There is no storyboard more dynamic, animated, full of plots, subplots, protagonists, antagonists, good guys and bad guys, and plain old plot twists than the human body. Our bodies respond instantaneously to every dream, desire, fear, emotion, and speculation. Like “Plastic Man” in the old action hero comic books, our bodies will help us tell any story we wish to tell, fitting into tiny crevices or large caverns with equal ease.
Look at your body. Stand in front of a mirror. Take a selfie. As you scan your body, perhaps the way a painter would superimpose a grid on the canvas, ask yourself the question, “What does this spot, this curve, this glimmering highlight, this bunion, this wrinkle, this fit, trim human specimen tell me about the body of my beliefs?”
I am amazed at how many times a day I communicate contradictory and even absurd beliefs about myself and my body to my skin, teeth, hair, legs, eyebrows, muscles. One moment I am extolling the virtues of individual reality creation based on my focus among countless probabilities. The very next moment I catch myself in some “explanation” about family genetic predispositions, including Type 2 diabetes, male and female pattern baldness, cancer, mental illness, and other diseases ad nauseum. One moment I am extolling the power of my great grandmother who lived to be a hundred and who worked until the day she died in strength and health. Then with hardly a breath between sentences I have turned my attention to one of several aunts who died at relatively young age of cancer. In my statements I am communicating contradictory stories and beliefs, edge-of-your-seat cliff hangers not only about their story, but also about how my particular story will end as well, shaped by my contradictory beliefs.
Based on some of my favorite notions by authors I admire about the constant and continual creation of the physical body, it is a wonder I look recognizable to anybody at all, let alone to myself! I have seen bumps and lines and muscles and wrinkles appear and disappear right before my eyes. Quite literally. Try staring at your body in this way and be prepared for surprise. The feedback and interplay between mind and body is nothing short of phenomenal, adapting to every actual and potential experience, and to every consistent or contradictory belief about the nature of the human, health and disease, aging, heredity, and choice. Every time I play this game there are elements of surprise that knock me off my seat and into the largely hidden vault of very personal beliefs, into my insured and protected, even award-winning storyboard.
As I sit here and write on a rainy Honolulu afternoon, every square inch of my body is telling its own and our collective stories: here’s where I got burned on the stove as a child; here’s a mole or splotch in the shape of a heart (who knows when that appeared??!!); here is thinning or thickening hair, depending on my mood and diet of the day. Some marks and markers seem to disappear for long periods of time until I remember they used to be there and then they return, almost on command. Others disappear and are never seen again. Maybe they are replaced by new marks – a cut, a wrinkle, a weird looking toenail, a soft smoothness in an area that used to be rough skin. Depending on my latest subplot, my body will dash into the dressing room for a quick change of costume.
Potential “successes” and “failures,” diseases and remissions dance all around, flickering on and off, in and out, showing me glimpses of all my probable expressions and deepest beliefs in any moment of focus. I am quite literally wearing my body of beliefs all the time, more or less consciously and more or less visible to myself and others. That body of beliefs is both literal and metaphorical. My body is language, just as much as my guttural expressions that distinguish our species and make me part of the human family. The language can be coded, so only I am aware of its full meaning in my life, or the communication can choose consensus messages that others might understand and interpret because I wish to be known by them. There are more plot twists than the greatest science fiction or murder mystery could ever assemble in one semi-coherent story – the physical body. My body!
My body routinely absorbs and reflects contradictory messages as skillfully as it absorbs consistent ones. It is a universe in microcosm, building, merging, expanding, contracting, exploding all at once. Some of its actions require a microscope, such as the adoption of some esoteric disease, while others blare loudly to all passers by, such as a sudden gain or loss of weight or a decision to dye my hair bright green. However it looks and feels, my body is complex enough to absorb asymmetry as skillfully as symmetry, while still projecting the image of a single and largely recognized individual.
So my health actually boils down to a preponderance of both conscious and unconscious beliefs that reflect a confidence in my worth, my right to take up space on the planet in cooperation with others, and my capacity to shape which potentially contradictory beliefs will prevail and become part of my physical expression at any given time. My consistencies and inconsistencies roll up into one form and are reflected back in the mirror and in the eyes of others as they observe my momentary “body of beliefs” on the fly, my current plot with multiple probable endings.
Any non-expressed subplot reflecting a different body of beliefs continues to exist offstage in the background until called upon to be paramount. It could be health in the background or disease in the background, each more or less neutrally available to blast to the foreground for my own entertainment and that of my audience.
Notwithstanding all this chaos and asymmetry, I believe that our bodies are preset to help us feel good and to experience the fulfillment of our overriding positive desires. So in some sense good health may be easier to express than poor health or disease, because that is our default position. That being said, our bodies will cooperate with us if we want to suffer, without judgment or blame through the exercise of free will and emotional excitement, even if that means the experience of temporary pain and horror. In my view horror is always temporary, because the body and the inner self will always seek to return to a natural state of well being. I dare to call well being “normal,” the way things are meant to be.
I am having a grand time lately paying attention to my own storyboard, my own plot twists. I invite you to spend a few moments over the next weeks and months paying attention to your twists as well. Make it a goal to notice some physical marker disappear or appear, almost as if on command. Pay attention to plots and subplots that are already playing out in your life and your body. Remember that health and well being are your natural state, your blank storyboard, where all of your plots and twists can be reset to neutral. Remember that it is never too late to retell a story.
I have a little figurine on my desk that reminds me of the body I have always yearned for. It was given to me by my granddaughter years ago when I was trying to lose weight. In some magical and inexplicable way I have used it as a reminder of how I imagine physical health to look for me. The figure is a young African-American woman who appears to me to be a dancer in a Capezio outfit: I thought about becoming a dancer before I covered up, straightened up, and became a university professor instead.
I always imagined this figurine with her head down a bit more, her face not fully visible even though her body was clearly healthy and aligned. I just looked over at that figurine, which I have not thought about lately, and her head is held up and looking out with the most delightful smile. She always represented the epitome of grace for me. I had even tucked her away in a drawer last year and then brought her back out on my desk. I could have sworn her head was down before and her expression was more neutral! But here she is as I write this, not on the bookshelf behind me where she used to be, but right up front on my desk, smiling at my tale of storyboards.
This little experience is just what I imagine goes on with the body all the time. We think we see it one way and yet it is constantly adapting to our mood, beliefs and expectations of what we will find there. What a sweet figurine! Maybe I can look and feel like that again; maybe I can dance again in my current body with a grace that I, like she, will take for granted. Maybe my own plot twists will defy expectations and offer smiles of wonder not only to me, but to others in my life as well.
Look around you. Look at the plots and subplots and twists on your body and on your desk and in your physical environment. Now get out your own storyboard and see which story you will tell – and modify – today.