Bodies

Bodies.

We have such trouble finding any peace in them, even though they are our only real homes while on this earth.

Mine has been giving me troubles for a few years now, long enough that I have discovered a distance between self and body that I didn’t really understand could exist, previously.

When you discover that your body is a “thing” itself, and is not actually your own Self, the next discovery is a temptation to change it. I don’t like this; this is not actually me; how can this be changed? And if you are distanced enough from yourself, you don’t think about changing yourself; you think about how you can change the organism that you are riding around it.

The benefit of being this detached in this way is that it allows for a small amount of objectivity rather than emotional fervor. Why do we have bodies, anyhow? What are they for? Why do we care what they are like? What’s the point? What do we even know about bodies, and how do we decide what is valuable about them?

I’m not normally a list-y kind of person, but I am finding sometimes it is useful to strip down to the bare essentials, no puns intended.

  1. God made these bodies, and He put us in them. I think this packs a whole lot that needs unpacking to really fully understand it, and could be picked apart for quite some time. Maybe a whole book.
  2. He did a bang-up job. We still don’t understand half the mysteries of the human body. What we do know is incredibly complex, highly attuned, and strikingly resilient. We take these features for granted almost every minute of every day.
  3. When we find ourselves lacking, we look for things to blame. I didn’t say this was a mature, healthy or godly practice. I just pointed out that we do, and it takes great awareness and concentration to turn from it. If there’s no one to blame but ourselves, often our bodies are the things getting the blame. Even if the thing we are resenting is lack of omnipotence, still, it’s our body’s fault for being limited and mortal. This makes me squirmy, because of how often I do this.
  4. God sees the inside. Human beings definitely see the outside. Often, the changes we want or the things we value have to do either with what we perceive, or (not to be too meta) what we perceive others will perceive. There’s a reason we talk about things like dressing for power, attraction or even “dressing to kill.” And this dressing extends even to our bodies. When the bodies are in disrepair, we feel closer to worthless. When our bodies are highly functioning, we feel the glory. We both perceive ourselves differently, and perceive that others relate to us differently as well.
  5. We don’t want to take responsibility for our bodies. When we say, “the body God gave me,” it’s usually a phrase of giving up or excusing. We tend to feel like our bodies owe us something instead of us being responsible to care for our bodies. The caregiving of our bodies is work, but we want our bodies to work for us, not the other way around. But, if you circle back to Thing Number One, God made these bodies and put us in them. That doesn’t belay encouragement for letting the temple crumble and paying no mind to the landscaping.
  6. Our bodies are formed by the lives we live. You don’t get a 20 year old’s body when you are 80 for a reason. Our bodies are shaped not only by physical injuries, but also by the griefs, joys, labors, priorities and the people in our lives. You can’t divorce your body from your life, and trying to causes a lot of strange things. Like fad diets trying to undo the damage high stress, mish-mashed priorities, and binge eating to put a little salve on grief. The life and the body go together (see again Point One), and what happens with one affects the other.
  7. Damage is fast. Healing takes so much time, and an incredible amount of energy. When we finally concede to admit our body is broken, we want it fixed Now. We have little patience for healing. There is so much beautiful grace in how our bodies were made to heal (see: List Item Two), but we don’t want to accept either how long it takes (current estimations are at least 3 times as long as you were dysfunctional) or how excessively much energy it takes. Instead of marveling at the grace, we often stew in potent (impotent?) impatience. Though our bodies are blessed with grace, we don’t accept it, because it’s not in the form we wanted it in. Narrow-minded, much?
  8. You don’t get to chose. Despite what a lot of catch-phrases would have you to believe, you don’t get to chose. Only God does. Once you see enough freak accidents, enough un-diagnosable illnesses, enough obscure genetic malformations — gradually you have to come to terms with the fact that you don’t get to chose all that happens to your body. The body (see again: There’s a Reason I Put It on the Top of the List) is a sacrifice to God. Not to you.
  9. It will pass. Although God did put us in these bodies, the bodies were cursed and this isn’t a permanent state. It will take constant care to keep the bodies from composting, and regardless of effort: it will eventually pass. Often times people will say that they’re not afraid of dying, but what they really mean is that they aren’t afraid of death. The process of the body failing, falling apart, and kicking you out can be quite excruciating. When people say that they don’t like being old, what they really mean is they don’t like their body failing. As with all of our existence here, there is the tension of holding loosely. Yes, taking care of it, owning it, living in it . . . but also being aware that that you will need to give it up. No amount of effort will keep you young or immortal.
  10. There is no winning. I feel as though this is mostly a re-cap of all the previous statements, so I suppose it is good as an end-cap: There are some deep seated inclinations that if we work hard enough at trying to fix the organism, we win. We feel better, we have more power, we’re in control, we met our goals, we’ll be able to keep it that way, we’ll be able to do what we want, our bodies will behave, we can stop trying so much. Not only is none of that true, none of that is the point. When our thinking is sliding toward winning, we’ve lost sight of the First Thing on the List. What is the point of having a body? Circle back to Thing One, and realize how much thinking you have to do on that first point alone.

 

Last night it was a full moon; as far as my minimal poking around can tell, it was the Moon of Get Ready, Winter is Coming, by various names. In the winter, after the holidays, with the the new year . . . many of us are thinking about our bodies, how well they are functioning or not functioning, what they are looking like or not looking like. I think it’s good to go into that with perspective — not dour depression and hopelessness and not saccharine platitudes and unrealistic expectations; rather, a complete reframing of the matter at hand.

Why?

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Defined by whom for what?

Enneagram.

So popular, so famous, so trendy, and, so far, the most complex and therefore accurate personality test I’ve stumbled over.

For me, the use of these are very limited and often result in little more than ego stroking or justification of one’s reactions to unpleasant stimuli. Somehow, I can’t resist taking them, always wondering how people see me, I guess, a preoccupation I’ve had for too long and still can’t let go of. Yet I rarely remember the results, because it doesn’t challenge my understanding of myself or how I should approach my life. Accordingly, I can’t really tell you if I consistently get the same results, even if I’ve taken the same test many times throughout the years.

Today I stumbled on my Enneagram results, because although of all the Types, Type 4 did not seem too off base, I resented what was described as their fundamental struggle — their basic fear or basic desire: That they have no identity. Worse than that, they basically said that the fact that Fours are swamped in too many shifting emotions is the root of what leads them to feel as though they have no stable identity.

I don’t want this to be true of me. But I think that it does ring true. This means that I have to grapple with it, the first time I think a personality test has actually done that for me.

I’ve long wondered whether  I was just a product of my environment, or if I were actually a stable entity of my own. I wish I felt like I had my own defined sense of style, my own home environment. In “real life” I am too busy keeping my head above the water, and those things don’t come together, but I always want them to. I have wanted to have a well defined role, except that I hate being defined as one thing, and I am much more complex than that. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is that it seems like there is no direction to my life, no arcing story line, no actual cohesion. In fiction, everything is so much more neat, or so it seems to me, since I don’t understand the context in which the Author is writing.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s healthy to spend your life looking for “an identity.” That’ s not what I think life is “supposed” to be about. Don’t judge yourself, they say. Accept yourself as you really are. The problem is, when all you see is fractured tiny pieces of nonsense, and no idea how any of the pieces go together, well, nothing is big enough to hold on to long enough to accept. That’s how it feels, anyhow.

Do I think that getting good at something would give me peace? No. Or a relationship, or a home, or defined sense of style? No, of course not. But do I envy the people who seem to have a strong arc, a strong sense of who they are, what they want, and the path that they are on? Yeah, I do. Well, would you like a different set of life problems? As we say in health care, would you like to die of cancer, dementia, or frailty and falls? No one ever said it was going to be pretty.

And I can’t escape the dogging feeling of needing permission to do what I need to do. What I most want permission for is permission to be weak. To stop trying to force myself to be responsible, dutiful, reasonable and hard working. To stop trying to go along with society’s expectations. And yet one of the things I most resent is when it seems like my identity is slipping into that of Invalid.

So what do I do? I read the blog of Christian woman with bi-polar disease, and I marvel at how much of it seems to apply to me. Not the symptom descriptions; the coping with life descriptions. The “actually, I can’t work full time, I am an artist, and it’s ok to go to bed early.”

It’s hard for me to say, “I can’t help you today, I don’t feel well.” But I don’t feel well. But couldmake myself do it? I mean, I could. I’m not dead yet. I have several people in my life who view not “making yourself” as laziness, as lack of commitment, as being weak, of having no discipline, not sticking to things.  So I want someone to say, you don’t look like you feel well. Because apparently I want someone to validate how I feel or otherwise it’s not the truth? But otherwise I’m fighting this guilt that I’m giving up too easily, have no will power or perseverance, no grit. This was not how the war was won.

I guess I am trying to shift my mindset to what I have experienced to be true, but it takes energy to fight all the voices (people, society, habits, previously held stances) that scorn that mindset. It’s hard to leave things behind.

But if my life is a novel. . .I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not the Heroine. Or that I have to learn how to write a different kind of Heroine. Because I’m not strong. I’m tired. I’m not the center of the story; I want to hide and to heal. I don’t make the world go round; I struggle to get through each normal boring day. I’m not leading anyone anywhere doing anything, although sometimes I remember to put tremendous effort into small actions to Not Be Part of the Problem.

“Not Quitting” is offered up as the gold standard; but maybe yeah, do quit? Not life. But maybe what life is described as. Where do we get this stuff from, and why do we believe it? I understand why some people want to take the path of minimalism and strip everything right down and see what still holds. So much garbage and so hard to see what is real hard truth buried in it all. We’re all dying, in that none of us live forever, but that’s not as clarifying as one would think it would be. Maybe, for some of us, quitting certain things takes more courage and bravery than Keep Going.

If none of this makes much sense to you, that’s ok. It’s the muddled meanderings of someone feeling feverish and sick, but not so feverish and sick that she can’t make herself go to work tomorrow. Not all introspection is either healthy or conclusive.