Friday, May 11, 2007


Sometimes when I think I'm listening to my body, I'm really listening to what my brain is telling me about my body--which may not necessarily be the truth. This valuable lesson learned-well, actually re-learned--yesterday in my second session with Dr. Steve. Old assumptions and presumptions die hard, as old habits do. That old, familiar "bad back" may just be the place where the brain chooses to locate the pain through some wiring process that it learned, perhaps, years ago. So the business, as I see it, is to learn to listen not just to the body but the body-mind, that complex of thought, memory, judgment, emotion and physicality that speaks in a voice we sometimes do not wish to hear, or overlook because its real message might be something we have long chosen to conceal.

Here's an old story: like a surprisingly large number of my fellow human beings, I was born with the umbilical cord around my neck, and it was only the swift action of the midwife (yes, friends, I was born that long ago, at home) that saved my life. It was about fifty years before I discovered that this narrowly-averted disaster (well, for me, anyway) might have some relevance in my subsequent life. It was in the course of a workshop led by the writer, Larry Block. Larry's workshop was called "Write For Your Life," and one of its steps was to meet up with what he called the "Big Lie"--the piece that gets in the way of your achieving what you want to achieve. I had read his book, and had decided ahead of time that my Big Lie was "I have no time to write," but Larry shook his head when he heard that, and said he thought it might be something deeper: was there something, he wondered, about my birth...

I remembered the story. At five years of age, I was sent off, like a proper little English boy, to dance class, to learn to comport myself with grace and ease, but very time a skipping rope appeared, however, little Peter went into fits of tearful resistance. My father, a well-studied Freudian, brought me into his study one day (a rare privilege, which usually involved some prior naughtiness on my part) and produced a skipping rope, which he wrapped around my neck and tightened gently as he told me the story of my birth. I guess I never screamed at a skipping rope again.

So Larry suggested that my Big Lie, perhaps, was "I have no right to be here," and asked me to try that on for size. The next process in the workshop was for participants to walk around the room and introduce themselves to each other by their Big Lie, so I started out trying to say, "Hi, I'm Peter, I have no right to be here," but I could hardly bring the words out at first because I was laughing-crying so hard I couldn't speak. I was in hysterics. The words seemed so ridiculous... and so right. I had been through life, sabotaging all my jobs, always needing to move on, always needing to leave the party early... The words resonated at the deepest level of my consciousness.

Anyway, there you go. The point is, the body is smart, and it has a long memory. It does its best to serve us, to get its message across, but the brain runs interference. The challenge, of course, is to hear what the body is truly trying to tell me, and not be side-tracked by the interpretation offered by that powerful, persuasive, and obstinately presumptuous brain.

I'm sure that my friends out there in the blogosphere have stories similar to this one. No? I'd love to hear them.


Paul said...

Hi Peter,

One of my favorite mental topics of late is Truth. I’ve been thinking about truth externally. For example, how do I, or how does anyone, know what’s true in the world? Now I have a new question. How do I know what’s true within me? I’ve been sparring with this question for a couple of months now, but haven’t yet put words to it. This post of yours about your Big Lie really poked at my psyche. Now I feel compelled to dig mine out. Just what is my story, anyway? And what will I do with it when I find out? Thanks, paulg

carly said...

P: Here's a true story about truth.

Lest anyone doubt that God is purely an artistic metaphor for an unknowable force, here is a quick true story which proves it:

In the ghetto of Detroit, my friend Ralph was "teaching" art to young, black, poor children. This day, he would become the student. He noticed Mary across the room, quickly covering her large sheet of manilla paper with a red crayon. He went around near her to check out Mary's picture. She had started in the lower corner, and without missing any spots on the paper, was working the red field across the large sheet. Ralph circled around the room again, his curiosity getting higher. Mary continued to intently and forcefully cover the paper in a diagonal, systematic way. Ralph was captivated by her earnestness as she worked. There was so much purpose in her as she concentrated on making her point with the red crayon. Finally Ralph moved up near her and asked, " Uh, Mary, what's your picture here?" A moment of quiet. Then, without looking up nor stopping her crayon, Mary said flatly through her determined lips, "God."

moral: We never doubt neither the honesty, integrity, nor imagination of children. If so, Mary's understanding is pure.

carly said...

P: I respectfully disagree with Buddha. Or is Buddha God and knows more than I?

Sufffering is not inevitable. It's a condition of man's consciousness, his inability to accept, his stubborness to move with the forces of fate, his insistence to defy his core, his insistence to knowingly and willfully commit his sins, his conscious will in making mistakes he knows instinctively he should not make. And many more risky and inferior reasons. Yes, Buddha, "inferior".

I have no one, no concept, and most certain of all, no angry god, to blame but myself. I do not suffer. I only accept. I bear the responsibility for the the natural consequence of my foolish behavior and inability to listen to my own sense of thoroughness. Our destinies are in our own conceited hands in our microcosm of a larger system.

PeterAtLarge said...

Tough, no, Paul? There are so many layers of self-deception to work through! And Carly, thanks for a great story. Cheers, PaL

carly said...

Paul: When fire is burning the flesh off your arm, that's true.

Compare all man's ideas to that, and you will always know what is true.

PeterAtLarge said...

Carly, re: your disagreement with the Buddha. You're going to get old, you're going to die. I suppose, in theory, that one possessed of truly extraordinary strength of mind--or one who has prepared himself with extraordinary skill--can find the way to face these facts without experiencing some suffering. For most of us mortals, though, the prospect of aging and death brings with it an element of suffering: most of us would like to stay young forever, and many would prefer to be excused the necessity of death! I don't consider that especially ignoble--just human. It's not about blaming others, either: Buddhist thought excuses no one from personal responsibility. And no, the Buddha never represented himself as God, or knowing more than you--or I! In fact, he encouraged us to put everything, including his own words, to the test before "believing" them.

Carly said...

P: Yes, I thought later of Buddha saying, question even me. Of course, I question often enough that it infuriates people.

I have since been told in a live journal community that Buddhism doesn't say suffering is inevitable. Good news. But that attachment to certain things brings suffering and to release those things. Or an idea close to that. All of it is contrary to my Taoist mind, though, which says move. Movement is key for me.

I am very cool about death. Very accepting of it. Some physical suffering may occur, but I see that as a different special case. Some days are just good days to die. I would even end it myself under certain circumstances, on a good day for it. That would be a final movement. As long as I don't go in a plane crash or some other stupid man-made contraption, I'm fine with dying most anytime. Some drugs at the end might be nice.

Cali_P said...

I have enjoyed your writings here as a way to discover more of my own spirituality.
The story about your father and the skipping rope, however, made my blood go cold. Best wishes and thank you for your continued insight.

PeterAtLarge said...

Hello, Cali P, and thanks for reading The Buddha Diaries. I'd be really interested to hear why your "blood ran cold" when you read the story--and what that phrase could mean to you in this context? I get that you were in some way turned off, or angered, or in some way emotionally upset. Would you be ready to elaborate a bit? I'd certainly welcome that. And I hope that you'll keep reading, once in a while. Best of everything, PaL

Cali_P said...

I think it was the imagery of a little boy hearing the somewhat frightening story of his birth... while his father "gently tightens" the rope around his neck.

I understand that this exercise helped you move beyond your fear.

A little guy who is young enough to "skip rope" having his father put the rope around his neck...not exactly a lesson of love in my imagination.

No offense, just wondering if the lesson needed to be that intense to do the trick.


PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks again, Cali P--good to hear back from you! A good point. I think that the father/son trust acted in this instance to make it possible for him to do this without scaring--or scarring!--me. That, and the way in which he told the story... It was definitely a healing rather than a harming experience. (My father, by the way, in case you joined us recently, was an Anglican priest: we lived in a small village in Bedfordshire at the time...This was at the beginning of WWII.) Cheers, PaL