Judging by the commercials on prime-time television, constipation, gas and acid reflux are afflictions common to just about everyone older than 50. With such icky ailments to look forward to, no wonder our culture does everything possible to deny aging.
But health does come in to play to a larger degree as we get older. The body inevitably wears down, parts and systems don’t work as well as they once did and sometimes a minor change in a body’s behavior sets off an alarm: OMG, is this serious?
I admit to a twinge of that feeling now and again, but beyond trying to eat well and getting some exercise, I generally ignore my body and so far it has served me well without much attention.
A lot of our health – in youth and age – is attributable to genes and good luck. But I wonder too if it is subject to attitude. Let me tell you a story:
Some 25 years ago on a Saturday, I was rushing around shopping, cleaning, cooking, setting the table with the real silver, arranging fresh flowers and all, in preparation for dinner that evening with a man I was coming to adore. I desperately wanted to impress him.
About 4PM, out of nowhere, that unmistakable internal shakiness that precedes the imminent onset of a flu hit me and already I could feel my temperature rising, my back aching, my mind beginning to go fuzzy. No way, I thought. This is not going to happen today. I refuse to be sick for this dinner.
For reasons I don’t remember, I thought if I meditated (which I do twice a day), I might be able to send that bug on its way - or at least delay it - before it settled in to plague me for a week.
Down in the room where my mind goes during meditation, a giant spider appeared unbidden – a big, fluffy, stuffed-animal sort of spider. Spiders generally produce the eek effect in me, but I picked up this one, walked him out through a back garden I had not known was there, through a gate in a back wall and into an alley where there were trash cans.
I put the giant spider in a can, securing the lid with a raccoon spring. As I walked back to the room, I checked over my shoulder and saw the spider peeking over the wall. “You’re not there,” I told it. “I locked you in the trash.”
When I finished the meditation, all the symptoms were gone and I never got that flu.
The mind/body connection is a subject of serious medical study. Most famously, Norman Cousins wrote in his book, Anatomy of an Illness, of his recovery from an incurable and life-threatening condition by, essentially, laughing himself healthy again. I don’t know about humor, but I do believe, in some circumstances, in some people, the mind and body work together to maintain health - at least some of the time.
A lot of it, in my case, is attitude; I don’t like doctors. It’s nothing personal about them individually; they seem to be generally good, caring people. But they are like haircutters who will always take off too much because cutting is the definition of their job. And if you show up too often in a doctor's office, he'll find something wrong because that’s the definition of the job – to fix bodies.
A while ago, I reduced the frequency of my mammograms to every five years because surgeons have already cut open my breasts five times and the poor little dears (there is not much to them) are criss-crossed with scars. At every mammogram, the radiologist points out little white dots and tells me they might be cancer. Every time, I tell him they’ve always been there and they are calcium deposits. “Well, they might not be this time,” they say and convinced me, too often, to let them cut me open only to say afterwards, “Not to worry. They are calcium deposits.” Yeah. Right. I told you that.
I certainly don't adocate or recommend this for every one, but for me, every five years is enough now, and when the x-rays show something that looks different, then I’ll let them cut me open again. Meanwhile, it’s true I tire more easily than in the past, am chubbier than I would like to be and what natural teeth I have left are probably goners - it’s a family trait. And that all feels normal at my age and okay with me.
My belief about my body is that barring accidents and with a reasonable amount of care, it is supposed to last until it wears out and then I die – sort of like a refrigerator or a television set, which rarely break down until their permanent demise.
I fervently hope I am correct, that the advocates of the mind/body connection are on to something and that my impatient attitude toward doctors and bodily impediments will work for me until I arrive at the Pearly Gates in the same manner as those household appliances.