I don’t usually look at a piece of art and say, “Yeah, me too.” I say this often about writing and film and music but very rarely about a drawing or painting or photograph. So when I saw John Baldessari’s “Green Kiss/Red Embrace” at The Broad last week and this was my first thought, I stopped and looked longer.
I’ve been thinking about the Body a lot in the last year. I’ve had an at-arms-length relationship with my body most of my life. My mind has always been stronger so I let it lead the way. I spent my childhood tripping over things with too long legs and a minimal sense of balance. In school, I only played sports when forced to and usually in positions where my height was my sole advantage. In trying to unify and strengthen my mind, soul, and body, my body has always lagged behind.
When I got married, I became aware of my body in new ways. (And I don’t just mean sexually.) As I got to know someone else’s body, I also got to know mine better. (Have I had that freckle on the top of my knee my whole life? Has the nail on my ring finger always had that asymmetrical slope?) I started noticing my body and enjoying my body and being thankful for it in new ways. (I love that my arms are long! My nose crinkles up funny when I smile!) It’s funny to me that my body only really felt like mine once someone else’s body also became mine.
When we separated, one of the many strong emotions I experienced was a distance from my own body. I alternated between feeling like I didn’t even know my body and feeling like half of it was missing. I experienced sensations that I can only describe as something like phantom limb syndrome. My hand would hurt to be held and my shoulders would physically ache for someone’s arm to be around them. I don’t know what it really means to become “one flesh” but I wonder if I was experiencing some physically reaction to that being torn apart.
During this time, I started doing a therapy where I learned to identify emotions through my body. I learned to identify fear as a tightening in my chest, happiness as a lightness in my arms and shoulders, and anger as a heat in my neck and face – among many other emotions. It was an interesting and unusual way to come back to knowing my body and appreciate more deeply the place my body plays in the interaction of mind, soul, and body.
In the last year, I have been more conscious about strengthening my body. Learning to identify physical indicators of stress earlier, recognizing that good food and sufficient sleep are not luxuries for me but necessities, and developing patience with myself when I need time to heal from injury or illness. Humbly recognizing that my body affects my mind and soul just as much as they each affect my body.
I still sometimes experience the physical sensation of missing another’s physical presence. I miss being held and touched and sex and well, being an integral part of someone else’s physical experience of the world. It’s not something I consciously acknowledge very often so that moment in The Broad when the green faces and red bodies forced me to stop and think and feel was significant. And I am once again grateful to the role of art as a mirror to the parts of ourselves we may be hesitant to look at too closely
This year as I focus on dwelling, one of the things I want to understand better is what it feels like, looks like to really dwell in my own body. I know that sounds funny because where else would I be dwelling? There is probably a better way of describing it but I have a tendency to feel like my body is just container for who I am rather than an integral part of my very being and experience of the world. I want to learn to be more thankful for and enjoy the fact that I dwell in this world in a body and one that is mostly healthy and getting stronger.