Have you asked yourself, “What has my body done for me lately?” Perhaps you recall a too-tight waistline, a humiliating stumble, an untimely fart, or a stomach flu that seemed to last forever. For many of us, our bodies seem like an inconvenience, an embarrassment, or our worst enemy. (Hopefully, some of the practices we’ve done so far in the blog have helped shift that perspective.)
Today I’m going to answer the question of what your body has done for you and does for you all the time.
In her eco-spiritual workshops, Joanna Macy shares with her participants a practice called the “Cradling”, in which one partner lays down, and the other partner touches their hands, feet, head, etc., cradling each part of the body in turn. As they hold each part of their partner’s body, Macy reminds them of the beauty and significance of each individual part and the whole (Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, p 124). Adapting Macy’s practice, I’ll take you through this guided meditation on your own. Find a comfortable place to sit, like on a couch or the floor, someplace you can see and even touch various parts of your body.
Place your dominant hand in your less dominant hand, and look at it. (At any point you can change hands to give the other some appreciation as well.) Cradle it, feel its weight. Imagine you’ve never seen this hand before. Flex your fingers, and admire their complex movement.
“The narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,” wrote Walt Whitman.
Your thumb, in particular, is an engineering marvel, an ingenious twist of nature that opened up a world of untapped opportunity to your species. Bend your elbow and turn your wrist. Notice the muscle tone and bone structure, how it all fits together so perfectly. Your human hand is unique in the universe, with its structure and intelligence, its fluidity and strength. After millions, billions of years of evolution, through the tiny flagellae of the protozoa, the fins of ancient fish, the webbed foot of a primal amphibian, the furry paws of our long-ago ancestors, your hand is the result---capable of painting a delicate bird on the inside of a glass ball, performing surgery on the miniscule bones of the ear, lifting a heavy box of books, stirring a pot of nourishing soup, offering the gentlest soothing touch to a loved one. From the first parting of your fingers in your mothers womb to this moment, your hand has grown and learned so much: how to lift soup from a spoon into your mouth, how to pick up a thin coin, flick a marble, hold a pencil, to wash a fragile glass, build a wall, and prune a rosebush.
Through this hand, these hands, you have come to know so much about the world and about yourself. Offer your hands a blessing, a thank you.
Gently release your hands and sit so that you can touch your legs and feet. Look at one of your feet, even hold at in your lap, if possible, cradling it. (Feel free to change feet at any time.) Admire its shape, the line of its bones and muscles. Your foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons.
The 52 bones in your feet make up nearly 25 percent of all the bones in your body.
Wow. And you stand on this foot all the time, barely even having to think about it. This foot effortlessly balances your weight, helps to hold you upright, and propels you forward, supporting you literally every step you’ve ever taken---from your first steps as a child, your first bicycle ride, climbing, running, hiking. You’ve already been on a lifetime of adventures with your feet, your legs, and more miles yet to explore. Offer this foot, these feet and legs, a blessing of strength and healing.
Lie back and place one hand to your belly and one hand on your heart. Perhaps you can even feel your heart beat or the tiny rumblings of digestion in your belly. Your belly contains superficial and deep muscles that allow you to stand upright, and provide a container to protect the crucial organs within your abdomen. Your belly is the home of your digestion, gleaning nutrients to support your life, and effectively releasing whatever isn’t necessary. The skin on your belly can be particularly sensitive, and sensuous, responding to a tickle, or a lover’s touch.
Your belly can fill with deep laughter or can lurch with instinct, letting you know in an instant that something isn’t right.
If you’re a woman, your belly might have once housed a growing baby, taking care of all of its needs and releasing it into the world when it was ready. Offer a sense of gratitude to your belly.
Feel your heart beating. Without any thought or effort on your part, your heart beats constantly, throughout the day, even while you’re asleep, efficiently drawing oxygen into the bloodstream from the lungs and distributing it throughout the body, even to the spaces of skin in between your toes.
This heart, just like every our human heart on the planet, resilient yet vulnerable, strong yet fragile. Whisper a thank you to your generous heart.
Place your hands on your head, perhaps one behind your head, and one over the forehead or chin. In the words of Joanna Macy, “Cradle it with reverence, for what you now hold in your two hands is the most intricate, complex object in the known universe… a human head of Planet Earth… a hundred billion neurons firing in there… vast potential for intelligence… only a portion has been tapped of that capacity to see, to know, to envision.” (p. 125.) Your skull has survived birth, has grown to learn about its world, experienced pleasure and pain, disappointment and delight. Your head is very much the same as every other human head… from an ancient shepherdess in the hills of prehistory, to the Queen of England, from Tolstoy to Mandela. And yet your head is totally unique, totally you. Offer a sense of gratitude towards your head and all it contains and has experienced.
Your dreams and hopes and longing are explored and fulfilled in this body, and no where else.
This body has supported you to the best of its ability through every moment of your life, however difficult or enjoyable. Your body makes everything possible; song, music, intimacy, thought, friendship, laughter. Your body offers its support generously, unconditionally, throughout the whole of your life. Offer your body a blessing of peace, well-being, and wholeness. Let a sense of gratitude towards it overflow into the whole of your spirit.
Adapt this practice to resonate with your own ability or disability, your own talents, skills, and longings. Make it personal and meaningful to you.
Repeat it whenever you notice yourself feeling irritable about your body, to reconnect to your body’s wholeness and beauty.
Next post: Be a good magnifying glass to your body.