I’m drawn to the Jewish notion of the soul, Nephesh, which is not something pre-existent but emergent—forming in and through physicality and relational experience. This suggests that we need our bodies to claim our souls. The body is where every virtue lives or dies. But more: our bodies are access points to mystery. And in some way that barely makes sense to me, I’m sure that we have to have feet planted on the ground, literally and metaphysically, to reach towards what is beyond and above us.
Our bodies tell us the truth of life that our minds can deny: that we are in any moment as much about softness as fortitude. Always in need of care and tenderness. Life is fluid, evanescent, evolving in every cell, in every breath. Never perfect. To be alive is by definition messy, always leaning towards disorder and surprise. How we open or close to the reality that we never arrive at safe enduring stasis is the matter, the raw material, of wisdom.
So many of the wise teachers among us apprehend truths of life from an edge of illness or crisis, where the view is suddenly so stark and so clear. They come back wounded and more whole than before, all at the same time—not cured, but healing, and embodying mystical ideas that seemed strange as abstractions and turn out to be common sense. The core of life is about losses and deaths both subtle and catastrophic, over and over again, and also about loving and rising again. The cancer, the car accident—these are extreme experiences of other trajectories we’re on—aging, the loss of love, the death of dreams, the child leaving home. Grief and gladness, sickness and health, are not separate passages. They’re entwined and grow from and through each other, planting us, if we’ll let them, more profoundly in our bodies in all their flaws and their grace.
Krista Tippett is a journalist and host of On Being. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.
Excerpted from Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Krista Tippett, 2016. Book Image: Courtesy of Penguin Press.