I and my body are two

June 8, 2011


I wonder whether it might be helpful, at the start of a month about bodies, for all of us to get more conscious about the ways we relate to our bodies.

Specifically, I have a hunch that even though many of us identify ourselves so closely with our bodies that we equate our whole selves with them (“I and my body are one“), we simultaneously treat our bodies as though they are separate beings from us, and therefore legitimate sources of indignation when they do things or are things we wish they wouldn’t do or be (“I and my body are partners, and I feel incensed / disappointed / betrayed when my body does not behave or respect or reflect well on me.“).

Here’s why I think this kind of awareness matters:

If we equate ourselves with our physical bodies completely, it becomes difficult to gain enough distance from our egos to observe their work or evaluate their opinions of us with any level of objectivity.

Our egos work tirelessly to assign us a coherent sense of self and to make meaning of the data available to them. When that data conflicts, as often happens when our bodies look or act or feel one way and other aspects of our beings look or act or feel another, they work to flatten out those differences and label that smash one thing: “ugly”, “tarnished”, “defective human being”. They (our egos) can’t hold well the mysterious complexities of all of our parts: the strong and the weak, the healthy and the ailing, the supple and the curmudgeonly, the parts of us that trust, and the parts that fear we aren’t enough or can’t be loved or are disqualified from strength or beauty because of some aspect or wounding of our physical selves.

Our egos, for example, cannot readily compute that excess weight does not demonstrate the mental or emotional or spiritual fitness you might have, or that hair loss or sagging parts do nothing to reflect the many layers of your beauty or tenacity. And contrary to what your ego may say, your diseases or disorders or disabilities are not the total of your strength, nor a depiction of all layers of your choices or character.

Your body and you, so far as I can see, are not completely one, and the sooner any of us can recognize this, the sooner we can see the gap between our physical frailties, wounds, and critical self-talk (aka ego-talk) on the one hand, and our deeper, higher, wiser selves on the other, who are often not represented by our bodies or egos well, and who have the capacity for fierce self-love, healing self-compassion, and gentle arms of welcome for all the parts of us who long to feel (and be!) at home.

I make no claim to understand the mysterious connection between our bodies and our spirits/souls/consciousness/highest selves (what in the world do I call our non-body self??), but I have a strong hunch about this: consciously disentangling our sense of self from being defined by our bodies alone is an enormous stride toward trusting that our bodies are okay (my shame and frustration are far less triggered by a body I’m not equating my whole self with), and is a window flung wide open to the healing breezes of the parts of us that, unlike our egos, can hold and honor our complexities, and see without judgment our shadows and our light.

And what’s more…

When we recognize that we (our spirit/soul/consciousness/higher self) and our bodies aren’t one, but are two, in intimate partnership, we can begin to consciously nourish the kind of partnership we actually want between these parts.

Partners can’t always read one another’s minds. They have differing strengths and weaknesses to honor and work with and around. They unintentionally and sometimes willfully hurt one another and need, for the sake of the health of the relationship, to make amends. Forgiveness and patience are often required. And the hard and freeing work of making peace with the aspects of our partners that we don’t like and don’t have any hope we ever will.

Unlike most partnerships, though, we don’t have a choice about whether we’re in this one. We’ll be in it ’til we die. So here’s what I’m thinking tonight: why not do what we can to make this partnership thrive? Why not move away, as we’re able, from total enmeshment with our bodies (“I and my body are one”), and all the shame and frustration such enmeshment can cause, and begin right where we are today to take ownership of at least one side of the partnership that dwells within ourselves?

I want to think and talk more concretely about what this might mean. But for now I’ll say this: I have a hunch that both moves – the disentanglement and the taking ownership in this inner partnership – might be two of the biggest moves I personally make in my life as a bodied creature seeking to trust that my body is good and a worthy, hospitable home for the rest of me.

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Bodies (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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7 comments   |   Filed in: Meditations   |   Tags: ,   |  

7 Comments »

  1. Hi Kristin-
    Thanks for this deep look at our body/spirit connection. I had a discussion with my spiritual teacher about this exact subject a few months ago. She is an energy healer and is challenged by clients like myself who cannot experience physical healing from genetic or other illness and is trying to figure out a way to move them out of their bodies to connect more with their spiritual core. For those of us who have illness, I think we tend to connect with our bodies even more, because of the constant pain, limitations or disfigurement we are constantly faced with.

    My body is riddled with autoimmune diseases, my physical health is significantly declining, and I am only 38. I’ve struggled with this stuff my entire life. I went on a real journey a few years ago to disengage with my body and re-engage with it on different terms. It’s not an easy task. I can get resentful when my body clearly can’t keep up with mind and my dreams. Just when I think I’ve fully accepted it, I get a new diagnosis or hit a new low. But, there is purpose in all of this, somewhere, and I’ve been doing my best to be grateful during my physical decline. I am not my body, but it sure does make a lot of decisions for me (via tremendous physical limitations). As you say, forgiveness and patience are often required. I say, they are absolutely essential.

    You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body. —C.S. Lewis

    Comment by Susan — June 9, 2011 @ 8:32 am
  2. Susan, your thoughts here move me so much. There is a palpable peace in them, right in the midst of your statements about the difficulty and frustration of the path you’re on. I’m guessing that has been really hard won.

    I think you raise a really important point, too, about this partnership being totally imbalanced for some of us, on certain levels, and not by any choice of our own. Have you read anything of Paul Martin’s? He writes a blog called Original Faith and has a book by that name. He is hugely incapacitated by a progressive disease and writes with astonishing wisdom and honesty and authentic joy about how he’s learned to find peace. I feel like his story, and yours too, have wisdom for all of us, no matter our level of physical pain/disability.

    Thanks so much for being here, and sharing your thoughts.

    (and that is such a great Lewis quote!)

    Comment by Kristin — June 9, 2011 @ 9:33 am
  3. I have this other thought that keeps going through my mind this morning. I had about a decade in my early adulthood where I was a materialist – talk about souls and spirits made me squeemish and frustrated (more on that in a month devoted to spirituality!).

    But I’m wondering whether this idea of “us” and our bodies being two things could still apply and be a helpful metaphor for materialists. There’s no question we have something we call consciousness, and that there are moments when we have more and less clarity and insight into the truth of things. Maybe *that* – the parts of us that are more conscious than others – could be what materialist readers here use as the definition of “soul” or “spirit” in this conversation.

    Comment by Kristin — June 9, 2011 @ 9:39 am
  4. Here I have been trying to integrate my body/ego consciousness with my higher self! How much more sense it makes to think of them as separate, but partners working together. I will have to give this further thought.

    Comment by Camilla — June 16, 2011 @ 1:33 am
  5. Camilla, I think I’ve long had the assumption that integrating the two is the real point when it comes to wholeness or enlightenment. But the more I think about it and live, the more this kind of partnership makes more sense. Everything in me relaxes when I step back from trying to make my whole self one thing.

    Comment by Kristin — June 16, 2011 @ 9:13 pm
  6. Camilla and Kristin, I have to agree with your notion of the partnership of the two. For a very long time, I’ve been thinking of the two as separate and varyingly unequal — a very antagonistic and unhealthy two. Once I recognized that, I tried to force a “oneness” but just can’t seem to make it happen. But a ~partnership~, something respectful, mutual, involving elements similar to marriage–forgiveness, patience, etc.! Feels like a lightbulb moment. :) Thank you for this post.

    Comment by JC — June 29, 2011 @ 8:51 am
  7. JC, this was a lightbulb for me, too! Something about partnership feels so much more DOABLE than merging the two into one. Not to mention more true to how I experience them. Glad for your company in this!

    Comment by Kristin — June 29, 2011 @ 9:02 am

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