Boy, was I verklempt yesterday at church. One thing I’ve learned during my months off is that my body tells the pure truth about everything I experience, while my mind is great at ignoring a good portion of that truth in favor of being practical, getting on with it, or just not wanting to deal with something too complicated. It’s like, Ermengarde came home with tons of fur missing, which I know is due to stress. I could say, “Cat, what’s your problem? You were put in a carrier and driven one hour last January to be beautifully welcomed by a loving human friend you’ve known for years. You stayed with him in his comfy house and received lots of love and perfect care for five months. You were affectionate with him, and by all accounts happy. So why all the fur fall-out?”
And the cat would say, if she could, “Well, all of those things are true but I was still under a lot of stress because I am a CAT and therefore I HATE CHANGE. And that’s what my body did to express that stress. And that is all.”
My body has a long history of being my best and most persistent, unvarnished truth-teller. It has been handing me the straight dope on life situations in the form of digestive problems, anxiety attacks, headaches, funny foot problems, skin rashes and boils and teeth-grinding since I was a wee lass (not all at the same time, thank God!). I have just this past year learned to respect it, listen to it, and stop overriding it with my intellect, which I have begun to understand is a stupid and even abusive thing to do.
For instance, the entire month I was planning my trip to Turkey-Greece-Romania I had stomach problems. I took Prilosec and acidopholus and worried about it; something must be WRONG. Am I allergic to dairy? Wheat? Gluten?
None of the above. I was just stressing about the trip. The moment I arrived in Istanbul, my system settled down and stayed reliably healthy for the next five weeks, through four different countries, many kinds of cuisines, and all kinds of dairy, wheat and gluten. No prob. I had mild heartburn a few times. Big deal.
It has also been important during this time of learning to respect the body to avoid people and media messages that perpetuate the notion that because I am fat, I am by definition unhealthy. I have come to realize that those messages do tremendous damage to my psyche (and therefore, my health!), and have worked hard to listen to the truth of my body rather than to the fear-mongers. We all have a different definition of “healthy,” no matter what the medical authorities say. Although I am not pleased with the obvious stress on my joints that comes with carrying so much extra weight, I also learned during my sabbatical that I am have days when I’m quite hale and hearty and some days when I’m out of shape and schleppy. Don’t we all? Again, it all originates in the psyche: I have had grueling days of travel that barely tired me at all, while one day of burning mental or emotional overstimulation can leave me exhausted and drained for days. I don’t want for this to be true, preferring to be consistently strong at all times but it doesn’t work that way. A nice recent achievement is that I no longer add to my burden of exhaustion by berating myself for it.
It never occurred to me that after receiving umpteen years of education to cultivate my intellectual knowledge, I might need to devote an equal number of years checking out books from my body’s vast library of information!
Yesterday I stood before the congregation and read these opening words, which I like very much:
We come to this time and this place
To rediscover the wondrous gift
of free religious community:
To renew our faith in the holiness, goodness and beauty of life,
to reaffirm the way of the open mind and full heart,
To rekindle the flame of memory and hope,
and to reclaim the vision of an Earth
made fair, with all her people one. – David Pohl
I never in a million years thought that those words would bring me to tears. But there you have it: my body remembered where I had recently been, experienced the vast chasm between “free religious community” and “oppressive dictatorship” or “genocide” and sent a lump to my throat. When I spoke of the “flame of memory and hope,” my body remembered flames of memorials in town squares and cities recently visited that commemorated wars and revolutions, and tears came to my eyes. That’s how it works, and I respect it.
Sometimes when I sit down in my little chair up at the pulpit after preaching or praying, a jolt of energy will shoot up my legs and into my lower back so hard and so fast that I gasp in pain. I know it’s the energy of the congregation and the Holy Spirit (or some might say kundalini energy) moving through me, blasting through my root chakra. I breathe deeply and ground it down through my legs, through my feet and into the earth. I used to think such things were probably New Age nonsense, but I have more respect for the ways the body works than that now.
Why doesn’t anyone teach us these things?
How can we include these insights in the public conversation about health and balance the purely statistical, death-phobic approach to “health” that dominates in our culture?