“Alchemists always worked with particular embodied substances, waiting in slow motion for them to reveal their intelligence. This highly refined embodiment called subtle body… exists between body and mind, partaking of both inspired metaphor and physical anatomy. From the point of view of the meeting between subjects, , such as Aboriginal and landscape, you and I—releases a mutual intelligence.”
—-Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel by Robert Bosnak
The first moment of contact is always a shock – be it 84 degrees, 74, or colder. “What is this?” cries the skin, “a substance so unlike our breathing air that is enveloping every inch of our largest organ—”
Legs thrum, arms reach forward, breath gasped to the right, to the left, demanding that this substance yield its warmth….. “
Ah, yes—” the skin whispers at last, luxuriating in the rough and tumble joys of our first mother: water. And skin is elated, whatever the challenges of too many people in the lane, or rain storming down on the surface of the water.
Not everyone loves to swim, I realize that. For others, movement practices on dry land can often provide the doorway to transcendent experiences of reality. For me the act of submerging in water is so delightfully otherworldly. In dance and mountain climbing we are still surrounded by air. Our skin sweats and breathes in an ordinary reality. For me, there is something about the sensual relationship between skin and water that moves me into a dimension that Carl Jung called the subtle body: the soul in matter/ matter within the soul.
For corroboration, I offer what happens to my mind when I am swimming. In the beginning, I go back and forth, the way many of us do in the early moments of meditation: what am I going to get for lunch? Did I take out the trash? When should I pay off the house?…..But, with persistence, and a scan at the environment around me: my husband swimming beside me entirely underwater, his head scraping the bottom of the pool; the young woman on the other side flipping through the water like a dolphin fleeing a shark; the sunlight riding the currents down into the azure depths, I am in a new world. My mind stops making lists. I notice my own movement, the feeling of rolling, gliding, the illusive tickle of water against my fingertips.
A place opens in my mind of memory, imagination, and that moment in dreaming where you find yourself made of a whole new cloth. This state of being is almost impossible to describe without sounding like a fairy tale author. I have the hunch that this felt state of “other world-ness” is what Jung means by subtle body. It comes in dreams, and at moments in waking life we often call “sacred”, or for me, under water. It doesn’t happen every time, and not through any will or method or even conscious intention, but comes, I suspect, with a simple willingness to observe states of mind and body without judgment. Then it is possible to literally swim in this place between waking and dreaming, body and soul, heaven and earth, while being completely grounded in the smell of the chlorine, the laughter of kids by the side of the pool: mind and body unified, whole, here.
Happy Threshold of Summer!