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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Gil Hedley: Reconceiving Our Bodies

Not long ago, I blogged about anatomist/theologian Gil Hedley’s deeply moving new book of free verse,
Coming Into Form
. Well, there's more:

Reconceiving My Body: Take Two, from the Heart is Gil's earlier book, a 147-page paperback — part memoir and religious philosophy debate and a lot of the most out-of-the-box brilliant thinking you’ve ever read about who and what and how we are what we are. There are so many reasons to read this book that it’s hard to know where to begin. But my personal most important reason is fun. It is very fun! Funny, engaging, interesting.

Now the more serious reason: This book may cause you to install a new inner teacher that starts out as Gil’s voice, but quickly becomes your own. I find myself hearing that voice in my head many times during the day —

• When I suddenly start stewing about political matters, I hear Gil/Me talking about the “perpetrator-victim” cycle: When you get into an anger riff, you are casting yourself as a superior victim. You are superior in your rightness, and somebody more powerful (otherwise why would you be angry?) is wrong. Just realizing what I’m doing seems to diffuse my completely counterproductive mind spasms.

• When I start berating my body for being what it is, or loathing some of the sensations of aging, or despairing about my genetic history, I hear Gil: “How you conceive of something has everything to do with how you behave with respect to that something.” If I’m conceiving of my body or my ancestral flaws as a burden, I’m probably not going to respect and be kind to my sometimes sticky joints or be grateful that modern medicine offers solutions that I cannot find by the natural means everybody assures me I should pursue.

• When I start feeling like I’m not enough, when I’m not doing “it” right, I think of Gil’s tumultuous experiences and mistakes, and if he is so clearly wonderful, then maybe I’m okay too.

I first met Gil many years ago when we attended the same healing school and he taught the anatomy class. I was not a very good student, but I was a great audience. Gil demonstrated everything physically — either on students’ bodies or with props. It was like being in a playpen, and mostly I remember laughing and having a great time. . . . Okay, maybe I did learn some anatomy.

But the main thing I learned — which is reiterated in this book — is that models of anything are not the whole thing. For example, my pancreas, looked at in isolation, gives a distorted view of what it really is and how it works in the whole of me. I am not a conglomeration of parts that sometimes behave badly. I’m something much more.

By the same token, our country looked at as red and blue, Tea Party and Wall Street occupiers, pro and con, etc., etc.— You get the picture.

The point is, parts looked at in isolation do not convey the truth. What that huge truth is, I cannot possibly describe. Gil manages to give you a sense of it in 147 pages, but what you learn will be idiosyncratic to you, so I won’t even try to reiterate the bigger messages of this book.

Suffice it to say, by the time I finished reading, it seemed perfectly logical that I too could reconceive not only my body, but all kinds of bigger bodies.






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