How We Relate to Our Bodies

We all have a relationship with our bodies, even if we never give it a thought.  It can focus on our health, abilities, appearance, etc.  Meditation gives us a way to relate to the body from inside it.  That’s where our consciousness resides, continuously informed about the body and its environment by the five physical senses.  When we focus on their input and let thinking fall away, we begin to perceive our real nature as embodied awareness.

To think of our relationship to our bodies recognizes that whatever “we” are, it isn’t the same thing as our bodies.  In itself, this recognition can be liberating.  I recently joked that my body often seemed like a rather large, very high-maintenance pet that needed a lot more tending than a daily walk and a couple bowls of kibble.  Illness, injury and aging can make us feel resentment and frustration toward our physical being. Most people have some attitudes toward the body that interfere with their relationship with it.

From the inside, we can regard the body with gratitude, and compassion.  It works hard.  It sustains our consciousness.  It makes possible everything we do.  It has gone through miraculous growth, change, and deterioration.  Every moment it gets signals about its wellbeing that range from physical delight to pain.  The body deserves the most tender regard and care we can give it. 

The body’s mortality almost always casts a shadow over our relationship to it, especially when we suppose that it is what “we” are.  Recognizing that it isn’t points to such a profound mystery that throughout history, people have sought to explain how “we” can persist after the body dies.  Just accepting the mystery as it is, though, can open the mind to vast dimensions.  The Buddha said that trying to solve the mystery would be a waste of time, or could drive you crazy.

The best thing we can do for the relationship we have with our bodies is to recognize it, and tend it lovingly.  If we need to take medicine, or use equipment to get around, then rather than resenting it we can consider it an offering to our partnership.  Accepting the body as it is can greatly improve our relationship to it, whatever we consider its strengths or imperfections.

In any relationship,  intimacy grows in sync with acceptance.  We can’t really know or love anything or anyone unless we’re able to accept them as they truly are.  This is one of the deepest truths of the Dharma.

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