I’m preparing for my fifth year at “Cadaver Camp, “ a term I coined last year during the annual dissection I participate in led by Gil Hedley, PhD. Whenever someone hears that I’ve done a human cadaver dissection, let alone am embarking on my fifth go at it, I encounter a rainbow of reaction:
1) Horror: Why would you DO that?
2) Skepticism: What could you learn if you’ve already done it?
3) Fascination: What’s that LIKE?!
4) Shock: (wide-eyed silence accompanied by slight jaw dropping)
(I haven’t yet gotten titillation, but maybe I’m not hanging in the right crowd.)
I struggle to explain my reasoning for interest in the dissection because without participating in this six-day experience, you can’t fully grasp how profound it truly is. Sure there’s the obvious learning of anatomy in 3-D. But you quickly learn that much of what you’ve learned in coursework is a illusion from artists isolating and often “creating” structures that don’t exist as such in the body.
My first year, it was easy to explain why I wanted to participate in a dissection. First, because I wanted to better understand the human body. Second, because the idea is scary as hell! So I wanted to push myself to a new level, both intellectually and emotionally.
But now, my reason for returning moves beyond the mere expansion of my mind and ability to identify specific muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Don’t get me wrong – I always see structures I hadn’t previously and gain a better grasp of anatomy and physiology every year. But to be honest, the more I see, the more baffled I am by this complex machine and sculpture we call an organism. And that humbling experience is a lovely lesson in surrender, accepting that it’s okay to sit in my discomfort of the unknown and to not understand everything.
Similarly, our instructor Gil has created a unique format, building in time to pause, to discuss connections in the body and to reflect in ourselves. Our work involves subtlety and precision to carefully reveal relationships of tissues and structures. We also use the experience to confront our own fears, rather than check them at the door, which allows us students to transform and grow in ways that may not be possible in the daily grind.
I always liken this experience to that of time stopping. After all, there is an other-worldly side to this stuff. Unless you work in a morgue, how often do you typically handle cadavers? While we treat this experience with the utmost respect, and we carefully distinguish the fact that we are working with vessels rather than people, yeah, it’s pretty freaky to spend a week with a body! For one thing, you can’t help but be affected by the profundity of encountering death. And in doing so, and noting similarities between human structures and nature, you can’t help but be reaffirmed of the significance of life.
So with all this mind-blowing going on and stepping outside the realms of daily life, I began referring to “Cadaver Camp” last year to explain my interpretation of my week off from teaching and running my business. As my colleague Kristi Cooper-White of Pilates Anytime and I have discussed, this is the ultimate “camp” for us bodyworkers, movement specialists and health professionals — working with the human body while enjoying the time to learn, love and grow. Who would have thought that a gross anatomy lab could be the seed of a spiritual awakening?