Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Of the Body

I’ve been thinking a lot about the mind-body connection, and about that nebulous concept of a soul and how the body is just the temple in which the soul resides or just the housing for the emotions and intellect and–how does that idea go? I’m not sure.

SNC12333I spent much of December sick. I got a cold, then a weird stomach bug, then just before Christmas, when L and I were up early to board a plane to Boston, I had to take two Advil to quell the flu-like symptoms with which I’d awoken so I could get through the flight. Back East I swore up and down that I was no longer contagious because I’d had my cold for ten days already and it was just taking a while to work its way out, but after I left, my brother reported that I’d gotten him, his wife, and my parents all sick, and I realized that I must have had back-to-back viruses (is that even possible?) and been shedding all over the place. There were a few days after New Year’s when I was well, then bam–salmonella, Noro virus, whatever it was that felled me for three.five days.

And then on Friday, on the one-year anniversary of the rupture of the ectopic pregnancy that could have killed me, I walked quickly head-first into a 4 x 4 support beam at my son’s school and got a mild concussion. Out of it, spacy, a little nauseated and with a throbbing head, I was sent home to rest, and spent much of the rest of a day in a fog.

What next? I wondered. It felt like my body was betraying me a bit.

Being a woman at my age, it feels sometimes like there’s so much physical noise to contend with even in an otherwise healthy life. In conversations with friends we talk about how we can’t get our hormones right, how we think we have an autoimmune condition, how we’re tired or our digestion sucks. We’ve sprained our ankles, we have a chronic knee injury. As parents of small children, we know only too well what it’s like to catch every virus to go around the school (and pray we miss the head lice and pinworm epidemics). Health takes up so much space, even when we’re relatively healthy. This reminds me, always, how privileged we are to know, to have health insurance, to have the means to explore our health and strive for health. To have clean water. To have lived long enough to have experienced suffering. Etc. But it also reminds me how much energy taking care of a body takes, and how much psychic energy when we’re unwell (or fearing we might be). And it makes me wonder, what’s the purpose of all that noise?

In December, we lost another family friend. She died at 47 after a 12-year battle with a rare and pernicious kind of ovarian cancer. She left behind three kids. I’m trying not to think about how many women I know who know other women in their forties with cancer. It terrifies me, is the truth. I put so much stock in my health, in eating well, in exercising, in trying to reduce my stress, all in hopes of avoiding ill health. And it amazes me how a common cold–or a concussion–can leave me depressed and fragile. What would I do if I faced cancer? Diabetes? If my husband did, or my kids? All our efforts sometimes just can’t stave off the inevitable. All this work, for example, to try to improve my fertility—with no discernible change.

I’m not trying to depress anyone, the above paragraphs to the contrary. I’m just thinking about it. Pema Chödrön reminds us that no matter what we look like, what car we drive, how much money we make, we all still have to face old age and death. Is it weird that I find that comforting? I do. It reminds me that the body will do what the body does. That life will have its path. That, in a sense, there’s no sense in worrying about our health. And yet, we do, all of us, all the time.

What would a really positive mind-body connection look like? I think about this. I think about how so much of my desire to find a spiritual practice had to do with this sensation that if something really terrible happened I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I think about how one could get to a place, through meditation (or prayer, sure, or yoga) where one could be unattached even to huge bodily failures. I think of how my mind influences my body negatively (hypochondria, reactions to stress) and how my mind can influence my body positively (reduction of stress, calmness). And how the body, when it’s unwell, can influence the mind towards depression or anxiety. On a more mundane level, I think sometimes how great it would be if I could just eat a bagel without feeling terrible afterwards, or could drink another glass of wine without worrying so much about the next morning. Perhaps when you get so in tune with your body that you’re hyper aware of the slightest misstep, you lose some carefreeness.

What is your experience of the mind-body connection?

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Reflecting and Regathering

Hello friends; long time. I’ll make the usual excuses: colds, flus, holidays, new year. I’d planned various kinds of new year’s posts, was going to write about how I woke up at midnight on New Year’s Eve (I’d gone to bed at ten), heard the teenagers whooping down the street, and felt an enormous sense of peace and excitement. It’s 2014, I thought. This is the year I’m going to have my second child and get my book published.

That lightening bolt thought totally thrilled me.

Trees on an island in Maine

Trees on an island in Maine

But before I could sit down to write about it, I got food poisoning–salmonella, I think. Last weekend and the early part of this week were awash in despair as I….worked it out of my system. At one point, I honestly thought death would be preferable. I was having flashbacks to the three months M and I spent in South America in 2004 and 2005.

But I’m back, almost like new, and it’s a beautiful sunny day in California, where we have never heard of the “polar vortex.” Everything seems to carry weight in the new year; habits new and old, relationships new and old, routines new and old. I keep thinking, maybe I should resolve to do X….and then the moment passes. And on the other hand, so many small changes already seem to be happening to me, and I notice them more at this time of year.

I’m reading a self-help book called Feng Shui Your Mind. First: I don’t read self-help books. Second: this one was written by my acupuncturist. Third: If I can get over the fact that I, you know, don’t read self-help books, I would say that there is this message in the book that has really reminded me of Buddhism and has really helped me to reframe things. The book is all about positive thinking, how opening yourself up to positivity can shift the very energy around you. I’ve been trying to replace thoughts like “I will never get published” with “How exciting that I finished a book and am in the process of finding an agent.” Does it sound cheesy? I think two years ago I would have immediately said yes. But somehow, in 2014, I feel like this kind of thinking could change my life. It could certainly help me feel more calm and positive about life’s challenges.

Truth: My meditation practice has been spotty. I’ve been reflecting on that. My sense is that, maybe due to my new positive thinking, I’ve been needing it less. But I know intellectually that that’s no reason to stop, that if anything, that’s when to go deeper. I’m trying to reconcile that.

It’s been almost a year since I had the ectopic pregnancy rupture and nearly died. I can’t, as you’d imagine, stop thinking about it. Part of the horror of the salmonella was that I kept having flashbacks to that experience, too. 2013 was a difficult year in many ways. But I’m not sorry it happened. Just happy to move on.