Did you ever see that movie "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen?" It's a fun fantasy romp, one that sticks out in my mind for two iconic scenes: One, the blindly gorgeous Uma Thurman as Venus on the half shell. And two, the ever hilarious Robin Williams as a man divided—his head flying around on a platter, thinking great thoughts and trying very desperately to rise above the manic, sloppy, chubby, flatulent, horny, hairy, and altogether beastly physical mess of his body. "Yes!" I thought, when I first saw that scene. "If only such a thing were possible!"
This had long been my approach to my own body—it was something to be ignored, pushed around, mastered, or outright denied. Something "other," a great stinking animal to which my will, heart, and mind happened to have been fastened (to do a great disservice to the poet Yeats). I never really liked the way it looked or performed—it wasn't graceful, athletic, overly reliable, or aesthetically pleasing. And so, I figured, it was best ignored as much as possible—I'd get on with my intellectual and spiritual pursuits without it, thank you very much.
This approach worked for me for years, until—in my early 30s—my body started to protest. I began having some mysterious widespread muscular pain, which my doctor diagnosed as fibromyalgia. There's not much Western medicine can do for such a problem, so it wasn't long before I found myself seeking out alternative approaches—visiting the offices of massage therapists, acupuncturists, homeopaths, and energy healers of all stripes. Every one of these helped a little, and every one—after taking an extended personal history—offered me the same bit of advice: Make friends with my body. Get to know it bit better. Make a real commitment to the care and feeding of the human animal that is me.
It took a while for this advice to sink in, or really start to even make sense to me—I was THAT disconnected. But I took up a yoga practice, learned to focus on my toes and legs and inner thighs and outer hips—love 'em or hate 'em—and slowly got a little more comfortable in my body. When I did a meditation or breathing practice, I started to understand what people mean when they say that "our body is our temple;" insofar as we can have an experience of our soul in this embodied plane of existence, we must have it through the sense organs that come with the package.
Sure enough, as I woke up to life below the neck, I got more invested in healthy ways of eating, I cared more about exercise and rest. And I started to feel better and better.
When I got pregnant, I experienced a COMPLETE reversal of my former mode of being. Forget about the head, the life of the body was totally fascinating: I was rapt with all the happenings down there. It's like magic what our bodies do when they make a baby—it's the ultimate trick. Go body, go!
But then I gave birth, the baby was out, the delivery was rough, and I was left feeling broken, bloated, flabby, empty, and utterly exhausted. I suppose I should have been filled with gratitude for all my body had done for me and for the newborn Truman, but all I could feel was resentment and shame. And so, without even realizing I was doing it, I cut my body off again. I climbed back into my head—control central—and started shouting out orders from there.
It was Sonya, my babysitter, who recently pointed this out to me. She listens to me all the time, whining about my headaches, making workout plans, tracking my weight gains and losses. The other day, as I talked about my efforts to integrate everything I was learning (or, more to the point, failing to do so), she said to me, "It seems to me that you don't really feel comfortable in your body. Are you?"
I was a little shocked by her question, but I had to admit that, no, I'm not. Not right now. But I know how to get more comfortable—by simply paying attention to what's going on down there, and offering some gratitude for everything that's going right. Which, when I think about it, is an awful lot. I'll start with my feet—the ones that let me walk with toddling Truman every single day—and work my way up from there.
Hillari Dowdle lives, writes, and chases her toddler around in
Knoxville, Tennessee. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.