26 February 2010

Lesson #1: I have a body.

At first, this is not a startling revelation.  Go back in time with me.  Further.  Further.  A little more.  Ok, you're a baby.

Have you ever watched a baby?  Regardless of how you feel about them, they're amazing.  Everything is new.  There's a sense of wonder at that.  You can sit and watch a child flail around, with little sense that the hand waving in front of his face is actually attached to his arm, is something that's a part of him, under control.  We learn, through habit, new connections in the brain, etc, that we in fact have a body, that it's (mostly) under our control, that it's ours.  It is, in fact, the only thing that is truly ours, for the entirety of our lives.

Fast forward to now.  Look at your hands.  Make a face.  Wiggle your toes.  This is your body, and it's amazing.  It's complicated.  This moment of self examination should just further prove the first point.  You have a body.  Knowing that you have a body, however, is only part of this lesson.  The other part is learning to live with it.  There are people who struggle with this their entire lives.

There are also philosophies, old beliefs thought out by people that are smarter and more spiritual than I, that the body doesn't matter.  It will pass.  They might be right.  I'm not really interested in addressing that, nor am I educated enough to evaluate them intelligently, so this mention is about all they get.

I read a wonderful thing the other day, in a book by Anne Lamott, Grace (eventually).  She quotes a priest-friend of hers as saying that while we have a body, we are our souls.  Her reason for citing this is different than mine is, here, but I think this is a great quote.  What it says to me is that what makes us special, what makes us "us", is that spark, that chaos between our ears and in our hearts that is our mind, motivation, the full range of our feelings and experiences.  Who we are lies on the inside, not in the mirror, or what other people see.  For me, accepting this meant I worried less about conventional beauty, what I 'should' look like.  Even if I were to conform to conventional standards, I could never stay there.  I age.  I may get injured.  I may encounter disease, or hardship, or both.  My body now is not the same as it was at 17, and it will be different at 37, 57, and 87. I am not defined by what I look like, but by who I am (and what I do - spoiler alert! This is a future lesson).

Over the last few years, I've discovered that I'm living in the body that I am supposed to have.  So what does this mean?  I'm not as fit as I have been.  I was in way better shape in high school.  I'm not as young as I was.  I should probably start wearing some makeup, I should moisturize, whatever.  Sometimes it will feel like my body will betray me -- that blemish the morning of a first date, a jiggle here, an ache there.  There are things that my body will not be able to do.  But for the first time, I really feel comfortable in my skin.

Sometimes, when I haven't been in the pool for a while, I have to take a moment to readjust.  I've been a swimmer for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of jumping into the water.  But when I haven't been swimming, getting back in feels awkward.  I remember what the stroke should feel like, but it's off, it's just not happening.  I have to take a time out.  I stand at the end of the lane, I stretch my arms out, and I float.  I float face down, and then face up.  I practice pushing my head and chest down, and then my hips.  I kick, I turn, I move my hands.  I take my time, and feel the water, learn the cause-effect of movement, the way I need to balance to feel comfortable.

Then I swim.  And it starts to feel better.

I need those moments, where I regain my center, and get comfortable.  There are enough challenges in life that I can't go through also fighting with myself.  So when I start to freak out, or feel self-conscious, or wish I was something different, I just stand at the end of the lane, float on my stomach for a while, and find my balance again.

Accepting my body, being comfortable in it, also means accepting obligations.  Your body is like your family, in it for the long haul (more on that later): you can stuff it with junk, lay on the couch, sit around, or abuse it in countless ways, and it'll be there.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, you can harm your body with too much of a good thing.  There have been periods of my life where I have pushed my body as far as I could, through exercise, caffeine, lack of sleep, just to see what I could do.  I felt like a NASCAR driver, pushing for one more lap, even though I knew the tires were going... but I was going to make it work, because I was in charge.  Either way chances are, you're not going to be comfortable.  So what are these obligations?  They include:
  • Giving your body what it needs to thrive -- good food/enough food, proper sleep, and exercise.
  • Not knowingly placing yourself at risk for physical harm -- don't put yourself in danger
  • Paying attention to your body's needs -- feel ill?  don't walk it off, get it checked out.  Note: this is not the same as automatically medicating.
  • Accepting your body as it changes -- aging, illness, many of these things are beyond our control. Adjust.
  • Appreciate other bodies like you appreciate you're own -- mind out of the gutter, people.  This is just one incarnation of the golden rule. Celebrate the uniqueness and specialness of others, just as you yourself are unique and special.
  • Never ask your body to do more than it can handle -- you'll know, when you do.
  • Never let your body go idle -- challenge it with new experiences, push your comfort zone.
That's what I've got.

How do you feel in your body?  Have you always felt that way?  If you've faced challenges, how have you moved on?  What obligations do you feel toward your body?

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