“What is absent from medicine, and even from most spiritual communities, is the understanding of our own bodies as the living sacred.”
As a medical doctor, my work is of the body. I contemplate daily how to better teach and inspire my patients to care for and nurture their physical embodiment. My knowing the sacredness of the human body infuses my practice of innate medicine and my relationship to all of life. My reverence goes back to my first days in medical school.
The stench of formaldehyde saturated my senses as I first stepped over the threshold into the chilled anatomy trailer at Stanford. Laid out on their backs on stainless steel tables were eight cadavers. I stepped forward and placed my hand on my assigned cadaver’s leg, breathing through my mouth to lessen the intensity of the odor. The leg was cold and stiff.
Gross Anatomy is a rite of passage for first-year students. Over the course of three months, we were to learn the architecture of the body, including major organs, blood vessels, nerves, bones, muscles, and sinews.
Each day, we met at the steel table where the cadaver lay, dissecting and identifying what seemed like an unending list of anatomical structures. Unsure if we would meet our objective for the day, as our list of tasks was always long, we focused intently on the job at hand.
The pressure to assimilate all the knowledge numbed and distracted us from the unspoken tension of working with a deceased human body. It was the epitome of objectification. We coped by viewing the cadaver as an inanimate object, separate from ourselves. Each day as I walked toward the anatomy lab, I justified to myself: “It’s just a body, not a person.” But deep down, I knew this was not true. I knew that lying before me was the most profound gift: a person's body, one donated to educate and initiate future physicians. This gesture itself breathed the sacred.
In medicine, we are taught to view the body from a mechanistic perspective. To see it as a machine of sorts, with a multitude of separate systems composed of intricate parts. As we deconstruct the body into smaller components, the amount of information becomes overwhelming. And, yet, there is still something missing.
What is absent from medicine, and even from most spiritual communities, is the understanding of our own bodies as the living sacred. Contemporary medical paradigms seldom remind us that we are sparks of divinity incarnated into human form. (Read 16 affirmations for loving your body.)
We come to know the sacredness of life not from transcending our bodies, but through direct experience with our own living flesh. By regarding our embodiment as we would a precious relic, we honor our gift of aliveness and open to our connection with all of life.
By touching my own arm with gentleness and a soft caress, I simultaneously give and receive my own nurturance. By being intimate with the felt sensation of my hand caressing my arm, I acknowledge my own unity, my own wholeness. This knowing ripples out, informing how I care for all beings, from tiny ants and wild grasses to my loved ones and patients to giant redwoods and all of Earth. I cannot mistreat the planet and not feel the ramifications of that pain within my own body. There is no pill or external treatment that can replicate this embodied knowing.
With this understanding, our self-care practices take on a deeper meaning. How we feed, sleep, move, rest, touch, and bathe ourselves is how we relate to our precious planet and to the divine itself. Instead of viewing our bodies as encumbrances to our own awakening, we are invited to become sacred stewards of our own embodiment.
Sacred Facial Washing Embodiment Practice
Start by rubbing your hands together for a minute or so to generate heat with a smiling presence penetrating your fingers. With your full attention, place your now warm and tingling hands onto your face with reverence.
Beginning at your chin, caress up your cheekbones to your eyes, forehead, and crown. Let your fingers meet at the nape of your neck and cascade over your chest, your hands joining in prayer position. Greet this gesture with a soft hum. Repeat this sacred facial washing practice 10-15 times.
Here is a short video demonstrating the sacred facial washing practice with Cain Carroll, Dr. Rangel’s mentor in embodied spirituality and innate healing.