BodyMindSpiritEarth

I had a realization at the close of yoga class, while resting in savasana (corpse pose), eyes falling back into their sockets, head heavy on the mat. It’s just this: I have a skull.

Oh I knew that of course. In theory. But it’s weird to think of this thing—used as symbol for poison, or to provoke ghoulish fright, the bony remains of a human—being embedded under my skin RIGHT NOW.

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Photo by Kate Bunker, via Flicker Creative Commons

Maybe this is not so revelatory for you. Well, I’m the girl who recently discovered, to my amazement, that the bones of my pelvis start way higher at my sides than I had previously pictured. When I thought “pelvis,” I thought “sex organs.” I thought “hips.” I didn’t think “bony parts at my waist just a few inches below my ribcage.”

In this level of bodily cluelessness, I may be unusual, but I think not. Do we really know what goes on under our skin? Do we key into the intelligence of our organs all working together, our blood flowing, our skeletons? Do we connect to the slime and gore of our insides, cached away under the outer layer that meets the world?

It’s easy to forget all that stuff, in an age where we think a whole lot. We can end up experiencing ourselves as brains on a stick, using the body to move the big brain from here to there. This brain that will save the day! (That’s working great for humanity so far, as our “progress” continues to wipe out species and their habitat at unprecedented rates.)

On the other hand, in spiritual development circles, we experience ourselves as bigger-than-brain, as soul or Higher Self, and we know that we go on beyond the body and the body is just dust and ashes.

I submit that this laudable idea can be just as alienating, even dangerous, as the big brain idea.

Of course we are our intellectual capacity; humanity makes incredible use (and misuse) of our curiosity, our capacity for logic, and our problem-solving prowess.

Of course we are our souls; that bigger perspective feeds many a spiritual seeker, including myself.

But the bones, the blood, the viscera—they have their own story to tell, and they don’t just exist to tote us from problem-solving puzzle to enlightened insight. Divorced from the body, the mind is imbalanced, the soul unmoored.

The energy within the body IS us. The blood moves, heart beats, bones/muscles/organs support each other in an integrated system that boggles the mind AND spirit.

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Photo by Marco De Stabile, via Flickr Creative Commons

I am not a mind. I am not a spirit. Not only these. I am a bodymindspirit. I come to practices like yoga and qi gong because I want to experience myself as all three, integrated and invincible.

Like most of us I’m good at neglecting this body. I push it past fatigue, I feed it poor fuel, I ask it to digest too much too fast, I wish it would just sit down and shut up so I can do my real work, but what if my real work is…a dance? A prayer-in-motion?

What if my real work is to sink back into this body that is part of the earth, that needs me to care for it in a deep and loving way?

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What if, by disowning the body’s “ugly” innards, and ignoring its whispers and clues and shouts and cries, I’m only contributing to the disregard of our precious earth’s wisdom?

That’s the bigger picture: bodymindspiritearth. Could I experience myself as all four integrated, and what would that look like?

What dance would I offer then?

Galloping

As a child, I cultivated an obsession with horses. I read every book written for horse-crazy girls. I imagined myself as a horse (or on the back of one) to pass the time on long car trips. A city kid, I rode whenever I could: on my uncle’s horses in Ohio, my cousin’s horse in Pennsylvania, the horses at Girl Scout camp.

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Here I am with my brother and one of my cousins on my late uncle’s horse in Ohio. Heaven!

Often these were plodding rides, but what I remember best are the times I let my horse run. Looking back, I can see that the galloping horse became a motif in my life.

At camp one summer, we were cantering along in the woods happy as could be when a branch swiped the glasses right off my head, leaving me blind the rest of the ride.

Another time, I fell off runaway Thunder, my cousin’s horse, and broke my wrist.

In my 20s there was an exhilarating trail ride through the New Mexico desert, just me and Judy and two cowboys, scaling ridges at top speed, galloping through arroyos. Somewhere there’s a photo of the two of us on top of our horses, with the blue New Mexico sky behind.

Then at age 32, I fell off a state park horse. This sent me spiraling into a health crisis that took years to resolve.

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Horse happens to be my “sign” in the Chinese zodiac, something I found out as an exultant preteen. The Chinese restaurant’s placemat said so.

I forgot about this for a while, or discounted its significance. But recently I learned that not only am I a horse, I’m a fire horse born in a yang year (vs. yin year). Signifying great power and energy, coupled with an adventuresome and headstrong nature.

Also signifying something historically unwanted. Fertility dropped in parts of Asia in my birth year, 1966, because no one wanted to bring a girl-child in that would embody the power of that sign. While men embodying the power of the sign were lauded as leaders—go figure!—the women were reputed to be rebellious, bitchy sorts who henpeck their husbands to an early grave. (I’ll leave it to my spouse to say yes or no to this stereotype.)

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I bought this jade horse in China a few years ago, without knowing I was a FIRE horse.

“How to rein in that spirited animal?” was the question troubling potential parents (and mates) of fire horse girls born in yang years.

I’ll tell you how, in my case. You give the 1966 baby a lower-than-average level of inherited qi, or life force. TCM posits that we are born a certain amount of qi which is our base, which can be used up (and usually is by the time a woman reaches 49). Yikes.

So if you start off with less, as I did, you have to learn how to marshal and save your qi—and acquire more qi.

I have not always been great at conserving my own energy. But life has shown me the importance of that. Falling off a horse taught me that.

Meantime, the impulse to run like crazy, to learn it all, try it all—I see now that this might be the fire horse wanting to gallop. I’m learning to acquire more qi* so I can follow these impulses!

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I’ve always been driven, but it seems like it would do me good to act more like a fire horse born in a yang year, now that I know this dimension of myself. Even if my adventures are mostly on the page or in plumbing the depths of the human soul.

And rebelliousness? The funny thing is that while I have always embraced a certain, shall we say, intensity, I also saw myself as rather meek, passive, and compliant.

But meanwhile a secret rebellion simmered inside.

When I was 21, a mentor said he appreciated my reformist spirit. Perhaps my rebellion was less secret than I thought.

And perhaps I rebel daily through the way I live, rebuking some of the edicts of society, like “you must climb the ladder” and “you must buy all the gadgets and live in the biggest house you can afford” and “you must only look at the material world when making sense of things.”

In such a society, even the act of tuning in to my own sensations, reflections, and inner knowing constitutes rebellion.

So if you see me sitting still and looking contemplative, I just might be galloping!

*Through the Dragon’s Way program, locally taught by Melissa Laborsky, MD. Highly recommended!