“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” Living a short distance from your body seems like a weird idea, but perhaps you sense intuitively what James Joyce means. How far away from your body do you live? A few inches away… around the corner and down the street? In another zip code?
For all my years in college and law school my body lived “down there,” a place I rarely visited except with a washcloth and soap. It may as well have been Tasmania, for as much as I knew or cared about it. When I thought about my body, well, I thought about it, rather than feeling it or paying attention to it. When it demanded attention, with paralyzing back spasms that laid me flat, I responded like it was a toddler throwing a tantrum in the supermarket, telling it I wasn’t going to put up with its spoiled behavior, or I would put it in the corner and no cookies! Needless to say, my body wasn’t having any of it. I would take care of my body just long enough to vanquish the back pain, and then promptly forget about it until the next episode left me crying in agony on the floor. My relationship with my body was… dysfunctional: neither side truly caring about or listening to the other.
What is your relationship with your body? Where do you live relative to your body? This contemplation gives you a starting point, an honest assessment of where you’re at right now. Do you feel at home in your body? Do you feel a neighborly curiosity towards it? Or does your body feel like a mysterious hanger-on who lurks in the alleyways?
“We’re strangers who are kind of interested in each other, but not really sure where to start. We might kind of like each other, but we’d have to get to know each other first,” is how one of my students explained her relationship with her body. Perhaps you can evoke a familial affection for your body. In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott describes her thighs as her “… beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes at their ankles.”
What do you know about your body? What does it like to do? What does it resist doing? What does it really hate? My body tends to trip over curbs and broken sidewalks. It bruises easily but heals quickly. It loves hula hooping and the feeling of warm sand between the toes. It resists conforming to anyone’s idea of what it should look like. It hates running for exercise, but is happy to run down the beach and headlong into the waves, or to break out into a sprint across the grass just for the sheer delight of it.
To get to know your body, try writing a personal ad for it:
Warm, alive body loves sunshine and hot tubs, picnics, soft clothing, lazy mornings, and chai tea. Seeks mind and heart for salsa dancing, forest hikes, pedicures, and puppy wrestling. LTR, serious only. No pictures, please!
Would your mind and heart answer that ad? Would your mind and heart be ready to fall in love with that body, and meet it on its own terms? Shift whatever needs shifting in order to meet your body for coffee, and see if it turns into the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Next post: Learn your body’s story.