One of the great underpinnings of modern, western thinking, is dualism. Mind-body separation sneaks its way into a great many things. Not least, into spirituality. So many faiths have at their essence the idea of a separation between things material and things spiritual. We must overcome, transcend, or otherwise subdue and conquer worldly, bodily things to obtain Heaven, Nirvana, Enlightenment, or wherever else we think we may be going.
Dualism came out of an old world view that had no trouble separating mind from body because it lacked most of the technical details we have today. Brains are chemical interactions happening inside physical structures. How we think, is physical. The chemistry that informs our thinking, and our emotions, is the same chemistry as works is way through the rest of our bodies, and it is subject to all kinds of influences. We may think about mind altering drugs as being something hardcore and illegal, but they aren’t. The feature in everyday life.
Over many years, I’ve watched what anaemia, low blood sugar or a salt shortage does to my mood, and to my brain functionality. I’ve become familiar with the physical nature of both depression and anxiety, ailments I feel in my ‘body’ far more than in my ‘mind’. Laughter helps us to heal, depression makes us more vulnerable to sickness. Let’s mention alcohol, caffeine, tobacco as well. Hot spices. Hot food even. They all change us.
All of this leads me to think that it is not a clever plan to seek the spiritual at the expense of the body. Mental health and physical health go together. You can’t imbibe poisons and expect your mind to be unaffected. You can’t ignore your body in the quest for intellectual or spiritual advancement, and imagine there will be no consequences. In ignoring the body we can become even more alienated from the natural world, which for Druids, really doesn’t make any sense at all.
I’ve watched with interest in the last few weeks as a number of Druids have started blogging about running. For a spirituality that embraces nature, celebrates the material world and seeks to go deeper rather than wanting to get away from bodily life, it makes sense to me to explore Druidry in physical ways as well as being magical, philosophical and whatnot. Walking, dancing, drumming, working with our bodies, experiencing nature as it manifests in our bodies, is all part of how Druidry can be. We are a part of the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the cycles of nitrogen and oxygen. We have a place in the food chain. Our bodies are made from the dust of the stars and our earthly ancestors. Seeing the spiritual in the physical is, for me at least, a big part of the Druid path.
Following on from this, we can make care for the physical body part of how we live our Druidry. It’s possible to think of the body as the earth in microcosm. How are we going to take care of the earth if we don’t know how to take care of the tiny fragment of nature that is us?
I view my mind and body as parts of a whole. May as well talk about spleen-body dualism, as mind-body dualism, as I see it. It’s all chemistry and physical structures and there’s no great dividing line at the neck. Sugar highs affect brain and rest of body alike. Depression makes my body sluggish. I also don’t see any divide between emotion and intellect. Emotion is, technically speaking, all about the body chemistry, the hormones, the blood sugar levels and so forth. Mood is chemical. Chemicals happen right through our bodies. There is no separation. The idea of viewing myself as a collection of unrelated bits, with some of those more ‘spiritual’ than others, seems a bit daft to me. It’s totally at odds with what contemporary science has to tell us. And, viewing my ancestor Druids as the scientists of their day, means I don’t feel easy ignoring what modern science tells us.
Which begs some very interesting questions about what I would have done had I come into the world in the era when the rational difference between emotion and intellect was very much in vogue, along with the mind-body dualism that has informed how we still tend to think about medicine. Would I have been out on the fringe with the then-denigrated holistic folk, or would I have been supporting the science? Convenient for me that I don’t have to make that decision. I have no idea what the answer is to that one, or what I might have done, but I do enjoy floating the questions.