I Sing the Body Electric


“I sing the body electric,

The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,

They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,

And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?

And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?

And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul? And if the body

were not the soul, what is the soul?”

This is “I Sing The Body Electric”, one of the poems from the original 1855 edition of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman. He here explores the physical body at length and its connection to the soul. In other poems he has established the interconnectedness of the body and the soul. Here he celebrates the primacy of the body and its importance in forging connections between people, to Whitman, all peoples are equally human, made of the same stuff as it were, and that is a sacred bond.

This is an important dimension to this poem and especially controversial for the time. At this time, religion taught a distinct separation between body and soul and that the body was something less. This poem allows Whitman to argue against the objectification of the body and especially that of Africans. It was a time when the slave mentality permeated people’s thinking. Whitman courageously tells us in no uncertain terms that the body and soul are one and that they are sacred; they are, in his words, electric, pure energy, and that energy is pure soul or spirit. It’s also important to note that the term “electric” was new for the time and that the notion of an electric force was the most sophisticated understanding of energy when Whitman wrote this poem.

What is most interesting to us now in retrospect, is that at the time Whitman wrote this poem (the mid-1800s) he had no scientific proof to back his assumptions. Today we do; science has proven to us that all matter, all life consists of energy. Your body as Whitman poetically tells us is electric. It is, in fact by today’s scientific standards, pure energy.You can pick up any object (a stone, a piece of wood, a match, a piece of tungsten wire or any material object) and examine it under an electron microscope and it will literally disappear from the physical world into a cloud of pure energy, no more solid than a hazy mist. Whitman tells us in his poem, “As I see my soul reflected in Nature, As I see through a “mist”, One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty, The complete fullness of body and soul I see.”

Scientists can now take that process a step further in magnification with the next most powerful microscope and “the mist” turns into pure invisible vibrating energy. The physical world as we now can prove is all pure vibrating energy. This is not magic or mysticism. It is hard science. It is the basis for the cutting edge science of quantum physics or quantum mechanics. Science is now proving the fact that all life is energy and is dynamic. It’s in a constant state of flux and that nothing ever ceases to exist - only transforms. This phenomena is believed by many to be the meeting place of science and spirituality.

Just as humanity’s world view changed - what psychologists consider a paradigm shift - when human beings discovered the power and usage of fire, and then that tungsten could give off heat and light when electrical currents ran through it. Then the realization of radio waves that were invisible to the human eye yet existed and could be manipulated across time and space. Then the splitting of the atom, unleashing a force in the natural world no one had ever imagined. Our world view demands that it change once again and we are on the verge of another paradigm shift. Now we are discovering the quantum world where we are realizing the nature of an untapped energy source of particles that appear and disappear in our world, as though they have a mind of their own.

I grew up in a world where the understanding of germs, bacteria and viruses were cutting edge science and a giant step forward to our understanding of life and disease. Now we live in a world where genetics and DNA are taking us another step closer to our understanding of how to eradicate disease and of how life exists. Scientists are now saying that the next big leap forward will be the study and understanding of energy, the stuff all germs, genes and DNA are made of. It is energy and its ability to flow freely that keeps your body alive. And it is a lack of energy, or energy and its obstruction that brakes the body down.

Some ancient forms of medicine realized this long ago and are still practiced today; The Ayurvedic traditions of India, with its emphasis on yoga and meditation, have everything to do with releasing the flow of energy within and using it positively in our lives. We see the same principles being applied in some medical practices of the far east, such as acupuncture and kinesiology, as well as various tribal medicine practices. Hopi and Inca Indians who were sophisticated cultures believed that all life was energy and that the soul or spirit were one with the body. Energy or spirit was the spark that animated all life and so all life was sacred for that reason (great reverence for the sun). The notion of a soul or spirit was not relegated to religion. It was the power of energy and the force of all life eternal - a fact of life.

Western science seems to be just coming to this realization. It works exclusively on the scientific method which is made static by it’s process, demanding concrete predictable facts. The study of energy is dynamic by nature. Energy is unpredictable. It shifts and changes at will and it is much harder to understand by conventional means. To understand its nature, we must be flexible of mind. This is the basis for Taoist philosophy, also known as “The Water Course Way”. We can see the force of energy in our lives, and we can feel its power when we are willing to pay attention to it, and that’s where the practice of meditation comes in.

In every case of study, untapped energy exists at the meeting point between the seen and the unseen world. We are energy. We omit energy and we receive energy and it has everything to do with our state of being. Consider your own state of being. Ask yourself: how does bad energy affect you, your state of physical and emotional health? How is your mood and disposition effected by a given negative state of affairs you may find yourself in whether you are sick, depressed, fearful or angry? How does your energy effect you in a positive state of affairs? How does your energy feel when things are peaceful. e.g. when you are in love, stable or content?

Meditation calms and stabilizes our ground of being by realigning our mind, body and soul or spirit so that positive energy can move freely throughout the body. Through meditation we cultivate the “Four Immeasurables” which are a divine source of positive energy: Loving kindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy and Equanimity. We then we realize our own Karmic responsibility toward ourselves and others which allows us to emanate positive energy to the world around us. We become more sensitive about our actions and there effect on others.

Through meditation we learn how to confront and detach ourselves from negative emotions as a way to purify our energy, which is our state of being in the world. Meditation teaches us to be present with our Karmic condition and realize we have a choice over our actions. We are the captain of our souls. We can choose to react or respond to negative thoughts and emotions when they naturally arise or we can choose to transform them into positive energy and actions. Meditation gives us that mental leverage over thought and desire. As we lead our lives, we make personal decisions every moment. To lead our lives well, we need to be intimately in touch with our very nature, our authentic selves in mind, body and soul. When we practice meditation we do just that, we intimately connect with our unconditional health of mind, that is what the practice of meditation is. Realigning ourselves with our own soul, spirit, energy or what ever you choose to call it. For Whitman, he chose to call the merging of body and soul electric.

“I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,

To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,

To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,

To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round

his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?

I do not ask any more delight, I

swim in it as in a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them,

and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,

All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.”

“As I see my soul reflected in Nature,

As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness,

sanity, beauty,

See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see.”

“O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women,

nor the likes of the parts of you,

I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the

soul, (and that they are the soul,)

I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and

that they are my poems,

Man’s, woman’s, child, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s,

father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems,

Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,

Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or

sleeping of the lids,

Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the

jaw-hinges,

Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,

Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,

Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the

ample side-round of the chest,

Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,

Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger,

finger-joints, finger-nails,

Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,

Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone,

Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,

Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,

Leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg,

Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;

All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body

or of any one’s body, male or female,

The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,

The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,

Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,

Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,

The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping,

love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,

The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,

Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,

Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and

tightening,

The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,

The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,

The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked

meat of the body,

The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,

The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward

toward the knees,

The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,

The exquisite realization of health;

O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,

O I say now these are the soul!

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1968. Print.

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Sangha Without Borders is currently physically located in London, UK