Bodies eh! who'd chose to have one? Perhaps, if you could be a being composed of ether, or of the empty space between trees, we'd feel less tortured or dissatisfied by our experience. Though maybe its somewhat inevitable for any form of sentience. Human suffering is, it seems, so predominantly tied up with being embodied in this physical bodily form. Though its not just about our body falling ill of ailing, but also our minds falling ill or ailing, or our sense of self, our identity, falling ill and ailing, that will cause us to suffer. All of these different aspects struggle with each other, like cats inside this bag of perishable flesh. All of them so tightly bound up with each other that they appear inseparable from this complete physical entity we call our body. Everything about how we inhabit this body is incestuous.
So, what's brought this line of thought on? Well, after all the careful preparation and maintaining over the last ten months of those core back exercises, so I could do warehouse work, something on a psycho-physical level kicked back, and kicked my back hard this week. I began the week physically OK-ish, though in retrospect I've realised my body has been issuing severe weather warnings for a
bout a month, that things were not entirely hunky dory. It was after doing those core back exercises on Monday evening that something felt not quite right. The next morning it was about the same, only mildly uncomfortable, but I know this sort of thing can quickly come and go, so I went to work as usual.
It was a day when I was working in the Warehouse Kitchen, preparing food in the morning, washing and cleaning up in the afternoon. As the work progressed I found I needed to sit down with greater frequency than usual. By the end of day both my left hip and back felt raw, inflamed and I could feel the roughness of my bones as they moved. It was painful whether I was standing, sitting, or cycling. When I went to bed every move I made induced a sharp intake of breath. By Wednesday morning my entire back muscles had spasmed and clenched. I took a day off work,then two, then three, though things were slowly improving I went to see a doctor anyway, and he signed me off for a further 7 days.
On the mental and spiritual plain I'm OK, its just the body I'm carting around with me that's become troublesome. This disparity in experience between my body, my mind and my sense of myself is what has struck me the most. It really feels like there are two Me's, my awareness of my body, and my awareness of self-consciousness - of this body and of this other me watching and observing it. The back pain, has also highlighted the gap between this bodily discomfort and my lack of control over it. How little mastery I have, I feel like a king who has been usurped by his serfs. No longer am I the ruler of my own body, my body is now ruling me. Any willpower I exert is easily undermined by my bodies rebellion, as we live and grow old, simultaneously together and yet apart. We're uneasy bedfellows, like passionate lovers who've fallen out of love with each other, but continue living in the same house and sharing the same bed. There is no trial separation, no divorce is possible, other than by death, so they just have to learn to live with each other. Though its my body that has the upper hand, not I, whoever that I is.
I can feel at times a bit of a fraud, because I do feel fine in myself. I don't feel ill, yet physically I've been walking around like a decrepit old man. It's as though a salutary spell has been cast upon me as a punishment, in order that I experience what my body will be like as I move inexorable towards old age, sickness and death. That spell will not be broken merely by my determination or wishing for it to do so. I'm no longer the Manager of my body, but the deputy Supervisor, who can only monitor my activities, or contain them so they don't make matters worse. As long as I stay within limited parameters of movement i.e sit down a lot, move carefully when I walk, and don't make abrupt changes in posture, it can seem as if all is mended, healed and ultimately vanished. Stepping outside these restrictions is the only way to test how illusory, or not, that feeling is.
On one day, carrying a tray of crockery down stairs nearly kills my back, a few days later it is almost fine. Standing up whilst making dinner for the Community on Friday, needed to be peppered with rest spots, to sit down when preparing vegetables, and I still felt physically jiggered by the end of it. Walking out in the snow for the first time on the way to the Doctors Surgery, I slipped ever so slightly, and my whole back went into an alarmed, red alert spasm. I have so much more sympathy for the fears of the elderly,particularly in treacherous wintry conditions. Loss of independence is so intimately linked with the decay and resulting fragility of our bodies. When control over our own body grows more limited, the potential for suffering as a result of that, is ever present.
So, much as I'm eager for my back to return to business as usual, I know I'm going to have play it - gently does it. Resist mentally thinking I'm over it ( it ain't over till its over ) at least not before my body says so - 'yes you are now over it, you may now proceed, but remember whose really in charge!'