Ruchniyus & Gashmiyus (Spirituality & Physicality)

I discovered something in therapy*** recently: the ideas about spiritual transcendence of the body that we were taught in Bais Yaakov still permeate the way I think, despite my logical scorn of the ideas about bodily baseness and spiritual purity.

This summer, I went to a tiny island in Scotland. It was beautiful, and blissful, and amazing. One day, I walked for four hours from the southern end of the island to the northern end. It was raining and windy and cold when I started out, and over the course of the day, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Before I set out, I had put on leggings under my jeans, and I was wearing a camisole under my shirt and a sweatshirt and rain jacket on top of that. By the time I turned around at the northern end of the island, I had taken off my rain jacket, and after another half hour, I had taken off my sweatshirt as well.

At the end of this amazing, blissful day, I texted a friend and said how wonderful it was to have felt every part of this day through every one of my senses: I had delighted in the feel of raindrops pattering on my jacket, in the little trickle as the rain gathered on the tip of my hood and spilled over into my face; in the feel of the wind on my face and in my hair, and the sound of the wind as it wove inside my hood and around my ears; in the sensation of my feet on the road and the muscles in my legs and back as I walked; in the smell of the wind and the rain and the grass and the ocean and the sheep and their poop (yes, even that!); etc. And of course the sight of all that beauty and wonder around me.

My observation to her had been about how much a part of my body I had felt, and how strange it was to feel this: “…I always let myself sink into places like this, but I try to imagine myself without a body, kind of above physicality. Now I…felt everything in every part of my body.” She pointed out that yes, it’s “our heritage to imagine ourselves without bodies.”

But still, as I continued thinking about that experience, I started describing it as “out of body.” It took more talking about it to recognize that despite the realization at the time that I felt the joy in my body, the concept I had grown up with, of joy and bliss of a near-spiritual quality necessarily being “ruchniyus” and therefore not “gashmiyus,” was distorting my memories.

Turns out, spirituality is not necessarily about transcendence of the physical. Turns out, gashmiyus can be an integral part of a spiritual experience. Turns out, the body is not something to be scorned and reviled and discarded. Who knew?

That feeling I had, of being part of the world around me, was not about “mah rabu ma’asecha,” it was not about my spirit apart from my body. It was about my spirit as part of my body, connecting to the world around me in ways that are unique and specific to my bodily and spiritual sensations. And that’s good.


***Yes, of course I’m in therapy. What, you thought with this background and history I could manage without it? By the way, if you’re OTD or thinking about leaving frumkeit or struggling to stay frum – get thee to a therapist. Or, if Shakespeare allusions don’t do it for you, have some Pirkei Avos: aseh lecha therapist. Especially if you don’t have a supportive group of OTD or OTD-curious people. This is hard to do on your own. Get the help you’re definitely going to need.

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