Walking with Cephalophores

I’m inspired by the Cephalophores, those saints who go along carrying their heads in their arms, cradled somewhere in the location of their hearts, necessarily. Historically, they carry their heads to indicate that they were beheaded physically. But I want to carry my head close to my heart so that I can hear the murmurings of my heart so strongly that I must resist all else and respond to the deepest desires of my heart. And so for me the images of the cephalophores stand today representing a universal meaning, the need for us humans to carry our heads very close to our hearts. That is the message of the great saints and sages, of Jesus and the Buddha and so many awakened ones. Our heads, by which I mean our relentless thinking (most of it unconscious), are not only able to wander away on their own but are prone to doing so. And so we get into so much trouble, and so we cause so much trouble. And so we feel so much pain, and so we cause so much pain.

I love my head; I am fascinated with what its thinking can do. I love thinking, when I want to be thinking. With my head I can define problems and solve them. With my head I can create new things, images, poetry, philosophy, books, delicious dinners, repaired artifacts, blog posts. With my head I can grasp that I am related to everything that is, going back almost fourteen billion years to the beginnings of the cosmos. With my head I can also listen to my heart.

Yes, sometimes I want to be in direct contact with myself, with the world. At these times,  the thinking machine that, left untended, rolls its endless reels of repetitious film footage, digging me ever deeper into whatever trench it is digging, gets in the way of my deep desire to be alive with all my relations, here and now. The worst part is that the film on the reel mostly flashes images that deal with fears and/or ego-building projects that respond to fears, because our brains are wired to respond to threat. It’s not like my brain takes me off to Tahiti regularly!

But the automatic thinking thing gets between me and reality, between me and you, between me and the feeling of the banister under my hand this morning as I went downstairs to make my coffee; it even gets between my tongue and my coffee. And sometimes I have a deep desire that its habits would give me better experiences than those they do provide, like little mental trips to Tahiti upon request. Sometimes I wish I could decide what’s worthy of attention and what’s not. Sometimes I wish I could feel my own body and find the courage to let those feelings guide my choices. I know I am not alone, that this wrestling with the thinking thing is a problem we all face, that society feeds the thinking thing what it wants us to think, taking away what real freedom we might have.

The depths of knowledge expressed in these words of South African poet, Iain Thomas, repeated over and over on the platform formerly known as the world wide web resonate so strongly because we know the struggle they express so clearly: “And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.'”

So, I am engaged in a project to take my hand back, to put it over my heart until I can feel what is important. I want that so much that I won’t let myself call it corny and futile, though it’s something I have made effort towards over many years. I’ve long wanted it—on the side of everything else I have wanted. This time I am taking off my watch. This time I am saying no to opportunities instead of chasing every one of them. This time I am not buying every single thing for which I will have to pay. I repeat, I’m not buying it. This time when my body says, “I’m tired,” I rest. And that rest feels gargantuan; it feels like I am flouting the deepest norms of my society. Because I am.

Today, I sit down to write after hearing my mind say every day that I “should” sit down to write, and refusing because my body said, “I don’t want to write now.” Today my heart suggested it to me, and so it flows out of me effortlessly. Today I write because I am a writer and because I have something to say.

I will be going for a long walk soon because I want to go for a long walk; I am taking a pencil and a tablet so that I can enter into the intimate relationship with things that drawing requires—because I want to know I was there, as I enjoyed the feeling of the banister gliding beneath my hand this morning, and I loved that my eyes received the soft morning light spilling over the carpet, revealing so many wee particles that don’t really need to be got up right now.

 

About Anne Benvenuti

My second book, "Kindred Spirits" is in gestation, soon to be delivered! My first book is called "Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations," June 2014, Wipf and Stock. From the book jacket: "In Spirit Unleashed, Anne Benvenuti uses analysis of real encounters with animals, wild and domestic, to take us on an intellectual tour of our thinking about animals by way of biological sciences, scientific psychology, philosophy, and theology to show that we have been wrong in our understanding of ourselves amongst other animals. The good news is that we can correct course and make ourselves happier in the process. Drawing us into encounters with a desert rattlesnake, an offended bonobo, an injured fawn, a curious whale, a determined woodpecker, and others, she gives us a glimpse of their souls. Anne Benvenuti strongly makes the case that to change the way that we think about animals—and our way of relating to them—holds the possibility of changing all life on Earth for the better."I am an integrative scholar and author, a licensed clinical psychologist, a priest of the Episcopal Church, a Trustee of the Parliament of the World's Religions (and representative to the United Nations), a published poet, and photographer. The New Archaic: A Neurophenomenological Approach to Religious Ways of Knowing," in A Field Guide to a New Meta-Field: Bridging the Humanities/Neurosciences Divide, ed. Barbara Maria Stafford, University of Chicago Press, 2011. My recent presentations include "Promise and Peril: Can Religious and Political Selves Be Reconciled?" at the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, Berlin, 2011; "The New Archaic: Neuroscience, Spiritual Practice, and Healing" at the Parliament for the World's Religions, Melbourne, 2009; and "Gratefully at Home in the Body: Neuroscience and Spiritual Practice," at Spiritual Directors International, San Francisco, 2010.
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