I was recently unwell in a way where a concoction of things, chronic and acute, had me in bed for a few days. Eight punishing issues were cropping up at once. I tried not to add value judgments, which helped reduce mental chatter and made it easier for me to go with the flow. I alternated work-in-bed, Netflix-in-bed, reading and rest based on what my body could handle. By the second day, the observer in me starting seeing each issue as a thread of human experience: gastric distress, back spasms, inflamed adductor, twisted pelvis and grief just to name a few. I thought of people who had dealt with these threads at one point or another. I examined the threads that were new to me.
For example: When people had back problems, I understood theoretically but not until this experience did I really “get it”. I felt from inside how completely debilitating a back spasm could be. How all bodily movements, not some, are silently supported by our core. I knew that our core includes our back and not just the abdomen, and that true abdominal strength comes from deeper muscles and not just the surface-level 6-pack muscle. Yet, not until this event did I patiently isolate and feel the firing of different layers of core muscles. I finally played with the exquisitely designed jigsaw puzzle made of bones, muscles and tendons from inside my animal.
There is sometimes a struggle in spiritual practice about whether it’s more important for us to nurture the spirit or the body. The body is seen as temporary while the spirit more lasting. And I absolutely get this wisdom; I’ve personally benefitted from feeding my spiritual wellbeing in dark moments. But…we are clothed in this earthly bodysuit till our dying breath. If we don’t have a body, we are literally not alive. Like all animals, we have sophisticated abilities for functional activity, growth, reproduction, and continual change before eventual death, and we also face periodic glitches. I have come to see that this glitch-ridden experience inside our frequently painful bodysuit is how we unlock our spiritual practices. Body is where the nuggets of insight, wisdom and empathy live.
We can’t each go through the countless human experiences to be had. But we can go through some. Some of us will face cancers, heart attacks, severe burns, while others will face chronic migraines, irritable bowels and weak bones. Some will have the ache of untimely loss, addiction, and postpartum depression, while others will have to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s or a schizophrenic sibling. Between all of us, we cover the entirety of human experience.
Modern tech would have you believe that intelligent life can operate without a body, while simply simulating the predictive capacity of the brain. What we completely miss is that true intelligence isn’t just prediction, it’s also compassion and resilience birthed from painful surprises. This is the valuable journey that a human body allows. Over time, we can become instruments of all that is tender and powerful at the same time. Like a tree that filters environmental toxins and releases oxygen.
“It is not our job to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves
Like the trees, and be born again,
Drawing up from the great roots.”― Robert Bly, poet