Last Wednesday, after a particularly stressful week, I slept in for the first time in ages. I was tapped out in all ways, and even though I got up early and ate breakfast, I just had to crawl back into bed. I felt guilty about this, and when my housekeeper came, I explained to her that I was so tired, but that I had to get back up to the salt mine (my attic study).
“Oh, Mrs. Sara, no, if you are tired, you must rest. Es tu cuerpo!”
The way she uttered, “Es tu cuerpo,” stopped me in my tracks. It seemed self-evident to her that my body should be treated like the most treasured child. She said “tu cuerpo” with such tenderness and concern. And of course she was right.
I do know she is right. But my default attitude is to treat my body like a balky mule. I should know better. My illness has taught me many things, among them to pace myself and to listen to my body. Ironically, when I begin to have a bit of energy I seem to forget those lessons. I’m all on with doing, not listening. My body is at times my cell, sometimes my ally. It has betrayed me, it seems, or have I betrayed it? What is this “I” anyway, how is it possible to be apart from the body it speaks of? Gregory Djanikian in his poem Mind/Body writes of this tension between mind and body:
How do they survive, riven
as they are, the one undoing
the other’s desire?
Tell the body to outrun
the mind, and the mind smirks,
whispering too loudly
this way this way,
blocking all the exits.
And the body, luxurious
sensualist by pool side or in bed,
doesn’t it hear the mind’s
impatient machinery ticking
it’s time it’s time?
How do you reconcile such differences? It can be exhausting. My mind wants to be to get to the salt mine, and my body wants to luxuriate in bed.
Joyce Sutphen, in her poem, Living in the Body, describes how the body will “pull you down into a sleepy swamp,”
Body is something you need in order to stay
on this planet and you only get one.
And no matter which one you get, it will not
be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful
enough, it will not be fast enough, it will
not keep on for days at a time, but will
pull you down into a sleepy swamp and
demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.
My body does remind me of a child in its insistent demands. And yet when my children were irritable, demanding, out of sorts, I not only fed them, but I gave them attention. It is amazing how a little attention, rocking in the rocking chair, holding them, singing to them, for just a few minutes, would soothe them. So I am wondering if instead of beating my body into submission, I might give it a little attention.
Ash Wednesday is coming up. I grew up with the idea of mortification of the flesh, and struggled all my life to subdue my demanding body. But I am wondering now about maybe taking a different approach. A yoga teacher friend suggested using Lent as a time to befriend our bodies, to be gentle with them. I’m going to try this approach–to feed myself good things, to rest when I’m tired, stretch when I’m cramped. To maybe not only accept this imperfect body, but to love it. To cherish it. Mi cuerpo.