Body-Image & Your Soul
As-salāmuʿalaykum! 👋 This is Episode 3 of 12 of XL on the Soul. I hope you enjoy it!
(Here’s a link to Episode 1 and the Intro to the Series if you want to start from the beginning.)
I spoke to a friend of mine after he finished the grueling training with the Israeli equivalent of the US Army’s Delta Force, a unit called “Sayeret Matkal.” After two years of very little sleep, endless hikes, jumping out of planes, what seemed like infinite pushups, intense trainings in surviving interrogations and torture, he overturned two beliefs that he had held his whole life:
that he is a body,
that he has any sense whatsoever of his own limits.
Stuck in Self-Image
We spoke last time about how easily we cross wires in our minds. We can convince ourselves that we don’t WANT to do something that we actually want to do, when the truth is: we just don’t FEEL like it. We might be afraid, or a bit lazy, or both.
One of the big crossing-of-wires is the delusion that we are our bodies.
Often, we might think we’re sad, but really our bodies just need to sleep.
Sometimes, we think we just need to sleep, but really we’re feeling down for some reason we need to figure out.
Our bodies and souls cross wires, and when they do, most of us are not sensitive enough to discern where the signal is coming from.
Similarly, we may think we know our limits…
“Nah, I can never do that.”
“I’m not that type of person.”
“I’m too clumsy.”
“I’m too disorganized.”
We don’t realize that this isn’t direct, factual information about our bodies. This sense of our limitations is coming from our heads. It is merely an image of ourselves, which we’ve formed in our minds based on what we’ve perceived about our bodies, or based on other people’s interpretations of our bodies’ actions (since they can’t see our souls).
How can you find the strength to push beyond these artificial limits if it’s your very mind that created them?
We must learn to draw from a wellspring within us that’s even deeper than our bodies — and even deeper than our minds.
Only the mystical force of our desire, and where it stems from within us, is deep enough pull us out of the muck of our limited self-image.
By summoning the willpower to push ourselves beyond what we thought we were capable of, we redefine who we are and what we’re made of.
And if we don’t push ourselves to transcend ourselves, life pushes us.
Aging, Disease & the Soul
When I was 24, I had to meet with the head of a large rabbinical school in Jerusalem to get accepted into their program. I met with him in his humble home in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem.
This rabbi suffered from severe Parkinson’s, but because of his immense sense of responsibility for the flourishing of his 6,000 student academy, he would take medication sparingly, as it affected the clarity of his thinking.
He’s since passed away, but he was incredibly warm, with a deep, unflinchingly compassionate gaze. Despite his warmth, I remember having trouble getting the words out of my mouth during that interview. I also had trouble understanding what he was saying to me. I watched him move with immense difficulty to pick up a piece of paper across the room, which apparently he had kindly asked me to bring for him. I just couldn’t make out the words he was saying, and totally missed his request.
Later, I came to understand that my feeling of reverence came from being in the presence of a person who was so clearly a soul living in a body — a body that was malfunctioning — and the soul that inhabited it was just doing the best it could with the hardware it was given.
When you’re young and think you’re invincible, it’s natural to think of yourself as indistinguishable from your body. You look in the mirror and say to yourself, “you look good today!” (or perhaps, “you’ve looked better!”).
In either case, since your body responds with relative ease to your mind’s requests, you don’t have to think twice about it. Instinctively, and understandably, you identify yourself as the “man in the mirror.”
As you get older, though, you wake up with some neck pain or back pain. It’s inevitable.
You may look in the mirror and feel the same as when you were 20, but notice that your face has aged. You may experience a moment of not recognizing yourself.
This isn’t a pleasant experience by default. But we can turn it into a deeply spiritual one.
If you stop fighting aging…if you can accept it…it will begin to dawn on you — not just philosophically — but truly — that you are not your body…
…you HAVE a body…
…YOU are something else entirely.
Where Does the Soul Meet the Body?
Let’s be more concrete.
Let’s see if we can study our body — this outer layer — the hard shell of who we are — and follow it all the way inward.
Let’s see if we can find the spiritual frontier — that place where the soul meets body…
Looking forward to continuing the journey with you.
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