Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Body-Self Beautiful

Well, I had some time to lie around this week- literally. A week ago, I picked up my watch off the dresser next to my bed and threw my back out. Two chiropractic visits, one doctor’s appointment, a few muscle relaxants, and many epsom salt baths later, and I am no longer shuffling around as if I'm one hundred years old. All very humbling and more than a little enlightening.

As I laid on the living room floor (because I felt a little less pain lying on the floor than I did on the firm mattress of my bed) studying the plaster on the ceiling, I started thinking about all of the time, energy and money I put into taking care of my body and the precariousness of my health. Mostly this is because of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that moves in and out of remission, but sometimes it’s because of something as unpredictable as a muscle spasm. (In fairness, given the legal and emotional upheaval in my life over the last few months, it really is not that surprising that I would have a bit of tension stored in my back.)

So, I was feeling frustrated. After all, I know people (or people who say they know people) who never exercise, eat junk food, drink excessively, stay up late, never go to a doctor or chiropractor or massage therapist and they seem to be feeling no pain. I take care of my body, I practise self-care. So shouldn’t I be healthy, pain-free and strong?

Now there are lots of factors that go into creating illness or physical health and some (like genetics, exposure to pathenogens etc.) are out of our control. But the thing that stopped my internal tirade was the tiniest sliver of a question: Do I really CARE for my physcial self or do I take care of my body? Because there’s a difference.

I take care of my body. I exercise, eat well, take supplements, go to alternative and main stream health care practitioners. But, if I am honest about it, I do these things the way a conscientious car owner schedules regular maintenance appointments with the local mechanic- as a means to the end of keeping the vehicle tuned up and ready to go wherever the driver wants to take it.

But my body is not vehicle. I'm not a car. I'm a human being, an embodied soul. Of course, I experience things that are not just physical sensations: intuitions, feelings, emotions, thoughts, dreams, visions etc. But I experience them as an embodied being. When I die, I don’t know what will happen. But I will cease to be an embodied soul, a human being. I may become something else- spirit, energy, a disembodied soul, something looking for a new life or blended with a sort of wholeness beyond my current imagination. I really don’t know, and to tell you the truth I don’t worry about it. I’m okay with not knowing.

But while I am alive, although I am not just a body, I am never not a body. So, my body is not just a vehicle I drive around, directed by some more essential part of me. It has a wisdom, and intelligence of its own. It teaches me. I experience through the body. We know from a vast array of experiments that body and mind (consciousness, emotions, thoughts etc.), although spoken of as two separate things, are indeed co-mingled, inter-dependent, or two aspects of one substance.

So, if this is true, perhaps I need to start caring for my physical self instead of just taking care of my body. It may be hard to tell the difference from the outside, but from the inside the difference it clear. Think of how a baby is cared for- how food that is offered lovingly is different than a child that is propped up with a bottle; how a gentle bath in warm water that includes blowing bubbles and playful splashing is something more than just getting clean; how lotion can be slapped on quickly to prevent dry skin or massaged in with full awareness of the skin texture, the shape of muscles beneath the skin, the intimacy of touch (and I mention these examples with full awareness that mothers often have more than one child and employment and many other responsibilities and so are not always able to provide all of these all of the time.)

Caring for a vehicle is a mechanistic job done from the outside. Real self-care is an inside job. While knowledge of which exercises or supplements most meet my physical needs can be helpful, I don’t think the right combination of activities and vitamins can replace real loving appreciation for my physical self, for embodiment as it is right now, in this body- not the one I had twenty years ago, not the one I imagine or hope I’ll have if I work out or drink the right herbal tea this year.

So, as I laid on the floor I started to do one of the Tibetan Buddhist somatic meditation practises- exploring, sensing and releasing all tension from each part of my body, starting with my toes and working my way up. I have been doing this every day since my back went out and I am continuing, even though my back is better. Each time I do it, I feel both a great sadness that moves me to apologize to my sweet natural body-self for forgetting to appreciate life in physical form as an end in itself filled with beauty. And I also feel a sense of release, a deep heart-relief at having arrived home.


  1. nothing more to say but - ah so beautifully expressed. a joy to read today...

  2. Beautifully put, and a synchronistically appropriate piece to read today as I prepare for a colonoscopy tomorrow. My body is not happy about the prep, I think it is fair to say.

    It is curious how having a dog has made me be more present in my own body, as that's how I can communicate with him.

  3. Yes, we must all be attentive to our bodies, mind and soul, I find meditation one of the better ways to care for my body, mind and soul.

  4. Thanks for sharing your insights, Oriah. Now,
    I want to share with you something that just happened to me and made me speechless:

    Each morning, I start my day by going to Rumi poems collection and ask for a guidance for the day--by openning a page randomly! Before going to your page, I did go today and what it came was what I needed the most to see and hear for the moment. This poem came to me:

    Don't ever let yourself to think of bitter stuff,
    For the fact that You are the source of all sweets( sweetness),

    Do Care about your physical body,
    Let it rest at its real home,way beyond this chaotic Dirt.

  5. I've been trying to find the right words, for I feel I want to say something. But what I feel isnt poetic or profound, it's envy and it feels heavy and inappropriate. I disconnected from my body early in my childhood as a way of survival, and as grown woman with my own child now, I have agonised over how to reconnect, and learn how to nurture myself. I envy anyone who can do that, and you have put into words today all that I have been searching for for a very long time. I celebrate for you that you have arrived home. It gives me hope. Thank you x

  6. as I head off for the first session of 5 Tibetan Yogas, I'll remember what you said about the difference between "taking care of the body" and "taking care of the physical self." So well put and a good reminder of how to care for ourselves. It's so easy to slip into the habit of treating ourselves like cars needing an oil change or bodies consuming the right amount of calcium.

  7. It was no coincidence I read this just before heading out to for my massage - of the muscle unknotting kind. I too am very good at taking care of my body but I have to admit caring for my body is something I can easily tuck away in some dusty dark recess. Very timely on so many levels. Much appreciated.

  8. This reminds me of an experience I had a couple years back (I didn't throw out my back!!). My husband and I were going through a seperation (he had moved out a month by this time), and I remember myslf going through such release. I cried for a couple weeks straight (and this was hard because I have 2 young ones). I beat the couch pillows when I was alone; great way to release anger! And I started noticing changes in my physical body. Waking up in night sweats, completely soaked. I awoke one morning to this rash covering my entire body, and then for a week or so, I would lie in bed at night, trying to read my book, and I could barely hold my book, my wrists, were so sore (they felt arthritic).

    I was going through major life changes (emotionally) and I was releasing, purging, letting go of the past, pain, future illness, etc... and it always fascinates me how connected everything is; how our emotions are stored deeply into our bodies.

    I remember once on my own, many months later, feeling content, happy, healed, strong and re-energized (yet it's taken years, so much to release), looking back at those experiences...

    The importance of appreciating the most simple things in life, the silence, sweet childrens laughter, bike rides into work, my skinny dips in the river daily, my ME time!!! And OUR health, taking the time to chop those veggies and prepare delicious salads, daily smoothies, lemon water, the small daily details...

    This life is filled with so much beauty and sadness; it's seriously an ocean of emotion! Thank you for reflecting BEAUTY in it's many forms!

  9. Sandra, I want to tell you something: early life experiences meant that I too was not very connected to my body.Ironically, my ability to leave my body was part of what brought me to study shamanism where my ability to "journey" out of the body was an asset in healings and monitoring people who were out on vision quests. But spending time out of the body has a cost- and it has taken me a very long time to be fully IN my body- and even today it is something I have to cultivate- it does not come automatically as it may to some. In some ways, I think that makes me a good person to chronicle and share the process (since those blessed with strong in-the-body awareness usually have a harder time explaining how they got there) So, don't give up- your body is waiting for you. Slow, sensual, mindful, gentle persistance. Oriah

  10. Oriah, thanks for such an honest exploration of your own experience. I can relate to much of what you're saying as I too have had to rethink my relationship with my own body, because like you, I've also had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which moved in as my teacher almost 2 years ago. I've realised just how much I previously took my physicality for granted and how much I failed to listen in a loving way to the subtle messages my body/mind was sending. You are so right about recovery not being just about the obvious ways in which we maintain health but more about the attitude with which we care for ourselves i.e. with loving, conscious intent rather than a practical duty. I still have so much to learn through this process and I appreciate the wisdom of others, like yourself, who are maybe a little further down the road on this challenging journey.