I’m currently re-reading the Bhagavad Gita with my teacher trainees, and have been absorbed this week with Krishna’s words of wisdom, particularly the notion that our Self does not die, even though it may change skins. When Krishna explains this to Arjuna at the beginning of the book, he is speaking about a literal death and rebirth. As I reflect on it in my own life, though, I’m reminded of the many symbolic deaths and rebirths I’ve experienced through the 37 years I’ve been alive as Peach Friedman on this planet.
One of my favorite practices is gazing at myself. You can laugh; it sounds silly. But I don’t mean gazing in the way you might when you’re getting dressed for a dinner party. I mean stripping off clothing, standing in front of the mirror naked, and gazing so that you might SEE what body you are living in now.
Body/mind disconnect is so prevalent now that we have entire industries, and wealthy ones, designed to help us simply reconvene with our physical form. I believe much of this disconnect comes from pace, that simply, we move so quickly we literally do not catch up with our changing bodies.
The truth is, our bodies evolve, we do shed skin, again and again, throughout our lives. To stay caught up with who we are today feels like a practice of patience and slowing down, in our modern terms. But it is simple enough as tasting our own breath. When we pass a mirror, pausing to gaze at the reflection. When we eat our meals, slow down to feel the nourishment slide into our bodies.
One of the maps of yoga are the kosas, described as layers of being surrounding our ultimate “I Am”ness. The outermost kosa, Anamaya Kosa, is often called the food sheath, because it it the hard matter of our bodies, literally made of food. In our funny way, we are both obsessed with, and completely alien from, this part of ourselves. Our focus ON the body does not always bring us into greater connection WITH our body.
I experienced this as an anorectic. During my years with that illness, I focused so much of my mental energy on my physical body, that I felt many times to actually have left my body. I was caught up completely in a more ethereal, less weighty plane of existence then. I was lost in the white, floating layers of thought, dream, and sky…and from that place, gave great attention to altering my physical form. But, I rarely paused to sense, from a grounded, earthy place, what it felt like to really be in that body I had created from such a mental space.
Returning to health from anorexia, I made it my life’s work to wake up to being in a physical body. I am deeply fascinated, and truly in love with, the process of being human from a flesh and bone standpoint. I adore my skin. I am so curious about my muscles and my bones and my joints. My greatest daily pleasures usually come through my asana practice, where I can devote all of my attention not to thinking ABOUT my body, but simply sensing being IN my body.
Now, when I pass a mirror, I will pause. I will look to see how my wrinkles are developing, where gray hairs are growing. I will notice how the shape of my neck has changed. I know that as I age I will often say “Where did the time go?” but my hope is that I will be able to answer that: I know where it went, because I was with it all along. I was not absent from it, trying to make my body better from the outside. I was INSIDE it, watching my skins shed and change, rebirthing myself from the inside out.
Last weekend I flew up to Virginia to visit my mom, and her partner Tom who is sick with ALS. As someone whose spiritual practice is intertwined with a physical practice, I admit it’s scary for me to watch illness overtake a body. While I do my good work to stay as connected as I can with my own body, I don’t know how I will traverse this pass when illness strikes. With the Gita on my mind last weekend, I felt relieved by Krisha’s words that all of our skins will shed, and find new form. Through symbolic death, through literal death.
Musing on this over the weekend, I went into my mom’s office to lay back over a bolster and rest. As my head fell gently to the floor behind me, this is what I saw: her old, beautifully worn copy of the Bhagavad Gita, which she told me later she believes was her father’s before it was mine.