In my teaching, writing and manual therapy, I try to help people experience how bodily wholeness contributes to the health of mind and spirit as well as body. Two recent encounters have reminded me that “wholeness” is relative, and that no matter how integrated, coordinated, aligned and aware our bodies become, the health of the human spirit is vaster and more mysterious than mere physical perfection. My friend George has been in the online dating game for a long time. He’s 60, a generous spirit who can’t seem to get the right lady to see it. Recently there was a hopeful email, a pretty face and appreciation of his humor. And then, in email #2, she told him she had only one leg. In the past she had revealed this in her online profile, but had received so many snarky remarks from unconscious men that lately she’d left it off. So she was telling him now. They made a date, but George was worrying: was he making this play in order to prove himself a big man? “George,” I said, “just the fact that you’d question yourself about that suggests it’s a minor part of your motive. What you said you admired about this woman counts for way more.”
We all embody shadows. We are all amputees.
And we are all voiceless and deaf
My conversation with George links to a documentary I want to recommend to readers. Called “A New Kind of Listening,” it’s the story of an extraordinary theater group. Under the guidance of a professional director, a group of non-pros met weekly for a year, co-creating an intimate portrait of shared experiences and communal transformation. They asked themselves, “What is it to be seen by another person? What is it to communicate if you are unable to speak?”
Several participants, people with significant physical disabilities, were, in fact, unable to speak. Through poetry, dance and music, the group explored the meaning of the word “inclusion,” stripping away its connotation of hierarchies with respect to the human experience. The courage and vulnerability of all the participants is inspirational.
The documentary weaves in the story of Christian, a young man with cerebral palsy who has never been able to speak. Through interaction with these open and patient kindred souls and through supported typing and a voice-output communication device, Chris eventually became co-director of the production, helping to make artistic decisions. Unable to speak, he nonetheless understood language. And he had always been a highly intelligent being locked away in a body that could not do what he wanted.
In the context of this group Chris can communicate his monumental frustration. “I need my own voice, damn it!” Chris tells them through the communication device. “You make assumptions about me,” he writes. “The affect on me is damn frightening!”
The Healing of Our World
Later on he adds, “healing of our world is what I hope to offer.” Our world, he says, our—to Chris, the concept of inclusion is irrelevant. Disability is irrelevant. He is, damn it. And this group was blessed to have partaken of Chris’s healing presence first hand.
The voiceless young man who teaches others to find authentic voices, and the amputee woman who volunteers to help amputee veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan: such spirits transcend the quest for embodied wholeness. They remind us that we can be present in who we are, however we are.