Rabbi Rami explores how a sudden loss of consciousness helped him explore his relationship to the physical body.
I live in my head. I’m not proud of this, but I can’t deny it.
If you ask me how I’m feeling, I have to think about it. If you were to read my Myers-Briggs inventory you would see that I’m an INTJ—introverted, intuitive, thinking, judgment type—with very little sensing or feeling capability. If you were to see my Enneagram chart you would learn that I’m a Five devoted to the pursuit of intellectual order and wisdom. If you knew my dad, he would have told you I was a luftmensch: an airman, not because I was in the United States Air Force (which I was) but because I live in a world of philosophical and spiritual abstractions (which I do).
Of course, I have a body, and I enjoy using it in various ways, but I am mostly oblivious to it. Unless something goes wrong, I don’t give my body much thought. Several weeks ago, however, I stopped thinking altogether.
I was standing in my bathroom about to brush my teeth when my body simply turned off. Like a light bulb, I went from “on” to “off” without warning. When I returned to “on,” I found myself crumpled on the bathroom floor, uncertain who I was, where I was, or how I got there. My wife filled me in on the first two, but neither she nor the dozen or so doctors who put my body through test after test could figure out how I got there.
When I share this story, people often respond with, “Wow, how terrible. That must have been so frightening!” It wasn’t. You need consciousness to feel frightened and I had none. Thinking back on what happened, I experience only curiosity rather than fear. I’m curious as to why it happened and I’m curious as to when it might happen again.
I still live in my head, but I have a better appreciation for my body since this incident. The timing could not be better since one of my first podcast interviews after returning home from a few days in the hospital was with Steven Washington, author of Recovering You: Soul Care and Mindful Movement for Overcoming Addiction.
Steven’s book integrates simple qi gong exercises into his practice of recovery. I’ve been in recovery for food addiction for years and I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning qi gong or yoga as a powerful aid to recovery. This may be because conversation in 12-Step meetings is limited to 12-Step-approved literature (which is why my two books on 12-Step Recovery are never mentioned even by me), but it makes sense, nonetheless. As Steven points out in his book, we carry trauma in our bodies, so why not release that trauma through physical movement?
I have practiced qi gong for many years, but never in the context of recovery. This is because I keep a strong wall of separation between my mind and my body.
Steven Washington’s advice? Tear down that wall. Good advice. I will think about taking it.
Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.