(On left, the author in 2014. On right, in 2016, after a year of dieting, cardio and strength training)
For twenty and nine years, I lived without a body, a mind tethered to pounds of flesh—a chained-up dog wearing down backyard circles. I was a ghost, a spirit haunting old books and favored thoughts—haunting weeds, haunting trees. Though I had a body, I lived without thought of my body.
To be a Christian, the type of Christian I was, meant to have ideas—And, more importantly, to have ideas about those ideas—And most importantly, to have feelings about those ideas about those ideas. Having a body is in service to these ideas. Feet are beautiful only when they carry the good news. Voices are beautiful because they mutter magnificat. Eyes are beautiful when they gaze on the mysteries. So, this body should become less so he might become more. This makes it sound like I wanted to be a wandering ascetic, withering away, thirsting for water, chained to a pillar, but I was far from it. I just made my body less by never considering it. St. Paul had to beat his into submission; I just ignored mine. Yet, less or more, this skin-bag is present
Why did I ignore my body for twenty and nine years? It has taken me years to realize my conceptions of The Divine coagulated around the words I liked best, and the words I liked best were the ones agreeing I am the worst. My god was the incarnation of everything I was not and of everything I wanted to be, so he wore the mask of my own self-hatreds. I called it love. But, loved or hated, this skin-bag is present.
Yet, to be a Christian, the type of Christian I was, meant never to hate—and, most importantly, to never be angry. So, my piety-masquerading hatreds were never active. My anger was one of neglect. After all, a Christian can’t hate, but she can always look away. So, I looked away, just floating in the trees of worshiping someone I’ll never be, lost in the weeds of desire, as another serving of casserole, another soft-serve, another coke, just another anything to feel better as my body wore down endless circles. Never you mind, never you mind. Because, even when looking away, this skin-bag is always looking.
This makes it sound like I was even aware of this happening. I wasn’t aware my neglect was latent hatred. I wasn’t aware my piety was overwrought laziness. Lost in feelings about ideas about ideas, the mind does not want to know. The mind wanted to forget. Yet, forgotten or not, the skin-bag remembers.
Here, now, at this spot—and not another—I would introduce Zazen or koans, those medicines that bring me back to earth with perhaps a high sentence or three and rhetorical flourish. I would introduce calorie-counting or exercise here, too, including six easy steps to rid belly fat and you won’t believe his reaction (and doctors hate him, of course) and the like. But as wonderful as these are, they were not my salvation.
We must beware of saviors because when one is found, chains are never far behind. I could roll up all my lazy self-hatreds and form them into any mask. The hate could flow from neglect to over-concern. The mirror could become another invitation to frustration, to becoming less. Calorie-counting can become another excuse to hate myself. Talking about kensho can keep my mind out of my body just as much as singing about when the roll is called up yonder and the like. The masks could change, but the hatred stays the same.
We must beware those in this day who say they can change your life. Or that this thing will change your life. They’re probably selling you something. Or perpetuating their own delusion that they can change the world. As Alan Watts once put it, they’re like a monkey sitting up in a tree and saying to a swimming fish, “You’d better get up here so you don’t drown!” It’s like one pro-war, big-business, wall-street Democrat claiming she can save you from the pro-war, big-business, wall-street Republican. Because worshiping what you’re not means never becoming who you are. So, if you came here looking for inspiration, kindly fuck off. Find your own.
But, I will tell you this and maybe it will help a few of you if you listen:
I once dreamt that in deep night I lay in bed. I was propped upon pillows and enfolded in blankets with book in hand. In short, I was ready for sleep when suddenly there was a clink at my balcony window. Then, another clink. Then another. I slept, but my heart awoke. It was my beloved. He threw rocks at my window. Leaning, I opened it.
In darkness of the streetlight below, he sang to me, “Open to me, my brother, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. You up?” But, how can I get up, I protested? I’m ready for bed. I’ve washed my feet—do you want me to get dirty again? Plus, I have to be at work early. Why are you bothering me now? I closed my eyes and yelled, A girl’s gotta get her beauty sleep, damn it.
Just then, there was a knock at my door. And the door opened slightly. He stuck his hand into my room, waving. My bowels were moved for him. Rushing up from the bed, the book fell to the floor while I ran to the door. But when I threw it open, he was gone. I was sad, so terribly sad. Putting on a jacket, I wandered out into the night in search for my lover.
Just down the street was a bar. Two men stood outside, smoking a cigarette while that one Tammy Wynette song blared from inside. Have you seen my lover? I yelled at them, tears streaming down my face. Well, they said, blowing smoke into the darkness, what does she look like?
He. I said. My lover is a he. He’s six feet tall with broad shoulders and flowing hair. His teeth are perfect with a glimmering shade of white that scares night away. He smells of myrth, aloe and cassia. He’s dressed in a cloth-of-gold cope of the finest brocade. He’s the associate priest down at St. Andrew’s and you can often find him with a guitar in hand and quick with a laugh. Tell me, please, did you see where he went?
One of them took a long drag of his cigarette. He said, What a fucking faggot. Gary, I ain’t been on a queer hunt in years. Let’s get this one. Maybe he’ll get right with God. They rushed upon me, throwing me to the ground. Their fists were fast and kicks were worse. They put their cigarettes out on my face. They pulled my clothes from my body.
Just then, I dreamt there was a flash of light and a sound like thunder and a rush of bluejay’s wings and the barking of a chained-up dog wearing down circles in the backyard. I squinted from my swollen eyes and looked up. I knew it was my beloved coming to save me—but it wasn’t. My beloved was nowhere to be found.
I looked up and saw a body descending from heaven a body, but it was my body. The New Jerusalem was coming down from the sky and it was my swollen face. The incorruptible born of the new earth was me—bruises and all. The body of Christ was mine. The mind of Buddha was mine. Heaven and earth, body and soul were all one in the same. After all, Christ has no body but mine. And my mind is nothing but my body. In the dream, I said to myself, thrust your finger into your own wounds: doubt not, and believe. In the yard, the a dog ran free.
In the dream, as in life, it is like two boys roughhousing. Playing, they run into each other at full speed. When they collide, they fall over into giggles and laughter and bruises. When they collide, these words become what they are. They’re just pixels on a screen and a dot, dot, dot . . .