As a trained dancer I have always identified as a physical being. My value and worth have in part been built on my ability to attack physical tasks. I view myself as one in decent shape comparatively to others in my age group, and have pride in the ability to continue to move on a daily basis. I recognize that I am not the same twenty year old young women that danced ten hours a day and then went out with friends. The body begins to betray as it will in this stage of life and the discomfort of this demands attention.
The problem with this is that we all inevitably lose much of our physical strength and vitality. It is impossible to avoid. I hear a relentless barrage of advertising about staying “young”, “energetic” and “vital”. Is that really all that has importance in today’s world? When I was interviewing for permanent faculty posts in my field, I was often asked the question, “Do you have the energy and enthusiasm for this position?” I felt this was a blatant display of both age discrimination and a lack of emotional intelligence. Yes, I might be a bit older than my younger cohorts, but the hope is that I am a bit wiser as well. Life experiences have allowed for a maturity that is of value in the workplace. In addition, what about all of the important spiritual work that needs to be done? If we are only focusing on the outside, who is minding the shop on the inside?
“The human body is the best work of art.”
Jess C. Scott
My illness also brought along with it more reflection about physicality and pride. It was like the universe put up a giant STOP sign because I was simply not paying attention. Even if I wanted to exercise every day, my body was not letting me. The stress from all of the life changes I was experiencing threw my body into turmoil and now it was attacking itself. It was a cruel version of the fight or flight mechanism and so difficult for me accept. I was used to pushing, never giving up and moving regardless of the cost. My pride was taking a hit and I had no outlet for the anxious energy that I carried without the benefit of movement.
The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.
Just as a baby must learn new movement and behavior, I had to reteach myself how to view exercise. I began to tell myself that my workout didn’t define me, even when everyone else in the gym seemed to have so much control and commitment to their fitness goals. I decided that as long as I went to the gym and tried to move each day, that was a good day. Depending on how I felt or what treatment I was undergoing, I varied my routines and found new joy in things like stretching and walking on the treadmill. I looked for what type of exercise made me happy and realized that if I could hike in my neighborhood every day, I would be a forever happy, a kind of hiker high. I committed to hiking on the weekends, weather/heat permitting, and found this to be one of the most spiritual experiences for me. I feel incredibly close to the Divine as I walk in nature, the sun on my face and the wind at my back. It is in the stillness of these moments that I can hear my heartbeat and blood moving through my veins. The miracle of who I am at that moment is clear, rebellious body or not.
Yes, I sometimes walk a bit too far and find my leg is heavy and numb on the way back. It is with kindness that I note how my body is feeling and rest a bit extra the remainder of the day. It is really that simple. I have no desire to experiment with CrossFit, marathons and mud runs. I applaud others that enjoy these activities, yet see them as something that will break down my body rather than build it up. Keeping my exercise to a simple routine is calming for mind body and spirit. The kindness I show myself is evident in how my body has managed the ups and downs. I continue to commit to showing up each and every day with grace and dignity. It feels wonderful and I count my blessings that I am able to continue doing things that bring me joy.