Body as Gift
For most of my life, I resented my body. Over the years, I have ignored it as much as possible. Being aware of my body has been challenging, and appreciating it nearly non-existent. Appreciating my body would require recognizing and accepting it with all its limitations. I was born with a heart defect which was not apparent to others but limited my energy and athleticism. I was uncoordinated and of short stature with a shape tending toward plump rather than thin, which is so admired and celebrated in society.
Body shaming was not taboo when I was growing up and is only now, in the 2020s, being discussed as a harmful thing, especially for young girls and teenagers. During my grade school and high school years, boys and girls alike were openly teased for being gawky, clumsy, or simply not meeting whatever standards of coolness had been arbitrarily set by some unseen committee. Many diligent defenders of body shaming lived in my family and small community. Some adults seemed to believe that openly and relentlessly criticizing a child’s perceived shortcomings motivated them to do better, be something they were not.
Criticisms and judgment about my physical abilities and attributes made any hope that I could be more acceptable seem ridiculous. My church characterized the body as a gift from God but also a dangerous thing not to be trusted. The body had feelings, desires, and needs that often led to temptation and sin if left unchecked. No surprise that I grew up not trusting my body at the best of times, despising it as unacceptable and unworthy at the worst of times.
But my body, anyone’s body, isn’t an unacceptable thing, something to resent or view with indifference. Our bodies are the containers that house our soul and spirit throughout this life. Our bodies have been with us since day one and before, through thick and thin. They have remained steadfast even during times when we’ve abused it with too much alcohol or drugs, too little activity, too much food, not enough sleep, not giving it needed medical care due to not being able to afford it or minimizing the importance of caring for our health.
Our bodies are not problems to be fixed, they are wonderous and complex with the intricate wiring of the nervous system, a circulatory system that provides oxygen to the organs. Eyes and ears provide crucial sense perceptions to help us understand and navigate the world around us. Taste buds and digestive systems allow us to enjoy our food and drink while extracting and distributing nutrients throughout our body. Our bodies include water treatment and sewage removal facilities, breathing apparatus, and a skeleton to hold everything together and work with the muscles to move about. The skin, also a sense organ, holds it all together and acts as a barrier from harmful things to keep the body safe. Thanks to what may be the world’s most powerful computer, the brain and autonomic nervous system, we are not even aware of most of the processes that smoothly operate 24/7. Our bodies breathe, blood pumps and circulates, and neurons signal without any coaxing or conscious oversite from us.
I began the work to drop the shame and accept my body, my container, late in the game. I am just now learning to be aware of my body rather than ignore it, to refrain from over-nurturing it with food and drink, pretending I’ll feel better if I just eat that delicious dessert or crunchy snack, knowing that one or one thousand will never satisfy the real hunger inside. That hunger is not caused by lack of food, but too much shame, too much fear that this body, this self, can never be enough.
My obligations to my body are to notice it and respect it, to nourish it in ways that keep it performing in peak condition, move it around, keep it clean inside and out, and take it in for a check-up and repair as needed. This is not a heavy burden considering how much my body has done for me and continues to do each day.
Just as my body is not a problem, disturbances in my body, illness, disease, or breakdown of one system or another are not problems either. They are what happens to all living things. Bodies age and change, fall apart, rebuild, and, at some point, die. I owe it to my body to address any breakdowns and do what I can with the help of medicine and spirit to restore health as much as possible. What I don’t need is to see aging or illness as a defect, something is wrong with me. Something in my body may change, but there is nothing wrong with me. To paraphrase Obi-Wan-Kenobi in Star Wars, there is no disturbance in the force. No need to panic, no need to wail and shout, “Why me?” (Why not me?) What I do need is to be aware of and respect my body, caring for it as the wonder that it is and will continue to be until my soul is released from this container and sets out on a new adventure.
I am a member of the League of Minnesota Poets and have had a poem published in the Cracked Walnut anthology, Rewilding Hope. Members of a local writers group sponsored by my community's Parks and Recreation Department have helped me articulate my experiences and have provided invaluable support. I strongly recommend writers' groups for anyone who is looking for a forum to share their work and grow in their storytelling journey. I do not have a personal blog. Other resources that have helped me on my journey include a meditation practice and participation in several Buddhist studies programs for more than 10 years. I regularly participate in programs through the Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis. Dharma Seed has also been a helpful resource for me in exploring my journey and sharing insights in ways that can be of help to others.
Regarding my experiences with Reimagine, I learned about the group through a local resource, the End in Mind Project, shortly after my mother passed away in February 2022. Uncertain of how to deal with a cascade of emotions, I participated in a Reimagine online candlelight vigil, which was deeply healing for me. It provided a safe space that opened many places where I was feeling stuck. I have participated in Reimagine programs since then as often as I can, and am constantly inspired by the authenticity of the programs as well as the breadth and depth of information available. One that particularly stands out is the Out of Illness Comes Art program. It gave me permission to fully experience what I was feeling and tap into threads of my experiences that connect to the experiences of others. Participating in Reimagine programs releases the darkness and feelings of isolation that so often come with loss or illness.