To raise money for The New York Immigrant Fund’s Let My People Go campaign, I offered to write at least 200 words for whoever gave at least 18 dollars, on the topic of their choice. The offer is still standing, and I’m still writing, but here is a piece I wrote, on the topic of “Embodiment”
I go to a fairly unique school, an ongoing daring experiment in radical education called Goddard College. The school’s keystone feature is its low-residency programs, where students spend only 8 days at the start of a semester on the Vermont campus, and then the rest of the semester sending in work from their various locations. Having spent my 20’s elsewise, I am now, at 33, in the process of completing a bachelor’s degree there, among many other non-traditional students.
Goddard has split its undergraduate program into two different residencies. The residencies are not identical. The Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Writing, which is sizeable and is usually the larger residency, shares space with the more interdisciplinary Bachelor’s in Individualized Studies. The other, smaller residency consists of other Individualized Bachelor students, and students in Sustainability, as well as the program in Health Arts and Sciences. Though I consider myself to be getting a degree in writing, due to a scheduling issue in my first semester, I was placed in the smaller residency, with the farmers, and the healers. I have stayed there ever since.
Goddard’s approach to teaching healing, as you may have guessed by now, is extremely divergent from, say, a medical school or pre-med program. Students focus on nutrition, herbalism, acupuncture, non-western modalities of healing, art and music therapies. There is a good deal of cross-pollination between the programs that share residencies, and a word that comes up often, about sustainability values, about writing, about healing, is embodiment. How do we embody our work? How do we express it in our limbs, where does our creativity live, how are we feeling?
This fascination with the body has proven inconvenient for me. I have never trusted my body. I have rarely trusted those who DO trust their body. There is a metaphor in the second book of Kings, and it appears again in Isaiah, about how, if relied on, the Pharaoh of Egypt will prove a splintered reed staff: he will shatter, and pierce the hand. That is the body to me, as I have known from the age when I first realized that one day I will grow old and die.
The body will eventually betray our efforts to stay alive. Why trust it? Why exercise it? Why keep it healthy or whole, when ultimately, all those efforts will fail? Any faith in the body is a kind of foolishness, and worse, a sort of arrogance. Oh, so YOU are not going to grow decrepit, weak and pitiful, and then die, huh? Just you or your whole family? Oh just you. Nice, sounds good, good luck with that.
But I do try to listen to my classmates, I do try to respect the new viewpoints that Goddard is bringing into my life. Specifically, I was moved by the work of Jamie Lee Finch, a relationship and embodiment coach who works with ex-evangelical Christians in Nashville. As Jamie says, our bodies are people, not problems. We do not fix them. We ask them what they need.
This attempt to communicate with the body, which I would also call Embodiment, has done more good for me than any diet or yoga routine or exercise, which, I will admit, I still do not do. I may have not learned how to preserve the body, but I have learned to respect it. The body, when it is weak, is not pitiful, it is communicating that it needs nourishment or rest. The body, when it is ill is not disgusting, it is crying out. And the body, when it is dying, is simply relinquishing its duty to hold the self, and what comes next, the body can not know, and can not be blamed for that ignorance.