Until I arrived at a ripened middle age, I truly had no idea how little attention I paid to my body, mostly expecting it to function fully with little supervision, whether I was asking it to conceive and give birth or to run a couple of miles. And this body just did as required, with only a few protests or sprains. I realize now how very lucky this is. Also, how oblivious I was. While I was believing that youth made me impervious, some of my peers were already quietly dealing with life-altering diagnoses.
I turned fifty and then sixty, and gradually a bit more maintenance was required. Next came surgery. I replaced twisted and worn-out old parts. Not painless, but I’ve been able to walk and dance and do most yoga poses again. And, hey, at least I haven’t found myself in the organ-replacement line.
Since I hit seventy, more of my friends have been visited by serious conditions that have taken over their lives. A few have had the time in their bodies run out. Gratitude visits daily as I recognize this good fortune.
During this past decade an irregular heartbeat required a couple of trips out of state to get back in rhythm. Since then I’ve needed a few heart-stopping reboots (aka cardioversions, nowhere near as scary as they sound). And still through the miracles of modern medicine I’ve been allowed to basically ignore my body once again, although I do feed and water it regularly,
Although my outer hearing is still good, my inner hearing could use serious amplification. Sometimes when I’m meditating I scan this body and I see how hard it still is to attend to the signals, which might as well be made of smoke some days.
I remember the part of my younger self that either ignored or bullied this immaculate living machine, while it went about handling its business without my head’s intervention. And I marvel at the many automatic systems that keep things running. But I also live with the consequences of my own bullying and self-neglect. I sincerely want to make it up to myself by finally giving my body the respect it has earned.
I have begun to wonder what it would mean to claim mature leadership of my body. Recently the phrase Servant Leadership popped into my mind. This was something I’d learned about years ago when I studied organizational development. In a nutshell, a servant leader is one who shares power and puts the needs of the employees first, with the goal of helping people develop and perform as highly as possible. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.
Now this sounds just like the kind of relationship I want with my body, I think. Today I ask what it would be like to be a true Servant Leader of my body, as if I worked for it? This seems like a worthy goal as I mature fully into my wizened old age.
And for once I listen. My body says Yes, somewhere around my belly button. It’s a good start.
Saluting all your good starts.
Call and Response
This body, this loyal servant
with promptings and desires
or at least quiet and discreet,
unobtrusive as it went about
its everyday business,
This very body just expanded
its tech department,
added a Response Center Tower
with a basement ready to catch complaints
as they pump in from every organ and limb.
Lines are always busy,
but I try to check in at least once every day,
sometimes just so I can ignore
Its advice all over again.
— SgB 2023