i have always hated my body. not in a weight/shape kind of way or a gender dysphoria kind of way, although, yes. both of those, too. this hatred is more existential than that. i have always felt like i am this pristine little metal chip, this soft and tidy spirit trapped inside a nightmare trashcan. the body is oozy and demanding. it wants a snack, it has to pee, it needs to sleep, it randomly hurts. i fought against every annoying thing my body did: spiting it and denying it and ignoring it. how could it be so moist and yet burn so easily? why does it react so badly to every insect, sap, and microbe it encounters? it stews and stinks and leaks and makes demands basically all the time. it seems intelligently designed to be a burden. i became so adept at tuning out its constant noise that i could forget to eat for a whole day. i could block out pain signals and end up hurting myself badly. i have always been a terrible steward of this earthly shell.
i like dirt and grubbiness and animal smells. i like to be elbow-deep in garden soil with spiders dancing across the hairs on my arms. i like squashing through mud with bare feet, the satin clay extruding up between my toes. i like the sharp stink of wood smoke on the wind. i just didn’t want any of the natural grossness of nature to come from me, through me. it interfered with the control freak nature of me.
1,320 days ago, i began to meditate. it was a lark, just satisfying my curiosity when my employer offered a subscription to a guided meditation app. let it be known: more than any other bird metaphor, a lark can change your life. over these weeks and months and years, i learned that my body is breathtaking. the learning has been visceral, not rote. i don’t “know” it. i don’t “believe” it. i feel it. like, really feel it. i have opened myself up to the mucilaginous weirdness of my body and listen to it as an ally rather than an adversary. and, most importantly, i recognize that the brain is just as irrational, gooey, and excruciating as the body. it just writes the narrative, so it always gets to be the hero.
a while ago, i had to do some fairly uncomfortable medical testing, ingesting radioactive pills and then lying very still inside of a huge, cold scanning machine in a hospital sub-basement. glaciers receded as i lay in that black, shining, chilly room, sweating poison from my clammy skin as the hum of medical technology rattled through my bones, my head canted back to maximize exposure to my throat. it’s the kind of experience that could make you a little bit anxious. you might whimper under the weight of fear. you might let a dark scream bubble up from the back of your throat and escape. for certain, a person like me who fiercely wanted to erase their disobedient body might be troubled.
instead, as the scanner slid toward my throat for the first pass, i took deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. i closed my eyes. i let an imaginary light radiate out from my solar plexus to slowly encompass the cold table, the shadowy room, the whole solar system, a supernova of peacefulness. i felt my breath rise and fall in my chest, in my stomach, in my targeted throat. i internalized the silver noise of the machine, the cool breath of the moving air, the weight of a whole building above me and the whole earth beneath me. i felt curious, energized, and alive. the icy bed beneath me had warmed with my body heat. the rolled blanket under my neck was supportive and kind. as i lay, completely vulnerable, fearing a terrible diagnosis, i was living completely in my senses, letting my body be a comfort.
the diagnosis was not terrible and i’ve had other not-terrible diagnoses since then, all of which i could accept with peace and love because this soft, greasy, viscous meatshell is me, myself. something to love and care about. something to nurture and treat gently. something that understands pleasure far more quickly and purely than my brain, which has to think deeply about every nice thing to determine if it’s nice, actually.
the brain is a jerk sometimes. it gets in the way of very nice things indeed. the body is sensation and instinct, hairs standing on end and taste buds activating pleasure centers. it knows what it likes as truly and instantly as it knows what it hates. it understands the divinity of a kiss, the transcendency of a cookie, and the eminence of warm sunshine in a way that the brain stumbles to articulate. i want a lot more of that immediacy in my life. and so i embrace myself, literally and figuratively. the body, with its tides of breath and fluid, with its ebbs and flows of bliss and agony, with its spontaneous sobs and its unthinking laughter, is an exquisite thing, a beatitude, and i want to cherish it.