Finding God in My Body
September 4, 2006 started early for me, with a phone call from the transplant clinic at Lahey in MA. They had a kidney for me. The coordinator asked, “Well, do you want it or not?” I hesitated, but I knew I had to say yes. It was time for a change. The drive from Maine, where my then husband was opening a new restaurant, to MA, where I was living at the time, was rushed, exciting and strangely calming. Finally I was being given a new possibility.
I had set up a chain of command that included phone calls to family and friends as well as an email bulletin. Prayers began from all over the globe, literally, as I readied myself for the tremendous gift of new life. I prayed as I drove, blessing the family that had lost a son or daughter, blessing the new kidney and welcoming her/him into my body, blessing all the medications I would have to take for the rest of my life, blessing my soul for being so courageous yet again, for having the inner spirit to go through more surgery, more dramatic life changes, and my willingness to go through with it all to stay here on Earth a little bit longer. A wave of peace blanketed me as I went to dialysis one last time. I petitioned a friend to drive me to the hospital where another friend met me, who immediately began Reiki on me and distance Reiki on the kidney. We could all feel it. This was not just about me. This was more.
My journey, from the age of 5 to my present age of 44 has been one of many transitions in and out of my body, arduous, and not without its hidden blessings. I was five in 1967, the year I fell off my bike. I developed a lump on my lower left leg that did not go away. The lump was Ewing’s sarcoma, a deadly bone cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy followed, then last rites by our Catholic priest, which I was told was my special first communion. I remember sitting up in the hospital bed, with the priest offering the wafer to me. “Body of Christ,” he spoke softly. I ate the bread, knowing I had just eaten Jesus. I would be just fine. I had God living in my body.
The 5-year-old girl developed a great skill, that of the fierce warrior, who did everything possible to protect her body, but especially her spirit. No-one would or could take that from her. That was her power. This young girl even knew at will how to disassociate from her body when it felt unsafe to be in it. My stance created the illusion of separation. It was me and them, them being the nurses, doctors, kids who crossed my path the wrong way, anyone who I felt might do me harm, even when they were trying to save my life. This protective warrior became my life posture. It kept me alive and it exhausted me. I did so much in spite of (or perhaps because of) the exhaustion, including going through high school as I was diagnosed a second time with the same disease in the same location, only this time they had to amputate my leg. I excelled at what I could do, which was to study.
My separation from the rest of the world, and often from my body, which held so much emotional pain, became my way out of the reality of cancer and all its subsequent side effects: a sick bladder, kidney failure, 11 years of dialysis. I seldom asked for what I needed, except in the medical world where I was always my own advocate. What I needed in the rest of my life was connection to my self, to others. What I feared was connection to my self and others. Would I be rejected? Would I be a burden, a drag, no fun, abnormal? I began to live a split. One part of me was so full of creativity, life force, joy, laughter, spirit, hope, a desire to share my truth. The other part of me was ashamed, burdened, alone, buried, rejected, not wanting to be seen or heard, unworthy of expressing my needs. What a dance. What a dance!
Being in my body fully was difficult. The more I rejected what was there — the artificial leg, the scars, the deep sadness for being in the prime of my life stuck to a machine to stay alive — the more my body experienced this split. For me it came out in nervous energy, a fear of landing on my feet, tiptoeing through life. I was brave, hiding my tears behind a bright strong smile, because who would want to hear my sob story anyway. I accomplished, I achieved, I made my mark (and even a few trademarks along the way!) The exhaustion grew deeper and wider.
Getting Back Into My Body
Underneath the over-achievement was Someone else calling me: the little one who was there before the first diagnosis; the little one who did not think about hurrying through life in case life got taken away again; the little one who felt supported, messy, playful, joyful, alive, in the moment. BEING. Thus began the deep personal work of the last 15 years, getting back into my body, seeing my body as a safe place, not separate from God, but full of God.
The first launch was to embrace the places when I stepped out of my body and came back in, celebrating the returns like the prodigal daughter, honoring the one who did all the grunge work for so long, my warrior. The soul voice of the little one, who was also so very, very old, beckoned me back in, through creativity, through writing, through yoga, through dance. I am, in every sense of the word, a dancer who had not had the opportunity to express her dance for a long time.
First came classes: African, Brazilian, Haitian, salsa, samba, belly dancing. Then came yoga, more dance, children’ s yoga I became a yoga teacher. I was terrified to be barefoot in public, to stake my claim to being in my body, but I did it anyway. My teaching has never been just about teaching people how to breathe and stretch. It has always been about transforming lives, showing up as a vehicle of God, helping people to find their own way back to their true Holy nature. When I am able to jump more fully into my physical body, I feel integrated, intuitive, spiritual, connected. My career includes working as a body-centered therapist and a healing the luminous body practitioner. Ahhh, but these practices are only the first of many layers of healing that have needed to take place.
One way I have separated myself from my body is through caretaking. Caretaking is a residual element of all my earlier illnesses. My identity was tied into caretaking worried parents and grandparents, family members, friends, an alcoholic husband, thus avoiding my own need for help, which felt too big to deserve. This pattern of sidestepping my body and its emotions has dishonored my divine call. It felt safer to stay in this lower vibration because it is familiar.
My sense of harmony was intricately woven into the first year of my life, when I was raised in part by my grandparents as my mother recovered from serious illness. The only problem was, my grandfather was a charming, strapping, raging, violent alcoholic Irishman. My cells bonded with that energy, physically and emotionally. Yet, I always seem to find my way back to my innate joy. Now there is a new energy in my body with which I have bonded to — that of my new kidney.
The Spirit of Illness
They say some transplant recipients change dramatically because of the new organ. They have dreams of the death, crave foods they have never eaten before, may even change their personality. My kidney, apparently, was housed by a no-nonsense, practical, wise person. Within months of receiving this kidney I was securing a lawyer, divorcing my husband, and taking flamenco class! This kidney even rejects the old notion that I should question God, that I shouldn’t be too happy about this amazing gift. Interestingly I am more grounded, strong, present, simply by having this vital organ. During my time on dialysis I had to reach almost totally from spirit to stay afloat.
I have jumped back into my body in other ways too. I have taken ownership of all I have created over the past 11 years — a yoga school, a children’s yoga training, books, dances, website, a business! And I want to tell my story to whoever will hear it. This is new for me. My identity for so long has been tied up in my health as my story, when clearly there is so much more. To tell this story is frightening, painful and vulnerable.
Has my health kept me from my destiny? Or is it a part of my destiny? I believe the latter. I am reminded of the man at the temple Jesus healed. Many thought the man was ill because of something he or his family had done. Jesus very firmly told everyone no. The man’s illness was a vehicle for people to see God. My story is like that. I wonder about the yogic notion of illness as karma. There is even a belief, by one of the most famous modern yogis of all, that a person who has illness or disability is on a lower plane of consciousness, unable to master yoga asana because of their karma. Actually, I think many of the weakest of us physically came in to teach the rest of the world about the true nature of God.
My kidney has gifted me with more energy for my life, less need to be the fiery warrior. I am no longer living in constant terror, wondering if a particular dialysis treatment would be the one where I would faint and lose my lifeline, or wondering whether my husband had lost another job. I am indeed, upgrading!
Lately I have been listening very closely to the crystal clear message of my heart: “Experience your joy.” When my joy feels blocked, my heart has been equally adamant: “Feel the feeling to the very end, then go back to your joy.” Joy is a love ordination from God. Joy is God living in and through us. We all have original joy as children of God, all of us. If we are not experiencing moments of joy in each day, then we have the opportunity to shift that by honoring the story of our bodies. Our bodies tell the whole story — what we carry, what we have released, what still needs healing. I believe this. I welcome this. My body is my way back to joy, to God, to a full life.
To complete this article I include an exercise to connect you, the reader to your body/mind/spirit. Find a quiet place to come into your body. Sit comfortably, allowing your breath to move in and out of your body. Sit, enveloped in these words: love, joy. Try one first then the next. Notice your body. Embrace the whole experience. When are love and/or joy present? Are there any blocks to joy and love? Notice where those blocks are located in your body. Are there emotions coming up for you as you connect to these words and to your body? Can you offer yourself the space to have the whole experience, perhaps welcoming the places that feel connected, and welcoming, without judgment, the places that feel disconnected. Welcome the whole of yo , like a long lost friend. See it all. Embrace it all. God sees it all. God loves it all. Can you?
Marsha Therese Metzger M.Ed., is a yoga teacher, healer, writer, body-centered expressive therapist, choreographer and lifelong dancer who lives north of Boston. She is currently celebrating being back in her body, feeling joy. Her websites are www.yogaom.com and www.colormeyoga.com.