My Body is a Cage

“My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love, but my mind holds the key.” – The Arcade Fire

Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize the emotional and spiritual effect our bodies can have on our well-being, or vice versa. My own body has caused me a lot of pain over the years, from it’s appearance to it’s deficiencies, but recently, it has become increasingly hard for me to ignore the insidious affect that near-constant pain from my herniated discs has had on my mood and general well-being.

Initially, I thought these were separate issues. I thought that my boredom and apathy toward my responsibilities were either the result of depression, a free spirit, or the “standard” millennial’s inability to cope with the real world, but that line of thinking ignores completely the multiple layers that make up who I am and focuses instead on one singular component of me. I’m realizing that this is often the case when it comes to western medicine–we treat the acute symptoms and not the whole person.

I read something recently that really stuck with me in the way that I think all our beliefs do–you stumble across them and they just feel right. Unfortunately, I have no citations, just a knowledge in my gut that says “yeah, this makes sense,” so I will do my best not to butcher it completely. I think it was perhaps a Buddhist teaching, but ultimately it says that we are each comprised of three dimensions–the physical, the energetic (or emotional), and the spiritual. Existing a little bit in all three at all times, we are able to develop more within one or the other (or all three, I suppose) with practice. I think it’s easy for us to get distracted and exist solely in the energetic — our minds — and completely disregard the other two as an afterthought. Maybe we care for our spirits once or twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays, perhaps?), and maybe we feed (and overfeed) our bodies daily with the occasional 30 minutes of exercise, but we apply our minds and our skills to provide our livelihoods. We identify our person-hood by our thoughts and our emotions–treating the rest of us as an extra component of existence. But what if we started looking at it a different way?

Posizione del Loto e chakra colorati

If I am 3 dimensions to a single being, then in order to heal, I must look deeply into all three parts of myself. If a pain in my body can affect me emotionally, can it not to some degree work the other way around? I saw a video last week where a man was talking about how Navy Seal’s have a “40% Rule.” Effectively, his argument is that when the mind says “you’re done!” then you’ve really only reached about 40%, and that mentality allows you to push through the stages where you want to quit, allowing you to go even further than you ever imagined. This is a perfect example of leaning on yourself when one dimension of yourself is weak–you can lean on your physical body when your emotional/energetic/mental self is too exhausted to support itself, like when coping with a stressful day. And people do this all the time when they rely on their spirituality to carry them through tough times.

I’m just now realizing that maybe this is one of those tough times for me. In the way that I guess any trauma can be forgotten and then spontaneously remembered, the trauma to my back sneaks up on me and reminds me that I’m not able to do things that I once enjoyed. Hopefully not forever, but at least for the time being.

And last week, I was looking at the sky while doing walking overhead carries and got overwhelmed with sadness. It was a beautiful sunset, vast and expansive, with the underbellies of the clouds darkened in shadow while bursts of pink and orange and purple streaked the spaces in-between, highlighting the tops with a bright and vibrant white. And, amidst it all, were the black smudges that haunt my sight and remind me daily that I may, indeed, go blind one day. That’s right; the gorgeous sunset made me sad. And my achy back made me sad. And I went home and wallowed.

(No one’s perfect, right? And sometimes, even rainbows and sunshine aren’t all rainbows and sunshine).

But even as I wallowed (and drank wine in the bathtub),  was forced to remind myself of how lucky I am. To remember that most people are not afforded the opportunity to prepare for eventual blindness–most people do not have the chance to bask in the sun or take note of the details on the trees or watch the birds with the bittersweet knowledge that one day, they might not see them again. Most people are either born blind or lose their sight suddenly, and I have been so, so blessed to have the chance to enjoy the beautiful world around me, knowing that there’s still a 30% chance (in each eye!) that I will continue to see all the days of my life. And as much as I whine about the pain in my back, I’m reminded that at the very least, I can still walk and dance and drink clean water and take baths and drink wine and not worry about whether or not there will be food for dinner.

And this line of thinking made me feel resilient. This made me feel like pulling myself up by the bootstraps and toughing it out. This made me feel happy and grateful for the things I do have.

But even more than that, this line of thinking showed me that it’s possible to look within myself to find the support I need. To remember that, as my physical self has carried me emotionally and spiritually over the years, that so too can my spirit and my mind carry me at this time of physical turbulence.

That, even if my body is currently a “cage,” ultimately my mind (and spirit) may hold the key.

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