There are three parts which make up the whole of who we are. We have a body. We have a heart and mind, and we have a spirit. In order to be fully who we are, we must learn how to live in, and out of all three centers. To only live out of one or two means we are only operating as one third, or two thirds of a person. Imagine tying one of your arms behind your back, or both your legs together, then trying to walk or perform a task. Working with parts of our inner life in disrepair is much the same way.
I recently broke my left-hand doing construction. I only broke one bone, the third metacarpal. But it rendered my whole hand useless. You never know what you have till it’s gone. You also don't know what you're missing, when you start out broken to begin with. Just as our bodies are severely limited by a single malfunction, so too our being. It is debilitating to have one of our three centers out of commission. It is limiting to our whole person, but we may not realize that if we've never been a whole person. When we live disconnected to our soul, or spirit, we become empty and lifeless. Like zombies roaming the earth, when parts of our inner life are dysfunctional, we can end up mindlessly consuming and destroying things, even ourselves. Unfortunately, in the west, this metaphor is not far from the truth.
We are often good physical consumers, but not often good at understanding the workings and needs of our other two parts. Just look at how much mental health issues are on the rise, and how much religious interest is on the decline. We are often a culture living out of one third of ourselves, and the damage is evident. Look at how we are treating the planet, the environment, and other people. We have forgotten how to live as individuals, connected to our ecosystem as a whole, because we are disconnected to ourselves as a whole. Unless we come to better understand our whole person, we will never understand how to live more holistically in the world around us. Our disconnectedness to the world is evidence of our disconnectedness to ourselves.
Think about a narcissist or psychopath. These are, by definition, individuals who can hurt others because they are not in tune with themselves. They are disconnected from their own ability to empathize with how others feel, in order to prevent the cruel behaviors, they inflict on others. Self-absorption equals self-abuse, which in turn leads to abusing others. The remedy is the opposite of self-absorption. The opposite of selfishness is selflessness.
I’m an emotive person, and have tended to live out my emotions too much. So, a lot of my journey has been getting more in tune with my spiritual side. But I’ve also realized lately how much I need to get more in tune with my body. What I’ve found, in this recent journey, is that being disembodied puts me more out of touch with how my actions affect the bodies of others, even my own. The same is true for all three centers. Each center has its particular function and needs. The function and needs of the body are sensual, the function and needs of the soul are emotional and mental, and the function and need of the spirit is communion and connection.
It's easy to see the needs of the body. But that doesn't mean we're in tune with our bodies in the proper way. We may be chasing pleasure and good feelings to the detriment of the body. This is what we might deem obsessive or compulsive behavior. If I eat too much, or too much of the wrong things, my body will show me. But the question is, am I really paying attention.
Contemplation is the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a very long time. Contemplation is the act of paying attention. Are we really paying attention to our bodies? Do we really understand the needs of our body’s? Are we really meeting those needs well? Do we really understand the proper purpose and function of the body?
It takes all three centers of being to do this.
All three parts must work together in order for all three parts to understand their needs and functions properly.
Living predominantly out of the body will not teach us how to live in the body well. It is important for the spirit to inform the body through the mind and heart about how the body should live.
We understand the concept of an outside observer sometimes having the best vantage point and unbiased perspective. This is also true for all three parts of our being. We need the other two to come in from the outside and inform the third about many things it cannot see from the inside. The body simply doing what feels good may not always be good for it. It takes the perspective of the spirit, heart and mind to communicate this. The body alone is often consumed by sensuality. The heart alone by feeling. The mind alone by thinking, and the spirit alone by communion. How do we know if what we feel through one part is good or bad? We know this best when all our parts are connected and working together. The dominance of one part can throw all the others into chaos.
Four years ago, I had a breakdown. It was the culmination of a long season of stress. What started as occasional, mild panic, ended in three days of panic attacks. What I learned in the following year of recovery was a lot of good insight about how these Centers of Being work together for good, or for bad. As I began to deal with the chaos inside, I began to see where different sensations and stimulus were coming from. Why does that matter? Learning where something was coming from helped me understand how to deal with it, and how to keep it from seeping into the other parts.
During my year of recovery, when I would start to feel anxious, I would pray and ask God to show me what was going on, where it was coming from, and what to do about it. Through that process, God began to reveal a lot more about my inner landscape. What I learned in praying through these experiences was to begin to distinguish between mind, heart, and body, in order to better address what was going on inside me. It was the Holy Spirit leading me through my spirit that made this possible. Through this God began to teach me, practically, that I'm a person with three parts.
Have you ever felt stress in your body? Have you ever had an anxious thought, or feeling? I think we all have. What we don’t often realize is how a sensation in one part can quickly integrate into the other two. Sometimes, when we are asleep to the workings of our parts, we may not recognize the source, or be able to keep negative energy from permeating our whole being. A big part of my journey has been learning how each part works, and becoming more conscientious about what’s going on in each at any given time. That's what contemplation is about, and why it's been so helpful in recovering from my breakdown.
Contemplation helps produce a greater kind of self-awareness that allows us to be a lot less self-absorbed. The more dysfunctional we are, the more self-absorbed. The more healed we are, the more we can focus on others.
If I know what’s going on inside me, and can deal with it quickly and simply, then I can continue focusing on others instead of myself. On the contrary, if I am deeply controlled by my inner experience, then I'll be distracted by that, especially when it's intense.
Our experience of life and relationship is a fluid exchange of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual interaction. The more self-obscure we are the more self-absorbed. All these stimuli coming at us will continually focus us on what's happening in us and to us, instead of what's happening around us to others. True freedom liberates us from self-centered absorption, in order to enjoy being more engaged with others.
Understanding the three parts of our personhood - body, soul, spirit - can help us begin to find healing in all three, as we learn to address what's going on inside us in concert with God.