invisible reach over the world

The Body’s Wisdom

A brief reflection on the role of embodied spirituality to nurture environmental care in the Maltese islands

The destruction of the Maltese Islands is not only signalled by the roar of machines gouging the earth and the noxious fumes that blanket our homes, disgorged from highways thick with toxins. This destruction feels far more intimate. It is woven into the daily rejection of our animal existence, and a concomitant inability to awaken to our place inside the world.

How does such an awakening begin?

It seems to me that it must involve our acknowledgement of a vast horizon of uncertainty, which surrounds any instance of knowledge. It emerges from the acceptance that life is, at every point, nourished and sustained by the mysterious. The acceptance that I can only encounter the real from within the depths of itself.

As I write this I sit on the edge of Manoel Island, where the Mediterranean connects the coast to the bastions of Valletta. Attending to this sensuous landscape, I know myself to be materially surrounded by very ordinary presences, which populate my experience of the world. Wherever I move, wherever I look, I cannot dispel the persistent mystery of the visible world.

The invisible leads me to wonder what exists behind the horizon, and what exists within the depths of the sea? Such enigmatic distances become evident and operative only when I know myself to be materially embedded in the landscape. I am carnally situated in the midst of the sensuous, no longer disembodied, no longer pondering the material plenum from an abstract point outside of its effulgence.

This vision of the world “from outside” has proven itself to be a useful illusion, exemplary evidence of a human ability to turn reality into a tool, put to work for the desires and designs of our species.

However, by allowing this perspective to dominate human interactions with the material world, and thereby absenting ourselves from it, we are rapidly wrecking the ability of the biosphere to support human life.

Topsoils have become exhausted, stripped of nutrients. The waters have turned toxic with our waste. Numerous other species, unique expressions of life, tumble into extinction and with them, lives far older than our species can fathom.

As a literate person, confronted by this calamity, it is too easy for me to escape into the protective fold of reflection. I lose myself in language, looping recursively, enamoured by words to the cool exclusion of sensation. There is no space for the breeze on my arms in this fortress of cognition. If, however, I allow that this fluctuating sensibility I call myself is born of this body and its encounter with the world, then a new affinity with sensuous reality may take root.

The other bodies that I see around me are no longer excluded from my direct experience.

Whether seagulls skimming the waves or clouds heaving with moisture or a praying mantis balanced on a nearby yucca plant, all are evidence of bodily participation alongside my own, in contact with the world.

Their invisible intermingling enriches me, as my presence has the potential to enrich them.

These mysterious bodies, in some ways entirely unknowable, complement my place at the seashore. They unearth a subtlety of sensation that awakens an empathic discernment beyond the strictures of abstract thought.

The world discloses itself from within, and my human body is thrust into dynamic, dancing alignment with the breathing earth. If there is hope, then it is here. In this invisible intimacy of bodies embracing, the space between my flesh and the living flesh of the world.

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