I am allowing myself the luxury of listening to my body today, and my body is saying “Stay in your pajamas, wrap up your chilled neck and chest, try an espsom salt bath later. Recline. Nap.” My body is chilled and achy. I feel no pull to do anything other than nothing.
Here in my cozy, warm bed with the wall heater humming along, I have been pondering just how easy it is to avoid listening to the body. It occurs to me, too, that many, many people don’t know how to listen to their bodies at all. My 91-year-old mother tells me about all the sickness, stomach problems, headaches and what-all that plague the old folks in her retirement apartment plaza. She says, “None of these people listen to their bodies! If you have diarrhea all the time…well…change your eating habits!”
My mom always listens to her body. When her body tells her to take a slow day, she does. When she craves cold, juicy food, she eats it. When she is not hungry, she has a glass of milk. She tends to ignore most of her aches and pains, and always makes sure she gets up before the sun comes up, because if she doesn’t get up with the sun, she says it ruins the rest of her day. Who am I to argue with 91 years of success?
The animals in our family are masters at good self-care. Mazel, our dog, used to play fetch with us for as long as we could be coaxed to throw the ball. He never tired, ever. But Mazel is a mature five years old now, and he has days when he is more focused on sniffing and exploring than running during our daily walks. Sometimes, he goes crazy for the ball for half the walk, then follows his nose for the other half. Sometimes, after a few good throws, he is happy to just carry his ball and follow along behind us.
Now, if I were in Mazel’s body, this is what I would be saying to myself: “Better run all you can! If they skip your walk tomorrow, you’ll be sorry you didn’t get your exercise in today! Hmmmm, my feet are sore today, but buck up and push through it!! No pain, no gain! Wow, I’d really like to just sit down—but I NEED to get my daily aerobic exercise in!”
Here in my room, my mind is fighting pretty hard with my body today. My granddaughter is here for the afternoon, and she wants to play, and my mind is nagging, “Just get up and get going. Quit focusing on your aches and pains. Get up and get moving. You have responsibilities today.” But I tell myself that my granddaughter has a grandpa, too, and he can take charge today.
It is not only my mind, but my mouth that likes to butt in and shout down the needs of my body. Today, my mouth is saying, “Boy, would I like to eat that entire half of chocolate pound cake in the breadbox. Maybe with some ice-cream.”
Meanwhile, my body whispers, “A dish of grapefruit with some kraut on it would be just great…”
“…But that pound cake would be Better!” my mouth asserts.
“And there is your poor little granddaughter, just wanting to crawl on the floor and play animal-talking games with the plastic critters,” chides my mind. “What kind of a grandmother are you, anyway? Surely, your husband thinks you’re a whiney slouch…”
Out on the dining room table, Darter the cat is stretched full length in the heat of a sunbeam. I know that if I were to touch her, she would feel hot as a cinder in that sunlight. Some days, she moves slowly and with an occasional stagger. She is at least 25 years old now, and is allowed her staggers and the small saliva barf puddles on the rug. But on other days, she races through the house like a cat with her tail on fire. Sometimes, these sprints take place in the middle of the night, and end in the middle of my bed. She stops, suddenly, with all four of her feet gripped into my comforter, in case she needs to bolt away again reaching speeds of Holy-Cow! in less than three seconds. She sets her own pace in life. She doesn’t have a mind to listen to. She just listens to God.
All the animals around me provide untainted lessons in listening to the wisdom of the body. They, like we, are born to this wisdom. Unlike we, the animals still honor this knowing.
There will be days to come when I can’t stop and listen to my body, because life may flat-out insist on my hands-on presence. But for today, I am experimenting. I am staying here, in bed, sitting with the discomfort of my guilting mind, my demanding sugar-addicted tummy. I will squirm a bit at the thought of my wifely and grandmotherly failings and wonder how it is that such foolish thoughts carry such power. Power over health. Power over wisdom. Power over my self-nurturing animal self.
When the sun shines in my window this afternoon, she will find me with a snuggly scarf around my neck, stretched out full-length to catch the warmth of the sunbeams across my bed.