Monday, September 16, 2013

The We in the I

The other night I was laying in bed reading when I stopped and asked Michael how many people he thought I was right then. This may be a question that would send some hubbies running for their emergency mental health hotline numbers but mine, used to questions that sound crazy and non sequiturs coming from me looked at me and said, "one." Really, I asked, but what about the baby? I mean he is not me really, but kind of is. This got him thinking a little more, but like me he didn't really have a clear answer.  I am 34 weeks pregnant. So maybe I am like 1.75 people? Being pregnant is a funny state of existence, and it changes as the whole thing goes along. I mean at first I would have said one as well. But now I guess, I feel, somehow more plural, while, at the same time, very much just me. There is this other being inside who has some behaviors I can't control. Like the rib kicking and the bladder smashing. But I can't really access him in any of the traditional ways you connect with other people. I have no way of knowing what his mind is up to, or what his personality is like, even though lots of my time is spent imagining these things.

Recently I have also been dealing with some pain in various joints of my pelvis, from my SI joint and all the tendons that attach my right leg to my hip. I have been on a crazy adventure of alternative therapies trying to find something that will help me feel balanced. I don't think I would be so fixated on solving the problem if it weren't for the fact that  the pelvis is pretty critical in the whole getting the baby out process. My pain and frustration with my body has played an interesting accompaniment to my questions about pregnancy plurality. It has highlighted a plurality that has been part of my "I" for a long time. I stood in front of the mirror a few mornings ago, and, trying to take my physical therapists advice to be kind to myself and stop trying to force a fix to things, I said out loud, "we are going to have this baby, and we are going to do it together, and it is going to be ok." I wasn't talking to the baby. I was talking to my body. Somehow, somewhere along the way, and I don't think I am unique in this at all, I separated out my mind and my body. Making each its own separate identity and parceling up and doling out my approval for each in frequently contradictory and often unkind ways. My body has always been the ugly step child in this two part self. It is the self that gets berated for not being good enough, poked and prodded with disapproving stares, and told over and over again that everyone would be better off if it were somehow different. I've done a lot of work around this unkind treatment of what is ultimately, myself, and have gotten a lot kinder and a better friend and mother to my body. My first pregnancy really helped me realize how truly awesome my body actually is. How perfectly it does exactly what it is supposed to do.  But I have yet to take that last unifying step where I stop seeing myself as these two (sometimes three if you count the spiritual self-which is generally much better integrated with the mind self) somehow separate individuals. This dual identity seems to be very much a part of American (western? modern?) female culture (maybe male too?) it is reinforced in the media, and passed down from generation to generation. I am working on focusing in more on the one-ness of my body and mind, the connections between my physical and emotional self and the links between my body and my mind.

Many of the healers I have visited believe strongly that the body holds and reflects not only physical but emotional traumas and that healing is done most completely when we open the doors of communication between the physical and emotional reactions of our bodies. I tend to believe this too. And as research about how our mind and body interact gets more sophisticated we are finding out more about the pathways that link our ultimately unified self and create a complex dance between our thoughts and feelings and our physical realities. But I also struggle with this idea in some ways. My grandmother truly believes that you can heal the body through the mind. Her conviction is so strong that she spent a lot of years meditating on healing her genetic and age related macular degeneration, often in place of learning to adapt and move and participate in her world with her increasing blindness. At 92 she is still mostly blind, and has very few activities she enjoys any more. There always seems to be this risk in the mind/body connection theory of healing of slipping into blame. My grandmother can't see because she didn't work hard enough to heal herself, she didn't access or let out the true underlying cause of her physical maladies. My pelvis is hurt because I am not grieving correctly or letting go of past trauma fully. It is this slippery slope from understanding and finding the very real connections between our mental and emotional lives and our physiological realities that I think may underly the seductiveness of so much of western allopathic medicine's take on illness and disease. Depression is a chemical imbalance, we can fix it with a drug. Your spine is out of alignment, we will fix it with surgery. If physical problems are just that, physical and only physical, then we can fix them like a mechanic fixes a car. It is not your fault. And, certainly there are some things we can fix this way and I am grateful for that. In the end though, as much as we may want to divide the self up into many separate selves, the reality is we are one. The short comings of western medicine are due to a reluctance to acknowledge this highly complex reality. Some alternative healing philosophies error to the other extreme, believing that just treating the mind is the key to the whole body. Both are divisive and over simplifying things. Neither truly reflects the complex interconnected nature of the human self.

Pregnancy has offered me the opportunity to explore more fully my own pluralities. If you have been pregnant, did you feel this "plural-ness?" If you also tend to see your self in a split sense, with the body and the mind as two separate selves, what is the relationship you see between the two? If you have done work on unifying your own theory of your self, what helped you embrace your oneness? If you are a trained healer of any kind, what links do you see between the body and the mind?

Each evening we sing my son to sleep with the prayer central the the Jewish faith, the shema, "Hear o Israel the Lord is God the Lord is one." I have always seen this as a reflection of how intimately connected we all are, the same energy running through all of us, and across time. The prayer leaves me feeling connected and less alone. It may be time to move towards this meditation as a reflection of myself as well.

1 comment:

  1. Emily, thank you for this insightful and wonderfully articulated meditation on pain and healing. I appreciate you pointing out that alternative healing practices can lead to self-blame. I wonder if it's possible to view healing our bodies as part and parcel of healing our emotional wounds and traumas without blaming ourselves when we are not always 100% successful. This self-blame is another manifestation of our culture, which seems to demand 100% satisfaction, happiness, success in order to consider something worth doing. From my own personal experience with alternative healing (where I have had life-changing revelations but also exposure of deep traumas I was never even conscious of), nothing is 100% - that has been part of my healing: coming to terms with less than perfect, less than desirable, less than completely comfortable. Calibrating expectations to reality, also a lesson motherhood has taught me. Thank you for raising these important issues.