It was the end of yoga class and I lay on the floor in corpse pose. Suddenly a rich, deep voice in my head spoke to me out of the candlelit darkness. It spoke slowly and distinctly and said, “Your body is the dog of your mind.”
I thought about this cryptic phrase for the rest of the day. I even Googled it. Slowly I came to an answer.
My dogs, Tim and Joe, were both getting old. I’d been taking them to the vet. I’d paid a ridiculous amount to have their teeth cleaned. I walked them in the park rain or shine, three or four times a day. I picked them up to help them onto the couch so they wouldn’t hurt their backs. I walked all the way to 20th street and carried back a big bag of their favorite dog food back from Trader Joes.
In return, they would curl at my feet, bark when the doorbell rang, nestle against me when I watched TV, lick my hands and gaze at me from across the room. They were my loyal hound team — and we looked after each as well as we could.
My body was another story. I ignored it as much as I could. I ate bowls of ice cream late at night and told myself that my walk from the subway to the office qualified as an exercise regime. Instead of attending to my body, I led a life of the mind, working late, deep inside my skull, occasionally buying larger trousers.
My body was a scary thing, no doubt hiding awful secrets which it would eventually unleash and kill me. I would wake up in the middle of the night with hypochondriacal worries which I would grind on in the dark, rather than going to the doctor. My body was to be denied, feared, beaten back and pushed down.
But my body is the dog of my mind. The voice was telling me that just as I loved my dogs who were loyal and loved me back, my body wanted nothing more than to serve me too, and for as long as possible. If only I would let it.
Instead, I treated my body like a cur, neglected and malnourished, chained to a tree in the yard. I had to start looking after the dog of my mind, at least as well as I looked after the weiner dogs curled up at my feet.
So I began to watch what I eat and to exercise regularly. I lost thirty pounds. I went for a physical and the doctor discovered early prostate cancer. I had surgery and it looks like he caught it in time. I feel stronger and leaner and better than I have in ages. The dog of my mind wags his tail and bounds around in glee.
Years ago, I discovered the idea of the artists’ date in Julia Cameron’s classic book, The Artist’s Way. She encouraged us to plan a time each week to focus on take our inner child. Go to an art supply store, a museum, a walk in a rose garden. Smell the crayons, gaze at the Monet, read some Keats, listen to the entire symphony with your eyes closed and your earbuds in. Nourish your soul and it will feed you back.
I often find myself lost at my computer, realising that my knees are cramped, my back is stiff, my buttocks asleep, my eyes fogged. My mind is happy to keep grinding away at the project but its dog needs to stretch and walk around. Now I am careful to pay attention and heed its needs.
But what of my artist’s soul, that bony child in my head? He needs exercise too. He needs to be fed and loved. To be shown picture books and paintings and lovely vistas. He needs to be smiled at. He needs gentle love and support. He needs to have his drawing encouraged, his ideas nurtured.
My mind can be a bully, though I know that’s not his instinct. But the other bits of me need to be cared for too. A life out of balance is not worth living.
I remind myself — walk your dog. Feed your child. Cherish your life. Be complete.