Dear Elyse, Bodies are Weird

Dear Elyse,

Oh hay. So here I am, in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. Upon landing, the pilot in our tiny charter plane today took off her headset, turned around, and told us “yep, you’re just about as remote as you could get.” My parents and Clara and I were the only four passengers on board, flying in on a dirt airstrip where a Jeep awaited us to whisk us to camp. There wasn’t AC on board the plane, and there definitely isn’t any on site anywhere at the Kalahari Plains lodging–and, gulp, temperatures are above 100 today. We’re told it’s one of their hottest days yet this season. And it doesn’t cool down much at night, either.

There’s so much more I could write about the trip, but today, I’m inclined to take a respite from straight-out travel rehash to talk about bodies. Yeah. Bodies. These ones. This one, in particular.

So there’s this universal experience I’m currently in the midst of: being sick. You and I and everyone know how it feels to feel “less than,” or “half mast,” or “just plain crappy.” And though I understand how universal this experience is, I’m struck, and a little confused: how is it that this is the same body that in general feels so vibrant and so resilient, so vivacious and full of life? And today, instead, here I am: emerging from a full day of feeling totally obliterated, still having only partial capacity to digest, process, function–both physically and mentally. Am I really the same person now as I am when I’m healthy?

Bodies are weird. I for the most part have a bit of a love affair with them. I relish in the variation; people’s different shapes and sizes, abilities and proclivities. Clara with her lean thighs and her strong upper body, who can pull off pull-ups without practice (say whaaat?); Iris with her strong and her seemingly endless endurance, who can go for hours on the frisbee field (that woman can RUN!). I am fascinated by the different types of movement that people find nourishing: for some it’s strength training, for some it’s gentle yin stretching, for some it’s dance or long-distance running or high-intensity interval work. For me, I know my desires surrounding movement and exercise change: with the season, with my age, with my lifestyle, with where I am in the world, with the time of the month. Elyse, I know it’s this way for you, too. We were both once yogis who could barely go a day without practicing; now, you and I have full weeks where our feet don’t touch a mat (though admittedly, it’s a rare day when my body doesn’t curl into a down dog at least once, on some random occasion).

So I guess I understand, at least rationally, the fact that yes, bodies change, and yes, this body I’m currently inhabiting–the one that’s struggling to digest even the blandest of foods–is the same body that usually eats the wildest & most exotic dishes with glee. But when this body o’ mine is feeling so challenged, I in turn have a heck of a hard time feeling like romancing it in any way. It’s a challenge to even consider loving it, when it’s causing me so much distress. When anything I give it, it rejects; when every move I make results in pangs, throbs, aches, cramps. Really? I’m supposed to love this body, even despite feeling tortured by it?!

Elyse, love: like me, I know you know how it feels to be respectful and compassionate to your body–and, conversely, how it feels to be in a relationship that’s unkind, even abusive. And we both know it’s not always about “treat it well, and it treats you well back.” I think that’s part of what drives me absolutely bananas. Color me guilty: I’m not always gentle with my body. I’m often rough, overriding its requests, pushing harder or faster or longer. There were many years when I didn’t give it the nourishment it required to funcion to full capacity. But right now, I am being ridiculously gentle. I’ve been in bed for the majority of the past two days. I’ve eaten the foods that are easiest for my system: white rice, applesauce, crackers. I’ve drank my weight’s worth in ginger tea and ginger ale (in small sips, no less), and I just lay in the super-salty pool for nearly 45 minutes–and when I say “lay,” I mean it. I stretched my arms above my head, stretched my legs out wide, and let the water hold me as I floated. Zero exertion. Pure relaxation. If gentle had a definition, this would be it.

And what do I get, for all this gentleness? Pain. Discomfort. Anguish. Continued inability to process anything that would sustain me. It feels, to me, like rejection. It feels like my body’s sticking a mean middle finger at me and saying “nothing you do will appease me.”

And I know it could be worse. And I also know it will get better. This is not a pity party, by any means. ‘Lest I didn’t make it clear: I am in the middle of the mother-effing Kalahari Desert. Clara and I have an open-air hut, with a clean toilet and a cold (praise Jesus!) shower and a bed surrounded by mosquito-netting. Our view is out directly onto the plains of hands-down one of the mightiest deserts on the planet. The water hole outside of our accommodations attracts all sorts of exotic birds and other animals–we’re told that giraffes and even lions sometimes make appearances, just steps from the outdoor dining hall. It’s an all-inclusive camp, meaning if I was healthy & well I’d be eating voraciously from the breathtaking buffet with limitless supply of vegetables, grains, and meats. Right now, Clara and my parents are enjoying chilled African Sauvignon Blanc and American whiskey on their evening drive. (After our choppy plane flight, and a rough Jeep ride to camp, my tummy wasn’t up for the drive–let alone the alcohol.)

So it’s not the worst place to be stuck recovering. But it is a reality check, and a reflection: bodies are weird. At this very moment, mine is tenuously okay. Trying hard to calibrate to the heat. As I lie here, I feel the sweat trickling down the back of my legs and my forehead; my back is a long sheet of perspiration. I haven’t moved anything (besides these typing fingers) in nearly an hour, and still, the heat is exorbitant. In dealing with temperatures this high, it’s much like bodies in distress–you’ve got no choice but to slow way down and ride through the discomfort. There’s nothing else to do. And spoken from one good “doer” to another, darling Elyse, I think you’ll understand how disconcerting this concept is to me. Not DO anything? What do you mean, there’s nothing I can do to remedy the situation?! But I’m a queen of finding solutions, and acting on them!

And once again: bodies are weird. It’s hard to know how to be kind to mine when all I want to do is curse at it. I know it’s doing its best. I know it’s doing a damn good job. It’s keeping my blood pumping through my veins, and supporting my liver and kidneys and gallbladder and adrenals. It’s regulating my temperature in the midst of my 105 degree surroundings. It’s allowing me to walk around camp, to stretch my arms and legs out wide, to breathe deeply when my stomach begins to sieze up or convulse. It’s, ahem, keeping me alive–quite a feat in & of itself. And yet, in its current state of dis-ease, so far from peace and calm, even the most epic of backdrops (the mother-effing Kalahari!) and the most relaxing of circumstances, are only able to provide hints of peace and respite.

I love you, sweet one. Thanks for being such a safe and supportive person for me. You’re one of my favorite people to rail and reflect with, to dance with, to nosh and nom with–not to mention, to run a studio with. Can’t wait to be back and catch up about all the things. Including, but not limited to, bodies. Yours. Mine. Any others that we may so choose.


PS The cover photo today is of the “tent” Clara and I stayed in last night. And yes, tent is in quotation marks for a reason. #luxurious, much?

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