On the Mind/Body Ecosystem and the Gratitude for a Working Body

April 6, 2022

I slept so deeply last night. The kind of sleep that has no awareness of itself. Where you wake up disoriented and ask, was I sleeping that entire time? Like Rip Van Winkle, but instead of a mysterious liquor induced sleep, mine was brought on by Spring farm work.

My body aches in the way that is distinctly Spring. My left arm tingles when I reach down and forward (the exact position to transplant) due to tightness in my shoulders (brought on my transplanting). My joints hurt, my hips feel a sharp pressure. It sounds bad, but I recognize is my body acclimatizing to the work. My cuticles begin to wear further back from pushing them daily into the soil, my hands are dry and scratch and catch against the surface of my sheets. My nightly routine consists of various lotions and salves, and I am beginning to wonder if I should wrap my hands in saran wrap, or at least wear gloves, to trap in the moisture as I sleep.

It is not comfortable, but it is not unwelcome. Along with the increased daylight and birdsong, this feels like another harbinger of Summer. These aches jog my memory of what is to come, what ease and comfort I will feel in my body come June. This is simply my seasonal initiation.

There is no amount of winter yoga, no gym membership, that can ready the body for the repetitious grind that is farm work. I accept that, and welcome these aches and this fatigue as a rite of passage and something I am happy to traverse. For in the end, I know the energy and ease, the comfort and balance, the summer strength and stamina I will have earned.

I also love to know that I am using this body. I have spent a strange amount of time wondering about the purpose of bodies. Are they vehicles for our consciousness — simply transporters for what gives life deeper meaning, or are they meaning makers themselves? I’ve considered the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ecosystem and thought about what it looks like to have balance or to have a predominant leaning. I can mentally scan my closest relationships, and like a personality test, categorize people into which feature they lean towards. My husband, mental. My brother, physical. My best friend, emotional and spiritual. I wonder, is balance the goal?

In considering the physical/mental/emotional ecosystem, I have come to believe that our bodies are more than mere vehicles for that which is the true important stuff of life — they are the meat of life themselves. Our bodies play an integral role in our experience and therefore they are worth our care and consideration. I have felt and know the reward of caring for this body, for feeding it well, for pushing it and giving it rest, for bringing it to incredible places and in turn, feeling the spiritual reward of those places. The balance is an interplay and a dance and one that I seem to always be working on.

I regret the amount of time I have spent angry and unappreciative of the body I have — how many calories I have restricted, how much impractical exercise and dieting, how many angry words I have thrown at it. My body has become an entity itself, one that I wish I had protected and coddled. And therein lies that interconnectedness again, the ecosystem that is our minds and bodies. The mind cannot separate itself from the body, from having opinions and thoughts, and the body and how it is utilized cannot be free from the incessant judgements of the mind.

It is in farm work that I have found the most balanced mind-body ecosystem. Through farm work, I first discovered the practical purpose of my body, in that it could produce food to nourish my body and please my mind and spirit. It is through farm work that I have learned to pay attention and to feel gratitude for what my body is capable of.

I have also been considering lately the threat of not having a functioning body. An unfamiliar pain in my left elbow is proving to be an insistent reminder of my own physical fragility. I have the privilege of a fully operating body and cannot deny that I worry about its lack of functionality one day. I wonder what my work will look like as I age, or if I were to be injured. I am so grateful for the body I have and that it works how I need it to now, and I wonder about a life in which I wouldn’t be able to. I also must acknowledge the privilege I have to rest, to feed, and to nourish my body. That I am a farmer who has more agency and choice in how and when I work than many do. For all of these things I am immensely grateful.

I have been injured, and while frustrating, I had the comfort of knowing that recovery was in the offing. I have battered and bashed this body without gratitude for what it awards me, and every year at this time I am reconnected with my physical self and forced to remember that I have a body and that it deserves my reverence and care.

To give it water and snacks is care. To stretch, to bathe, to rest, and to feed is care. All of this is simultaneously utilitarian and sacred reverence. I am reminded of a friend of mine who shared that when he showers, he always pays special attention to bathing his feet. He said that while they carry us around all day, they often go forgotten. The beauty of routine is how easily it can be transformed into ritual, simply by adjusting one’s intention. In intentionally treating my body with routine maintenance, I am given the opportunity to appreciate and honor it, and to feel immense gratitude for all that it affords me.