Life, Death, and Preservation

by Alan McAllister, CCHt PhD-phys

Contemplating different approaches to the construction of sacred spaces. In Europe the cathedrals where built of stone, solid and lasting and are now some of the oldest structures on the planet, preserved for nearly a millennium. In Japan the oldest and most sacred shrine (Ise) is even “older”, and yet this wooden structure has been torn down and rebuilt every twenty years for over 1300 years! Keeping it fresh and “pure”.

It has been said that the body is the temple of the soul. There are different approaches to maintaining our “internal” temples.

In Hindu cosmology there are three aspects of the supreme being: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. They represent, respectively: creation, preservation, and destruction; also the energies of Creativity, Love, and Truth. Interesting that last one.

The living manifest universe unfolds in cycles, in which these three aspects or phases are always present. They are all necessary for life, and yet we often react quite differently to them. Creativity is generally considered a good thing (though when your 4 year old is creating with crayon on the walls in the front hall we may be a bit challenged). Creativity is perhaps most closely associated for us with life; spring, babies, and artistic expression.

The energies of preservation, nurturing, lovingly appreciating what has been created, are also something that we mainly applaud, even if they aren’t quite as exciting or attractive to all of us. After all the architect who designs the building, even the workers who build it, are generally more highly thought of and rewarded more than the janitor who preserves it day after day.

When we come to destruction, however, we learn to be afraid, to judge this as “bad”, “dark”, something to regret or avoid. We associate it with death, with anger, with other things we think of negatively.

The heart of the matter is that we believe that the three phases are separate processes, that death is independent of creation, and creation independent of death; that loving something for what it is means preserving it from change, so that it can not “die”. We think of destruction as the antithesis of creativity, rather than as an integral partner in the cycles of life.

This conceptual separation colors our experience and when applied to our body/temple leads to some unfortunate, and quite unintended results.

Take a moment to consider how you conceive of your body on a day to day time scale. Do you relate to it as a fixed physical construct that may need maintenance and repair, but is essentially static? or do you relate to it as a dynamic pattern and system of energy and matter? Do youthink of it as a cathedral or a shrine?

Scientifically our physical bodies exist as patterns do in the flow of a stream, the pattern persists, but the atoms and molecules flow through it continuously. If we stop these flows we die, just as the pattern in the stream dried up without a flow of fresh water. Air, water, food, are flowing through us minute by minute, day by day. Energetically there are other flows that sustain and nurture us as well, and without which we “dry up” and perhaps even die.

Life exists in flow, and flow consists of all three aspects, as elements move into the pattern, recreating it, sustaining it, and finally leaving it again.

Perhaps it is useful to put “destruction” in perspective. Like creation it comes in all scales and magnitudes. It is the larger forms that tend to concern us most, and which we have come to fear. We may not fear the death of a single cell, but we do fear the death of the body.

So, in short, we come to fear aging and change in the body that leads to, or is associated with, death or disease. We resist the third phase of the cycle. This leads to a focus on the second phase, not so much as appreciation or nurturing, but as simple preservation. If we stretch this phase out, then we can postpone death, perhaps even dream of eliminating it?

Perhaps the ultimate example of preservation is the Egyptian embalming techniques, that have preserved their bodies as long as the stone pyramids. But it is a static preservation, there is no real life in it. If we were to freeze the stream to preserve the pattern, it is no longer flowing and “alive”, but a beautiful sheet of ice, that lasts only as long as it stays frozen.

Consider the parent who (for whatever reason) strives to preserve the beauty of their child, as child, but succeeds only in stifling their growth, maturation, and full flowering into life.

When we resist destruction in life by rigidly focusing on preservation we close the door to creativity as well. The three aspects exist only in dynamic balance, and all three are necessary, inseparable. In seeking to hold onto “life” we often eliminate the space for it to enter in. We become frozen like the stream or dried up like the mummy.

Life only exists in flow. In blocking the exit the stream backs up and blocks the entrance and we have lost what we sought to nurture and preserve. Even the great Cathedrals will crumble in enough time, but what of the Ise shrine? In another thousand years it will still be new and fresh.

Is there a way to allow the same to happen for the body? For our temple to renew itself. I believe there is. When we release the fear and mental energies that “see” the body as a rigid structure that we need to preserve at all costs, we open the door for the natural flows of energy and spirit to enter in.

The body is not a rigid object, but a living pattern of energy (in the form of atoms and molecules) animated by our spirit or soul, it can heal itself and renew it self, just like the stream or the shrine. When we relax the mind and mental concepts, and open our view of the physical structure so that spirit can flow through, as well as matter, there is room for creativity and life to inform it, to constantly recreate it, to feed it energetically, to heal the patterns as well as the physics.

If you were to hold your breath, in order not to change, to “live”, it is obviously counter productive. We hold our mental breath in the way we think about our bodies, and without the flow of life force/creativity/spirit flowing through us, our efforts are also counter productive. if not quite as obviously so.

When we release our fears and our mental efforts to avoid destruction=death=change=life we can open ourselves to integrating spirit and body in a way that sustains us, that keeps our temple fresh, and ourselves full of creative life energy. The body is meant to be the temple of the soul, not a static shell. Allowing for the three forces to re-balance in our being and our lives doesn’t lead to earlier death, but to continued rebirth, growth, and evolution.

We become more alive, not less, and by letting go we find what we were looking for all along.

(© 11/2008)

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