Finding Strength in the Spirit, Beyond the Physical and Mental Self
Uncovering our spirituality provides more meaning than the physical and the mental can.
Vincent Van Patten
It’s a night as beautiful as any I’ve experienced in a long time. I stand on the dusky beach and watch the pink clouds float across the face of the crescent moon.
The receding water leaves a reflective mirror on the sand that I look into and see a distorted version of myself. I bear witness to the furthest point that wave will ever reach, the crescendo of its existence. I hope the wave was happy.
Why am I still wearing headphones? I ask myself. Or is it me that asks? There goes the mind again doing what it does. I take them out to listen to the sound of the crashing waves. I take several deep inhales and close my eyes in an attempt to go deeper within myself.
Our breath is the first thing we’re given when we enter this world. It will be the last thing to go when we leave. To feel the air enter and move through our body is to be physically alive; to learn to control our breath is to be conscious.
I close my eyes to travel within past the physical and the mental. Daily practices such as this help me get in touch with my spirit. It connects with the luminous light emanating from the moon, the energy pulsing from the earth and the sky, from those few walking by and from within.
Uncovering our spirituality provides more meaning than the physical and the mental can. In these past few months I’ve dedicated myself to going further than ever before into my spirituality.
While this is a life-long pursuit and is never fully achieved, I’ve begun to find a more profound sense of meaning in who I am and what I want out of life.
The body allows us to move through the world; we see another human being and the first thing we recognize is the body. Is it open or reticent? Is it relaxed or uptight? The body is physical, intelligent, and able to be worked on like a marble statue through diligence and will.
We identify with our body because it represents to others who we are and where we’ve been. It holds physical signs of our past, scars from traumatic experiences and falls from lofty trees; it shows age through silver hairs or lines on our skin.
The body is an extraordinary thing. It generates from the bread eaten by our ancestors. The heart that beats within my chest generates from processes that weave through all of time, incomprehensible to fathom in their scope. Our body is of the soil; we are of the earth.
But the body has its limitations.
Like the body, the mind is unique to each individual yet runs deeper than any well. Our thoughts, emotions and everyday actions derive from the depths of our boundless minds.
“I think therefore I am,” said the French philosopher Rene Descartes. What we’re able to conceive with our mind becomes our reality. We draw upon our memory and entwine that information with what we think we know — but what do we really know?
We think we know what the world is like and what it should be. But what it should be is only our way, based on our preconceived notions and the myriad of daily influences that make us who we think we are.
Yet, that same mind that tells us how the world works, at its worst, tells us that we’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough. And then minutes later, it tries to make amends.
Who, or what is our mind made of? We can train the mind to be our best friend, our greatest asset and inspired motivator, but that takes tireless, conscious effort, day in and day out. It takes effort to let go of who we think we are. But when we do, we’re able to truly live.
We don’t determine what happens to us in life. Yet our mind determines how we react, if we react at all. To see the world as against us or for us; to see each setback as a blessing or a failure; that’s the decision for the mind to make.
A mind is a tool that can make life blissful or laden with anxiety. The mind will undoubtedly make life interesting but for the mind there’s always something to figure out and protect.
The spirit is our essence that doesn’t attach to any feeling, any thought, any dream or goal or aim. The spirit is being itself in the purest sense of the word, yet words are clumsy tools. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing in the physical world if our spirit’s at peace.
The spiritual is our reason for existence. Through spiritual pursuits such as meditation and deep breathing we transcend the rational body or the contemplative mind.
I don’t know what it might take, but I long to get there because in the moments when I feel something beyond the physical and the mental, life becomes effortless.
We don’t have to fight nor seek the right answers. We just have to exist in the love that we are, in the magic that surrounds us, in the essence of what it means to be a human being among eight billion other spirits of white, beautiful light.
I used to find it hard to believe that what we think controls our physical body and that our emotional baggage can literally weigh us down. But right now and forevermore, I’m devoted to opening up my heart and going where I’ve never been.
The depths of self are more complex and unexplainable than we can possibly imagine. I feel the energy, the cells of my being dancing with the air that fills my lungs. I make the space to listen with every deep breath.
For the last few years a nagging injury has essentially constrained me. That’s the thing about pain. No matter what it is, when we feel pain it’s impossible to think about anything else.
We’re bound by the pain when it infiltrates our mind; our known universe becomes confined to that pain. I’ve tried to fight it and work through it; on my worst days I’d become somebody I wouldn’t want to be around. But that made it worse.
Self-afflicted pain sent me down the road of despair because I couldn’t get past my mind nor my body. I’ve approached the injury from the physical; I’ve approached it from the mental in an attempt to think my way through the problem.
I’m done fighting. I need to do the spiritual work to let go of anything that doesn’t serve my current self. The fear — what is fear? I’m scared of something; I’’ve been angry that I can’t fix this part of me and I don’t know what to do.
The breath brings me into my body; I want it to heal — I want it to know that I surrender; the fight is over. I acknowledge the pain. I feel it.
What do I need to let go of? What is it that my body needs to tell me? I’ve tried to make it stronger. Tears fall from my eyes when I feel like a part of me needs to release, but I don’t know what it’s holding on to.
I’ve been so focused on healing my body but perhaps it’s my spirit needing intensive work. There’s a joy in that. There’s freedom in letting go of the exterior pursuit of perfection. I’m seeking a way in.
I just have to listen — enough fighting, enough searching — just listen. Watch for the signs in the soap on a dish, the smile of a stranger and the gentle chirping of a bird after the morning rain.
In his book Aspects of Love, the Benedictine Monk Laurence Freeman says:
“Everything you do in the day, from washing, to eating breakfast, having meetings, driving to work, watching television or deciding instead to read, everything you do is your spiritual life. It is only a matter of how consciously you do these ordinary things.”
Nothing about our existence is mundane; there’s magic all around us and there’s life, unexplainable life, taking place within these bodies we’ve been given. Everything’s connected; the way we move through the day determines how we move through life; the way we treat ourselves is the way we treat other human beings.
We don’t need to search for love. We are love. We don’t need to search for meaning. We are meaning. When the spirit leads the way the physical and mental will properly align.
Often we’re so focused on doing, fixing, growing, that we forget what it’s like to just sit in patience, waiting.
Doing has a start and a finish. But when one thing is done we move on to the next without considering the importance of what we’ve done. There’s a profound level of peace in waiting and being okay with it.
It’s not expecting something to change in the physical world. It’s not grinding away to get to some goal we don’t connect with. It’s existing in the world in a way that only we can, where pain will wash away, where suffering will cease, where meaning will flourish.
The pain has brought me here; for that I’m infinitely grateful. The pain has brought me in. I know it’s for a reason. The beach is dark and I look up into the cool night sky. I see stars, many shimmering stars, connected through the maps in my mind.
We focus on the stars and find the night sky beautiful when they present themselves. But we don’t appreciate the blackness, the dark, unfathomable depths of space because we don’t see anything there.
Only when we see what we want to see does the night sky become beautiful. But in reality, it hasn’t changed. I linger for a bit longer in waiting. Where is there to go but here?
Vincent Van Patten