normal as tying one's shoes or walking to get the morning paper can be used as a tool for spiritual experience and growth.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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