Living with a Body: a Blessing or a Curse?
Being Sick with COVID-19 Makes Me Ponder
Just six months of not writing made me feel quite awkward to do it again. Uncomfortable, afraid, hesitant, unfitting. That’s how anything works. If you keep doing it, you get used to it. If you don’t do it, you forget how to do it.
I kept writing on paper, mostly in my journal. During my summer trip, I used the grief journal that was geared to help me with my grieving over my grandmother’s death. After I came back home, I went back to my graphic journal. I filled each page with words and pictures. I would draw, paste scraps of images, and put stickers on it.
Moving from handwriting to typing was another hurdle. When I planned to share my writing, I typed it on my computer. That presumed destiny for my words held me back a bit more. What could I share again after all these months of not sharing? Was there something left in me that I could share?
Perhaps at such a right timing, the COVID-19 virus entered my body for the first time (except for vaccination shots). There was something in my throat that I couldn’t clear on Sunday night, and the following morning coughs and body ache ensued. But the real pain started on the second night as my temperature increased. By Tuesday morning, I struggled with every motion. It was clear. My body was at war. I had to sit back and let it happen. And all those hours of serving as a battleground made me question my relationship with my body.
When I read the Buddhist teachings of Thick Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön, I used to question what my body meant to me. The message I got was somewhat confusing: Let yourself feel completely but observe your feelings as an outside person. What? This summary of mine shows the difficulty of mind training in Buddhism. It is to stay in equilibrium by facing your present moment but not getting attached to your feelings. It would take me my whole lifetime to reach that equilibrium. I just had to keep at it.
Being sick forces me to acknowledge that I do indeed live in a body that is organic and therefore susceptible to all kinds of malfunctions. On my second day of COVID-19, my whole body ached from fever and chills (How can they occur simultaneously?). I slumped over a recliner thinking, I wish I could leave this body.
In Ray Bradbury’s The Fire Balloons, a short story in “The Martian Chronicles,” I was surprised to read that someone else had thought of the same wish as I did: living without a body. Those who thought of the idea and successfully executed it were Martians. In the story, Martians appeared as “glowing as blue flames in crystal spheres.” It turned out they had found a way to live in which they didn’t need a body anymore. Did I live in a body because I needed one? I never thought whether my mind, spirit, or whatever you name the non-corporeal part, needed a body. It was just given. When I was born, I was already in one.
I know that my body “allows” me to feel pain. What else does it allow me to feel? First, food comes to my mind. I love food. I like cooking it, eating it, watching others eat it, and talking about it. All the joy, pleasure, excitement, and connection are possible because I can put food in my mouth. There are other ways that my body brings me such feelings: when I hug loved ones, when I see beautiful things, when I walk in a breeze, when I dance to music, when I climb a mountain, etc. I realized through this reflection that I can only have all my senses thanks to my body, which leads to all kinds of emotions.
Furthermore, my body serves as a motivator for me to live. Because I desire to feel, I desire to live. When I wake up, I roll out my yoga mat to feel the pleasure of loosening up my muscles and joints. By the time I am done, I feel hungry, so I get up and prepare breakfast with whatever my stomach craves on that day. Afterward, I jump into the shower looking forward to the refreshed feeling. My day continues like this until I lie in bed at night to find a sense of relaxation. My body is the driving force of my day.
At the moment, my fever has come down so I have much more energy than in the first few days of sickness. I still have a sore throat, coughs, phlegm, and sinus pain, but they are pretty manageable with medicine. Sick time is another opportunity to think of my body. What are the things that it has been able to do every day until now? So many things. Living with a body can be a blessing or a curse. Probably both. Whichever it is, I better take it because I only get one.
On my podcast American K-sisters, we recently released two episodes in English. Check them out and let me know what you think!