When I think about being human, the fragile, precious, and mysterious journey we each take from birth to death, I think about the body.
When I think about being human, the fragile, precious, and mysterious journey we each take from birth to death, I think about the body. The body is the place where all of this happens. We know that when we are young. As babies, we reach out to touch our own feet or stare at the face of a parent, and we know how to take it all in. We learn to walk, and then to run, realizing our bodies can take us somewhere fast—and create an instant game of chase with someone who loves us. We learn to use one part of our body to care for another part of our body: A hand holds a toothbrush to clean our mouths, wields a hairbrush to arrange the hair on our head, or rubs soap into our skin under running water. We learn our bodies can shape the world around us as we jump in puddles and feel we are all-powerful. The delight of it all moves up and out through our lips as we giggle and laugh, telling the world around us through waves of sound that our body knows joy. All of that happens through the mystery of being a body.
Yet so many of us have forgotten about this mystery. For some of us, that forgetting is intentional and swift. We notice things that feel distracting, overwhelming, or inconvenient, and we want them to stop; or someone else tells us that the knowing knot of fear in the pit of our stomach is wrong and we need to make it go away. For others, the forgetting happens slowly over time. It accumulates in receiving disapproving looks from others, sitting still in long work or school meetings, being told to put “mind over matter,” or pushing the novelty and mystery of physical sensation into the furthest corners of our awareness. Or we have a defining experience where the bottom drops out and the voices in our head make pronouncements: Your body is bad, or your body made this happen, or you cannot trust yourself. So we make silent vows to lock away the dangerous parts of us and label them “not me.”
No matter how or why we get there, no matter how well it may have served us, forgetting the body also costs us something—individually and collectively. We lose the fundamental building blocks of human thriving, connection to ourselves and others, and the fullness of pleasure, wisdom, empathy, and justice. Connection to our bodily selves allows us to internalize a sense of safety and connection that tells us who we are, what we long for, and how to be most fully alive. If each one of us is a body, then the body is the constant invitation to see ourselves as connected to each other. The person you come to see as your hero or your enemy took a breath right now, just as you did. Regardless of our circumstances or what we have been told about bodies, remembering and reuniting with our bodily selves is a radical act to undo our need to earn our worth, helping us wake up to the fact that there is something sacred right here, in this moment, always present and always available. That connection to our bodily selves is available to us in every moment.
We have always been embodied, but sometimes we need a gentle invitation to remember that. We need to encounter our physicality and to know that this breath, these hands, these lungs and eyes, and cerebrospinal fluid, this body is good. Consider my upcoming book, The Wisdom of Your Body, your invitation.