Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life

Of the Body

9 Comments

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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Author: becomingbuddhist

I am a writer, teacher, and mother living in Northern California. Recently I decided to try an experiment in living more mindfully. This blog is my testimonial.

9 thoughts on “Of the Body

  1. Nice post, love.

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  2. Wow, I see a lot of myself in you. Last year I was asking myself the same questions about my spiritual practice – I was living through a peaceful valley but wondered if my practice would carry me through when worst happened? I felt morbid wondering about it, but I think it was actually a premonition. Within a few weeks of asking that question I had my answer. My husband was diagnosed with two cancers. Almost immediately I was able to accept the situation and supported him in doing the same. Though some organizational / scheduling things fell to pieces during the roughest patches (missed dentist appointments and such), I maintained composure throughout the ordeal, as did my husband. My connection to my higher self allowed me to trust in the Universe and accept my karma.

    If you think you’re there, sister, you’re there. Keep up the good work. Peace, Van

    • Thanks, Van. I appreciate your comment (but really hope I’m not having a premonition). And, I hope you all are healthy now and still maintaining that admirable composure. Thanks for reading! –BB

  3. Oh, wow, I am so feeling this post. . . I’m approaching 40 and have been doing a ton of reflecting, wondering, feeling weird and wistful. Part of it has to do with my body and all the pernicious aches and pains, especially in my back, that just don’t seem to respond to pills, ice, heat, stretching. It is frustrating and I know that daily stress does make it so much worse. Then there is also the extra baby fat I am carrying around that I’ve almost given up on shedding. . . And then STILL there is the weird duality for me of being a mom and also still trying to feel some approximation of sexy and not feel weird or confused over that. So, I started wearing dresses again and that is helpful, connecting with my feminine side again and feeling a bit more confidence. “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. . .” Yup. True story. Great post as per usual, Lady. xo.

    • Thanks, lady. I also started the new year thinking maybe I’d wear a few more dresses and generally not be such a schlump. I recently read the book Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, and in the book this stay-at-home mom’s husband takes to calling her “Greenie” because she always wears the same green fleece vest over her yoga pants. I had a good laugh over that one…and then a wince. xo

  4. I do not! Thanks for the introduction. ; )

  5. And now I’ll degrade the comment thread of your lovely post to this: Yep. 3 cheers for ModCloth.

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