I’m running a workshop on the Endorphin Effect later this month, so I’ve been paying particular attention to my practice. As I was sensing into the endorphin flow during yoga, I realised that what I practice is embodied spirituality. A quick web search reveals that ’embodied spirituality’ is a bit of a buzz phrase, so I need to be more specific about what it means to me. My embodied spirituality integrates;
- an earth-based Paganism,
- an intention to ground spirituality in scientific understanding and
- an embodied daily practice.
Let me unpack that a little.
Some Pagans have discerned two currents within contemporary Western Paganism. Those who are inclined towards the study of occult tradition and formal ritual we might characterize as ‘esoteric Pagans’. Earth-based Pagans eschew formal ritual, and are more likely to simply “go outside to commune with nature” (Crowley, 1996). For Vivianne Crowley these differences effectively mark “low and high church, field and temple Pagans” (Ibid.). My own research suggests that earth-based Pagans use what Gendlin calls Focusing as a way to tune into the spirit of place (Harris, 2011). Learning more about Focusing and applying it with awareness has enriched my spiritual practice. (See Imbolc: The Pulse of the Seasons).
The idea that we might want to give spirituality a foundation in scientific understanding provokes a range of responses. For many it’s a misguided or pointless project, while I think that science and spirituality can illuminate each other. For now, here’s one pertinent example. Endorphins were discovered by a brilliant molecular biologist called Candace Pert. Endorphins provide “a mechanism in the brain for creating bliss and expanded consciousness” (Pert, 1977), and embodied practices like ecstatic dance, mediation and yoga stimulate endorphins. As I write this ‘Faithless’ are telling me that ‘God is a DJ’. Yeah, that works for me, and the many clubbers who find transcendence through dance (Hume, 2007).
Which segues us into embodied daily practice. I start my day with an endorphinated variation on a body scan meditation. That sets me up nicely before I even get out of bed! Morning meditation and a short gratitude ritual follow after breakfast. After work, yoga is a much more effective way to de-stress than a gin & tonic. I can imagine sceptical smiles at that suggestion, but yoga stimulates the production of GABA, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in your central nervous system, which means it creates a sense of calmness.
Arguably, all spirituality is embodied, but embracing that understanding with awareness helps guide my path.