Healing Happens in Relationship
If I'm not the body, then how do I relate to it? A practical approach.
The dominant culture in western society is individualistic. Self-reliance and individual freedom are among our highest values.
I say this not as a value judgment, but as a statement of comparative fact.
Many of our deepest wounds occur in isolation and separation. Yet for some reason we think we can — or even should — solve our problems on our own.
We’re conditioned to feel weak asking for support, relying on other people or institutions, or even acknowledging our obvious interdependence with nature.
But despite our sincerest efforts to deny it, the truth persists:
To be seen and held in community is a basic need, and we’re not meant to survive, thrive, or heal alone.
We are in relationship with all of life.
And knowing this underlying truth, we are naturally invited to examine the hazy boundaries of what we call our “self”.
Because if I can’t do it on my own, then I must include more than just me!
In my spiritual tradition of Advaita Vedanta, a foundational practice is Viveka — discernment. It’s a persistent inquiry into the nature of the self: who I am, and who I’m not.
You may have heard the notion that you are not your body…. that you are a spiritual being having a physical experience.
Perhaps you even subscribe to it.
But through consistent Viveka with a qualified teacher we come to not only accept that we are not the decaying body nor its racing mind — but also to understand how that’s true.
And this great remembering creates a fundamental shift in our being:
Because if I am not the body… if I am separate from it, beyond it, and it arises within my awareness… then I must be in relationship with it.
(If you’re not yet sold that you are separate from your body, that’s okay. I intend to explore nondual self-knowledge more in future articles; gradually and methodically, as per my tradition. But for now, I hope you’ll take this idea on faith, just for the duration of this short inquiry)
And if I’m in a relationship with my body/mind, I get to choose what kind of relationship I’m fostering.
I can seek connection, understanding, reciprocity, and compassion with my body/mind.
Or I can try to control, judge, force, or extract from it.
As in all my relationships, I can seek to relate... or to dominate.
If my aim is right relationship with all my relations — what the great Andean mystics call Ayni — then my body/mind is just another arena to hone my skills.
And from that awareness, healing begins to emerge.
So now, let’s switch gears by taking a more practical approach to this idea of treating our body as a relative rather than a resource.
Because these are beautiful words, but how can we apply them to our everyday lives?
First, let’s explore what it looks like to be dominant with our bodies.
(for many of us, this will be our norm — if that's the case for you, try to be curious about it, rather than judgmental)
I take what I want from my body, whenever I want, never giving back or considering how my body will be affected by my actions
I force my body to do things it’s not prepared to do even if it is tired, afraid, etc., subjugating its capacity to my mind's desires
I seek to fix, improve, optimize, upgrade, & control my body, judging it when it doesn't conform to my ideals
I treat my body as a tool to achieve my ends rather than as a sovereign being with its own needs, experience, etc.
I forget my body when I’m not using it for my ends, failing to check in on it, nurture our relationship, give thanks, etc.
Conversely, what does it look like to be relational with our body?
I take from my body only what I need, reciprocating where I can & being mindful how my actions affect my body
I honor my body’s capacity as distinct from my mind’s desires, considering its needs, and compromising where appropriate
I meet my body where it is, seeking understanding and connection through dialogue & curiosity
I treat my body as an equal partner and teammate, working with it to achieve a commonly agreed upon goal
I check in with my body, learn to understand its sensations, say thank you, and nurture our relationship with time & energy
Here’s an illustration to more easily compare & contrast these fundamentally different ways of relating.
Now I’m no relationship coach, so I’ll take my exit here and leave it between you & your body to explore your relationship dynamic.
Suffice it to say that — in my experience — the usual relationship clichés ring true.
Communication really is key ;-)
Until next time,