The Bod Knows

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?

9 Replies to “The Bod Knows”

  1. Thanks for this post. You are so right about the body telling us truths that we need to take the time to listen and hear.
    I find this to be a pastoral issue, not only in my own life, but when people in my community are sick. The vast majority have no hint that there might be something in their life that needs addressing, beyond a virus, or a bad joint, or . . . whatever. And it’s difficult to even address sometimes. (and of course, sometimes it’s just not possible or compassionate to address it at that point) Do you have any suggestions, anything that has helped you shift people’s attention from the medical to the spiritual in times when the body is SHOUTING for attention?

  2. Re: ‘Why doesn’t someone teach us these things?”
    Because we wouldn’t believe.
    We have to experience ‘With the ears / eyes of our heart.”
    Only then can we truly ‘know’.
    And the truest form of ‘knowing’ is simply ‘being’ and allowing oneself to experience.
    Just ‘be’ – don’t worry about processing and study just yet.
    As I read your work, I know that ‘Being’ has never let you down.

  3. verklempt- I love that word!

    Is it Yiddish? Sounds like it.
    Never heard of it in a Yiddish context.
    [Oh yes, it’s Yiddish for “overcome with emotion.” – PB]

  4. Yes- I thought it was.
    It sounds very similar to the German “verklemmt”.

    I love the Yiddish sprinkles in your blog as I love Yiddish (as you can see from my nickname). [I don’t recognize your nickname, what does it mean? You mean kanzelschwalbe? – PB]

  5. I, too, am a fat & brainy chick. When I decided I would train for and ride the Pan-Mass Challenge, I learned that my mind was constantly working against me in about a gazillion ways. I learned my body is truly, authentically capable of ministry, regardless of what the mind (and modern media/culture) says. It was my fat a$$ that bicycled 180 miles in two days and raised over $25,000 to fight and cure cancer. So I say, “Ha! Top *that* you silly mind!”

    My mind’s revenge is forgetfulness, so I need constant reminding. And to forgive myself when I do forget and start letting the mind tell me things about myself despite all physical evidence to the contrary.

    But I trust my body more now than I ever did, and I have some healthy skepticism about the mind.

    Ministry takes many sizes and shapes and forms, all of it requiring a human body to make it manifest. Love it all, I say! even when the hardest body to love is one’s own!
    [Great post, Cookie! I love your thing about having “a healthy skepticism about the mind.” Boy, is that ever the truth. Congratulations on the Pan Mass Challenge. That is AMAZING!! 180 miles in two days!! When I went out to Giverny last weekend with my friend Genie and we decided to rent bikes to go to Monet’s house, I was all insecure but I said to myself, “just because I’m fat and haven’t been on a bike in almost 15 years doesn’t mean I can’t do this.” And it was SO much fun! – PB]

  6. Please – you are traditionally sized. [You’d be surprised, BJ. I’m packing around 220 lbs. on this 5’3″ frame. That’s a good 60-75 lbs. over “traditional,” which would be a size 12. -PB]

    I’ve learned that the mind also plays tricks of its own. Last month I attended a performance in San Francisco. I looked at my watch as I left the theater and thought “If I hurry, I may be able to make the early train.” Imagining that I was 17 again, I ran the six blocks to the shuttle bus stop just as the bus was pulling up. I did get on the early train, but I also had to take ibuprofen for the next three days. Had I listened to my body, I would have heard it say “You damn fool! You aren’t 17 any more and there will be a significant price to pay for this! Slow down and enjoy the afternoon you fool!”


  7. A word of caution, please, about darling Ermengarde. Hair loss can be caused by stress, yes, but it can also be something serious, so PLEASE get it checked out. My cat lost the fur on his throat and it turned out to be a sign of a tumor. Sorry to be a worrywort mama……….but I know how much we all love our dear pets.

  8. my gynaecologist (who helped me to deliver my 3rd boy naturally after 2 c-sections) introduced me to caroline myss and her book the anatomy of the spirit. good body spirit connection.

    “matter matters” says good old whathisname from iona (george maccloud?). i love celtic spirituality. here’s to st columba whose feast day was yesterday.

    have you seen that email that is making the rounds at the moment in south africa? “yup. i wanna be a bear.”

    love your body. xo eliza

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