Our bodies cannot be ignored; they are with us all the time, although we tend to take them for granted when they are not causing us trouble. Our physical and mental states can reinforce each other, for good or ill. This is a relationship we can reflect on.
We are all subject to an endless variety of aches and pains: colds & congestion, fever, nausea, bone and muscle pain. Do we recognize these as opportunities, from which we can learn patience and compassion or new ways to deepen our awareness?
Matthew Sanford became a paraplegic in a devastating car crash at age 14. Surprisingly, he is now an accomplished yoga teacher and inspirational speaker (http://www.matthewsanford.com).
In an interview with Krista Tippett (from her book Becoming Wise) we learn that Sanford disagrees with the statement “My body has failed me.” He says that our bodies, as long as they possibly can, will be faithful to living. That’s what they do — they re-group to recover. Our bodies are working as hard as they can to keep life going. Knowing this, we can view our bodies with compassion or gratitude rather than impatience or resentment.
Our bodies can be the cause of tremendous fear and also joy. Because something very deep in us believes that our bodies are the most essential part of us, whenever the body seems threatened or to be breaking down, we may feel we’re under attack. Similarly, pleasant physical sensations can make us forget everything else. It’s so hard for us to keep perspective! If we attend to our bodies with mindfulness, we will notice its changing nature. We might remember that we’ve survived physical challenges, pains, etc. and even anticipate that we might be confronted with other challenges in the future. If we live long enough, we will have to witness the decay of our bodies – the diminishment of our senses, the encroachment of chronic illnesses, the changing of bodily functions. Can we appreciate that our physical bodies are doing the best they can, this whole time?
This is a reflection without an endpoint. Mindfulness of the body is a home port we can return to again and again; we can know it more and more deeply. When we really know our bodies, through direct experience, mindfully, continuously, we come to know the whole world as it is.