It is perhaps simplistic to break the human experience down to a neat three part equation of body, mind and spirit. We are, in truth, infinitely layered and complex. I have always been drawn to trios however and looking at "the human animal" thru a three part lens has served me best. Any one of these parts could be a lifetimes study of their own. After over two decades of working with peoples physical bodies I have picked up a lot about how form and function move us through the dance of life
On one level the body is pretty simply composed of flesh and bone and seems like a pretty manageable topic. On another level we are more empty space than not, we have not one straight line to be found anywhere in any part of our structure. We are a magical swirling whirling river of life in which the only truth to be found is constant change. This I can live with.
The second part of my human equation, the mind, is similarly dual in being simple and simultaneously complex. Simple are the thoughts that pop into our head stealing most of our moments by projecting us into the past or future. I say simple because on this level our thoughts are automatic and just a function of out neural pathways and electricity. Even the new trendy field of neuroplasticity is pretty graspable if you understand the more you use a pathway the stronger it gets and that a combination of being watchful of your brain and interrupting old patterns and using repetition to sow new patters transforms the actual physical structure of our brain along with our thoughts. Pretty awesome, huh? Keep in mind simple and easy are not synonymous. Because up to this point I have really been discussing the brain. but what about the "mind" the thinker, the consciousness? Yes, that topic I can only stammer in awe and hope to one day begin to begin to begin to grasp. The brain though, again with the river, our brain is like a system of interconnected waterways that get dredged and shifted by our thoughts both intentional and automatic. This I can work with.
The third part of our equation is to me the richest and deepest river of all. Our spirit is that deepest part of us which is always reaching for the sunlight, for growth and connection. Regardless of beliefs about the Divine Mystery we all have spirits that need nurturing and tending. I have never addressed this part of myself as anything but a theist and from a very young age I had a strong sense of being surrounded by a loving energy and for this I am eternally and profoundly grateful. But for spiritual seekers who are atheist this does not change the need for spiritual nourishment. We can ignore no part of our self. I was raised without religion to a Jewish Mother and a Father from an Episcopal background and while I know that raising a child with tradition and reverence can be an amazing gift my gift was that I had to forge my own way. I had to decide not only what to believe but who to believe and how to believe and it is an ongoing and joyful exploration in which I have felt myself residing in a river of love for sometime now. And while I am a strong theist paradoxically I also do not believe that you need to be a theist to swim in this Divine river of spirit. Here is what my explorations have uncovered. Our two root human emotions of love and fear seem to be the drivers of our spirit. The first, love, manifests in expansion, inclusion, softening and relaxing. The second, fear, manifests in tightening boundary, exclusion, clenching and hardening. These are of course hardly complete lists of the manifestations of fear and love, but you get the idea. So to feed my spirit I watch my body and mind for expansion or contraction. When I find my mind closing and my jaw clenching I know I have strayed from my optimum path. Now as a theist I do think the ultimate goal of spiritual growth is the merge my small spirit with the Bigger One. But, for an atheist perhaps nature or music or the present moment works for you. The point is to get beyond ourselves into loving service of Something Bigger.
Almost thirty years ago as an idea of Divinity took root in my psyche the closest image I could conjure up of Divinity was God as a river. These decades of exploration have shaped and molded and shifted my ideas about God but to this day I can come up with no better analogy than a river. Our fluid flexible bodies and our shape shifting brains dancing in the currents of a Mighty River as we float or struggle side by side. our nature is both quite simple and again complexly ineffable, but this I believe.The more we gracefully float and the less we fight the currents the further along the river we go. It has been said that the man who wishes to understand the universe must be in equal parts, scientist, philosopher and theologian. And perhaps this is true, or maybe what we really need to do to remove the veils of ignorance is just go sit by a river.