Just like every other woman, Bella had a complicated relationship and view of her body. She was familiar with a twenty pound up and down experience. Even when it was “down” there were so many imperfections to notice. She tended to think of her body as a separate entity from herself as well. She never thought about how it served her and others, that it housed her mental, emotional, spiritual health and was indeed part of her soul. It never crossed her mind that her body had needs and limitations. Probably subconsciously she knew this. She was pretty good at getting to bed at a decent time and eating fairly healthy generally speaking. But it wasn’t an intentional knowing of her body.
She had experienced a few burnouts in her life, had some chronic challenges with neck pain, etc. but she didn’t think her body was trying to tell her something…she just thought she had to rest in order to go full tilt again.
As she began to age, the added realization of more imperfection came to the forefront. The wrinkles and the going south were not things one could exercise or diet through to a different outcome…at least not unless one had the means and the desire to start going for plastic surgery. Just the name of that made her cringe. At her core, Bella was quite committed to some kind of authenticity. She remembered hearing about a woman who went to get her behind lifted. “There’s special underwear for that if it bothers you that much!” she thought. She wasn’t sure special underwear would help her at this point. Better to just “go down” without a fight. :)
It was as Bella moved more into the contemplative life and started to learn about how much her body was meant to be a “friend” and what a difference she noticed in her state of being when she started to listen to this friend.
When she had to make a hard decision about resigning from one of her two jobs, God asked her, “What does your body say to you?” She had wrestled through all the discernment exercises but it was this question that gave her the answer. She said, “My body says it is very tired.” And God said, “Then listen to your body.” How moved she was that God would lead her to listen and care for her own body, even though the decision would cause stress for others. What a huge revelation.
Her spiritual director, when welcoming the emotions to hear what wisdom they had for her, always asked her where it was in her body, what shape it was and even what colour. This opened up more revelation…her body held it all and wanted her to listen. Not just when she was tired, but for so much more.
Paying attention to her body helped Bella to live in the present, to pause and check in. Why did she want to keep moving? What did that feel like in her body? She had so much more choice in saying no to that wheel inside of her that handled hard places through moving and achieving. To turn to her body and say, “I think you need to rest, don’t rush away,” opened her up to loving herself and receiving God’s love.
As far as the wrinkles and aging flesh, she started to develop a gentle compassion and acceptance. I’m like the velveteen rabbit. Getting wrinkled and worn just shows how loved up I have been.
To be kind to her body led to such peace and ability to let go of other things she couldn’t control. Who knew what a big part the body plays in the soul of a person?!
Her granddaughter asked her one day, “Do you have freckles?” Bella bared her arm full of age spots and said with great enthusiasm, “Boy, do I have freckles! Look at them all!” Her granddaughter was impressed.
Quote from the book: In Romans 12:1-2 Paul says that our spiritual act of worship happens in our bodies. Spirituality doesn't happen somewhere in your head, outside the concreteness of your own body life. The spiritual life shows up in bodies that love God and our neighbour as ourselves. Parker Palmer writes in Let Your Life Speak, "Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others."
Photo by Cristian Newman-Unsplash