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.
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 infections 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 physical 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, an ensouled body. 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.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2010