In case you were wondering, gentle reader: yes, this is the other Rubenfeld Synergy Method principle I find hard to explain to those atheists, physicalists, and scientists in my life. Heck, I find it a bit hard to explain to myself – certainly harder than number 7, about the energy field. That one I have some experience with, evidence for, and way of explaining that doesn’t involve much of a leap of faith. But talking about the soul gets tricky, and forces some discussion of spiritual matters that I’m not always comfortable imposing on others.
Still, though I hardly think it is the most important principle, it is one of the 18, and merits examination. What do we mean by the body being the sanctuary of the soul, and why is it important?
Whether or not you believe in the concept of a soul, most folks can agree that there is some aspect of ourselves that we are more likely to think of as “I.” For many in the modern world, this self is located in the brain, and the fact that we do our thinking and receive much of our sensory input – four out of the five senses – exclusively through openings in our heads make us experience ourselves largely as head-creatures – and mere owners of bodies. Our bodies, as we in Western culture are largely taught to experience them, are like vehicles we drive our selves around in. We feed them fuel, take them to the shop when they get injured, try not to run them too hard, and expect that they’ll break down someday. Some few of us take the tack that “the body is a temple,” and treat it with great care toward what goes into it, how it gets moved, and what it is exposed to. But in the end, this attitude is still rather like imagining your body as a classic vintage Rolls rather than a coffee-stained ’04 Taurus.
I’ve already discussed in other places in this blog some of my thinking about this way of looking at the body: as some kind of possession, separate from ourselves, which is located where, exactly? I believe that as human beings attain greater self-integration, we can begin to see our bodies as not just vehicles but the expressive media through which we transmit our thoughts, movements, and other creative outputs of the self. And then, more than that: we can recognize that the body is the self: our brains, hearts, senses, thoughts, emotions – all emanate from and resonate through our bodies.
If this is the case, then, what is this “soul” of which the principle speaks? Ilana, in The Listening Hand, talks of people seeking “aspects of themselves that transcend the material life,” and of “‘soul’ issues” like family, relationships, community and values. Neither of these quite pins the question down for me, but it may also be true that the soul is by its nature an abstraction, and I would define it as something like: the part of you that you most deeply think of as You. Or perhaps: that thing which is greater than the sum of all of your thoughts, yearnings, emotions, beliefs, experiences and core values.
I think, though, that the more important part of this principle than defining the soul is “the body is the sanctuary.” More than “the body is a temple,” this phrase frames the body as a safe place, a sacred space, and the best possible instrument for the expression of the soul. Not just a shell, or a vehicle, or the gross clay that we shed when our time on this earth is done with.
Of course, looking at it this way can be especially difficult for people with disabilities, or people facing advanced age and death, or people who feel they were born with bodies of the wrong sex. And indeed, it is often especially with people who feel their bodies have betrayed them somehow that we find out what the soul is: the incredible mind and heart and consciousness of a person.
But if, rather than desiring to escape their bodies, we can help people to practice self-compassion and heed their bodies’ wisdom, there’s a chance that our souls can shine even more brightly through them. And if we think of our bodies as the sanctuary for the Self, then it becomes harder to treat our bodies with indifference, impersonality, or contempt.