Thursday, March 25, 2010

An Anabaptist Learns Tai Chi: My Own Health's Reform

It may sound funny, impossible even--but I'm always trying to leave...myself.

My mental bags are continuously packed, my metaphorical pedal pressed to the floor called "go!" In many ways, I'm trying to get away--or at least, I tell myself, move forward; I'm often longing for something in the past, something dizzy in the future. One thought barely has time to process before the next to-do list blooms. 

Over the past two years, I've added other priorities to my mental to-do lists:
*set aside time for silence (not even music in the background, which is sometimes excruciating!)
*test reality in the now
*say no with respect for yourself when necessary--and accept that you can't please everyone
*walk in meditation
*eat something mindfully
*learn to receive gracefully
*do morning yoga or tai chi (if only for 10 minutes)
*get a monthly massage

When I claim I don't have time to re-connect with my body, I find others who know the power of "centering down" because I know the consequences if I don't (life's "dramas" spike, digestion gets iffy, sleeplessness settles in my covers, suddenly a month has passed & I have no idea how my friends and family are doing, etc...) My big sister might say, "Ah, but you can think about slowing down because you don't have kids!" Yes, there's a crunchy layer of truth to this. But... I also know parents who take a half hour every day to center themselves, to refuel in a way that does not include turning the mind "off"--but rather, reconnects to it.

Most often, my quest to reconnect includes going to a weekly yoga class, a Quaker Meeting, or on a long walk by the river; even cooking calms me down (sometimes!) enough to braid together body, mind, and the current moment. Since 2007, I've been drawn to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction MBSR, a daily routine of both meditation and meditative movement. I chuckle when imagining many congregations I know being asked to sit mindfully for more than three minutes; I chuckle, but I come from these same wooden pews. I have to practice slowing down my life...then, and only then, do I see and experience things I would've never noticed otherwise.

You'd think a poet-songwriter would have "slowing down enough to focus" down to an art...but we writers use our minds so much that our bodies often get left behind. We forget them in order to get things done, to be productive, creative, social or (fill in the blank here). I'm probably not the only one who was subconsciously taught that mind was holier than body, that their careful separation was ultimately a good thing. Real education takes some unlearning too, yes?

We've heard a lot of talk about the body lately, what with health care reform making fireworks. I do have to wonder how much we still stubbornly take the body/mind connection for granted, how repetitive mental stress contributes to overall well-being. So I'm hopeful that I will live to see the day when worrying about having health care benefits is a thing of the past.

Until then, I can work on my own health's reform. I won't need 2,000 pages to know a daily practice, however flawed or inconsistent, is a good kind of reaching...

"In a world of too much information about almost everything, bodily practices can provide great relief. To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger--these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone..." (Barbara Brown Taylor in An Altar in the World) 
 Photo credit: B. Lachman 2004, Dale Chihuly exhibit

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