Your Body—Servant or Friend?

by Diane Glass

For much of my life, I treated my body as a servant, there to carry out my brain’s decisions and plans. This strategy worked short time in building a successful corporate career; it did not work long term. My body suffered. It rebelled.

Long meetings led to chronic back pain, at times so intense I had to stand up, rather than sit, to participate. While a leave of absence from my job provided an opportunity to recover, I returned to the same demanding routine. Not until I was diagnosed with breast cancer did I acknowledge that my relationship with my body needed to change.

That change began with simple conversation. I asked my body,

“What do you want?”
“What is your preference?”
“How do you feel about this?”
“How can I help?”
“What is the source of this pain?”

This conversation led to friendship and gratitude. (It also led to quitting my job.) Who else is present with us at birth and at death? Who else knows our deeply intimate fears? Who else provides a home for our dreams and joys? Who else goes with us everywhere to engage in the world?

My body began to respond. She wanted to spend more time outside. Together we rediscovered clouds—how beautifully they glide through an open sky. She missed music so we began the piano lessons set aside since childhood. She longed for freedom of movement so we took swimming lessons.

The dialogue surprised me by opening up deeper insights into my physical problems. Plagued by chronic urinary tract infections for years, I used art and journaling to uncover what the problem might be.

“I’m afraid,” my bladder told me, “but the fear is not yours, it’s your father’s.”

Born with spina bifida and troubled with incontinence, I carried fear about having accidents, but more importantly I carried my father’s fear about whether I would survive this birth defect. Talking with my bladder allowed me to express and release this fear. The infections cleared up after nearly three decades of regular occurrence.

The body uses dreams to show what simmers below the surface of our consciousness. When my bladder showed up in one of my dreams as a pale, thin woman in an Edwardian style waitress outfit on the verge of collapse, I knew it was asking for more support and I called an urologist. She came up with a novel new surgical solution to address my incontinence.

Like all friendships, my relationship with my body has its ups and downs. If I gain weight, become easily fatigued, or discouraged with aging, I at times criticize my body. Can’t she control herself, keep up and fight those wrinkles? This negative self-talk hurts her and hurts us. I come back to expressions of gratitude to make amends:

“Thank you for hanging in there with me when I overdo it and later regret it.”
“Thank you for my ability to walk, even if I need to use a cane.”
“Thank you for the joy of placing my hands on the piano and making music.”
“Thank you for the warmth that comes with hugging grandchildren.”
“Thank you for sharing your wisdom.”

My engagement in TLA study and practices has affirmed my faith in the power words to create relationships, build community, share beauty, address inequities, and heal wounds. In my work as a spiritual director and teacher, I help individuals listen to their bodies and to engage in dialogue that leads to major life shifts. Through such workshops as “The Transformational Power of Story” and “Coming Home to Your Body,” I reach pastors, social workers, mental health counselors, individuals with chronic pain and other spiritual directors.

My TLA practice forms the foundation of my work in the world. But it starts in the most personal and intimate of space—my own body.

Diane Glass, spiritual director and teacher, is a candidate for the Certificate in Transformation Arts Language. She enjoys playing the piano, spending time with her grandchildren, and volunteering with the Spina Bifida Association of Iowa.

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