Tuesday, January 24, 2006

January 24, 2006 - Listening to My Body

The prednisone rush was an odd and somewhat disturbing ride. It lasted into yesterday evening. Hot flashes, feelings of agitation, nagging hunger, difficulty concentrating – all these were the cumulative effects of those four days of heavy medication. Yet by bedtime, life had pretty much returned to an even keel.

This morning I awake feeling rested, and generally more upbeat and confident. Based on what I’ve been told about typical responses to chemotherapy, I’ve been envisioning a slow and steady slide downwards in terms of energy. Maybe it’s the aftereffects of the prednisone, or maybe it’s just that my personal pattern is different, but things seem to be working out a little better for me today.

I’m not practiced at listening to what my body is telling me. Not many of us are, in this culture. We tend to think of the body either instrumentally – as a tool for doing things – or we think of it aesthetically, as something whose main purpose is to be superficially attractive to others. Advertisements invite us and our neighbors to open our wallets and spend money on body-building (Gym membership!) or body-beautifying (Complete makeover!) – but there’s precious little emphasis on living in our bodies, simply and with self-awareness.

What is it that leads me to trust a medical prediction, based on mathematical averages, rather than my own intuitive sense of who I am and what I’m feeling? It’s so easy to lose touch with this physical home of ours – this “earthly tent” in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:1. Yet God has set us in this world as embodied individuals. The boundary-line between flesh and spirit is not so distinct as we sometimes imagine it to be.

Sister Mary José Hobday has spent a lot of time exploring the intersection between Native American spirituality and Christianity. She tells a Native American tale of how, at night, the shadow that follows us around in the brightness of day sometimes detaches itself and goes wandering around on its own. Sometimes the shadow becomes so intrigued by what it’s experiencing that it loses track of time. For that reason, it’s important – just before arising from bed – to softly hum a song that only the shadow will recognize, to guide it home. If a person forgets to perform this simple ritual, it’s possible that the shadow may not return for a while. Then, the day to come will be exceedingly difficult. (Cited in Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spiritual Literacy; Touchstone, 1996, p. 379.)

I must learn to do a better job of humming my shadow home.

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