Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Whose Body Is it Anyway?

Why is it that many European languages don't use the possessive when referring to the body? In French it's 'les mains' or in Spanish 'los manos,' meaning 'the hands.' Of course in English, we speak about our bodies and their parts as 'mine.' I frequently lamented as a teenager about the state of 'my thighs' or 'my face.'

Recently I wondered about the effect of this languaging on how we feel and move in our bodies. Does it hurt us or help us to so personalize every part of our physical selves? Are we more likely to take personally how we look as a reflection of who we are?

Friends of mine have frequently commented on the ease that Europeans seem to have with their bodies that Americans don't always have. They seem less concerned about diet and yet overall have lower rates of obesity. They drink wine and eat chocolate without flagellating themselves about their caloric intake. Humorous diet books have been written citing French women as the model of elegance and natural self-care.

What might we have to learn if we let ourselves think of our bodies as a thing independent of us, rather than something that belongs to us? For one thing, we give them--as my work also does--an identity separate from us, something to relate to. We become better able to consult our bodies not just as an extension of us but as living, breathing beings with their own wisdom and perspective.

No healthy relationship can exist between two beings that are so fused they can't see the space between them. And yet I wonder sometimes if this isn't what we've done to our bodies: literally named them as belonging to us rather than free or separate. It might be interesting to reframe them as neutral, as beings to come back into relationship with rather than already being smushed against.

There's another benefit to this shift too. Often, when something is hurting or diseased, we're better able to care and acknowledge it when we don't take the symptoms personally, when we're not too attached to what it means about us. So many clients I've worked with who are ill struggle not only with their illness but also with the sense of personal affront they feel that their bodies that 'did this' to them. Their identities may be profoundly affected by a sense of being betrayed by their body. Creating space between us and our bodies affords us a new way of seeing what's happening; we step into relationship rather than feeling forced into it, conscious in our navigating of this tender interdependence rather than oppressed by a mandatory connection. We begin to be curious about what our bodies are trying to tell us rather than ashamed about what a symptom says about us as a person.

Ask yourself how personally you take your body and how much you let it be its own self, something you are in relationship to but not fused with. What can you do to begin to cultivate more space, to not take the movements and challenges of your body as personal attacks? How can you begin to understand it as you would anything outside of yourself, gently and with compassionate perspective?