Transforming the Body into a Sanctuary
Photo Credit: Hillary Harvey
By Jeffrey Davis
I don’t have time to feel ill. At least, that used to be my attitude. I didn’t ignore a head cold or sinus infection. I just had my acupuncturist wife pin me down to perk me up, practiced a few key yoga postures, and moved on. Dis-ease desisted. But then a tick bit me in the gut and kicked my attitude in the butt.
That was in June 2008. A bullring mark and three weeks of antibiotics later, lightning struck our farmhouse, triggering a fire that seared my library and files and left us without a home for fifteen months. In October, while living in a rental, we got pregnant. From October to March, I fought like a lawyer with the home insurance company. In May 2009, another tick bit me. Test results said I was positively positive for Lyme—again. In July, our daughter arrived. And in October 2009, we returned home.
During that time, I awoke each morning feeling old. My arms tingled. My head felt as if I had chugged a pint of Southern Comfort the night before, even though my most toxic beverage was white tea. Even worse, muscular aches pulsed in ever-moving spots—from my neck to my right forearm to my left thumb pad. When I’d press on the ache, I’d release a belch like Pavarotti with gas. Gas seemed to lodge in my hamstrings, my trapezius, my pinkie finger. (I’m not exaggerating). My morning yoga sessions would have been comical if they didn’t seem so pathetic. By mid-morning I could function, but my body moved as if driving 55 mph in second gear.
Even once we moved home, my energy was sapped. Yet I was 44 years old, gray-haired, and holding a baby girl in my arms who would graduate from high school with a belching 62-year-old father. I needed help.
Do you remember that baby bird searching for its mother in the Dr. Seuss book asking “Are you my mommy?” That was me as I traveled around last winter asking one healer after another, “Are you my healer?” My wife stuck me with needles, fed me nasty bitter teas, and said to cut out dairy, wheat, and sugar. My doctor shook his head and said, “You might be one of those few people who has residual symptoms of Lyme even after you’ve been properly treated. Be patient. It’ll pass. And your wife’s right about the diet.” “And the belching?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. A chiropractor told me to stay away from wheat and gave me a supplement called Miracle Mineral Supplement. (“I didn’t name it,” he apologized when my eyebrows rose. “But it works.”) An energy healer told me to daydream more.
I followed everyone’s advice, and all of it helped. Among other distresses, the antibiotics might have triggered four decades of toxic accumulation of dairy, wheat, and sugar. After two months with a newly purified diet, I started to get my chi back.
Still, I sensed I needed to go more deeply into healing. I kept asking myself, “Just how good can you feel? Can you really dedicate your life to feeling so optimal that you can be of even more service to your loved ones and the world? Just how good can you feel?”
The big shift came this past December. I had let myself be ill for a year and a half. With the new year approaching and my baby growing, one morning I asked myself: “What’s my dharma for 2010? What quality of body do I need to manifest that dharma?”
Dharma is a lofty word sometimes translated as “wisdom,” “the Buddha’s collected wisdom,” or “duty” (in the sense of your unique duty, not your obligations). But in this context, I translate it as “that which calls you to act well in the world.” So sometimes I rephrased it, “What is calling me to act well in the world in 2010?”
I’d see images of my daughter and wife, and of myself flowing with the students I teach at retreats and workshops and with my writing clients. I saw myself flowing at the desk as a writer. Put simply, I had work to do in 2010. Crazy, sexy work involving living creatively, tracking wonder, and being available—and helping thousands of others do the same.
Dharma is not just mind work. My body played (and plays) a seminal role in dharma becoming manifest. So what quality of body did my dharma need? “Vitality,” I heard over and over. Every morning since then, I have sat, moved, and breathed with those questions. They led me to develop a new sequence of yoga postures and, especially, breathing tools designed to open specific blocked parts of my body and invigorate my limbs.
This yoga-meditation stuff works. My true self wants to reside and be comfortable in this house of a body. Yoga-meditation practice makes this house of a body a sanctuary for the self to reside, replenish, and ultimately express itself. The house is less crowded. A life force moves through it more effortlessly than it has in years. Less belching. More space and spaciousness.
I try to be more patient now with my body, its quirks, and inevitable change. I try to take my time with and learn from illness and dis-ease. And woe to glutens, dairy, and sugar—I thank the ticks for that enlightenment!
I also received the gift of a new mantra: Inspired action. Surrendered outcome. Harnessed breath work reminds me of this mantra throughout the day: Inhale inspired action. Exhale surrendered outcome. The self and body tell me: Give every action everything you have. And then let go. Teach with gusto. Write with verve. Papa with heart.
And let go. Students move on. Words vanish. And that little girl, well, she will leave one day.
Yoga continues to be my muse. I show up for her, and each morning she’s always there, on the mat or in the crib, waiting for me.
Jeffrey Davis teaches Yoga as Muse workshops, retreats, and facilitator training throughout North America. He serves as a creativity consultant and writing coach for clients around the world through his organization Center to Page, LLC, is author of The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing, and blogs about wonder and living creatively for PsychologyToday.com.