Beyond the Body

Heidi von Beltz, a former championship skier and aspiring actor, was paralyzed from her earlobes down in a two-vehicle head-on collision while working as a stunt double in The Cannonball Run in 1980. Unbowed by her doctors’ prognosis that she had perhaps five years to live, von Beltz routinely endured a grueling regimen of physical therapy and muscle stimulation for up to ten hours a day. Nine years later, she was able to sit up on her own. Six years after that, outfitted with lightweight aluminum leg braces, she taught herself to stand.

Sixteen years after the crash, while promoting her memoir, My Soul Purpose, von Beltz, who had devoured countless books on philosophy and spirituality, said she considered herself lucky and wouldn’t have wanted to miss the experience of her paralysis for anything. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” she told Entertainment Weekly magazine. ‘‘I was always so active that I would never have sat down long enough to learn what I’ve learned. I can’t imagine going through this life and not knowing what I know now. I just had to break my neck to do it.’’

The following paragraph from page 97 of von Beltz’s memoir illustrates the start of her transition from body identification to a higher awareness of self:

After the crash, talking with good friends or “losing myself” watching a movie, I forgot about my physical body. This was a new experience for me because I am such a physical, active person. Other people always had reinforced the importance of my body because, even when I was growing up, they reacted to my appearance: I’m a tall and healthy, sun-burnished California girl. People noticed me, and I liked it. Such attention to my physical attributes seemed particularly absurd now. I thought that if my personality were generated solely by this body, I wouldn’t be a very interesting human being. And if my personality—even lying in a hospital bed—wasn’t strong enough to lift another person above and beyond my body, then I wasn’t communicating very well.

Heidi von Beltz’s awakening reminded me of Roger Delano, who contracted a rare and incurable condition called transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spine that causes paralysis. Delano, who recounted his experience in Self-Realization magazine, said he was unfazed when a doctor told him he would never walk again. Indeed, thanks to his unshakable faith, he was able to walk out of the hospital under his own power nine days later. Here’s what he wrote, which still gives me chills every time I read it:

I knew that everything that was happening to me was up to God, that He was the only healer. I felt safe, knowing I was surrounded by the overarching mantle of His perfect care. Whatever God brought to me, I wanted. Even if I retained all of the mobility of a flowerpot, it didn’t matter. I was still the same, the vehicle of expression had changed, that’s all. A flowerpot can still hold a beautiful flower.

Stories like Heidi’s and Roger’s are good reminders to maintain a proper prospective. By all means, keep trying to lose excess weight or get some definition in your triceps as long as doing those things makes you feel better about yourself and boosts your self-confidence. I certainly endeavor to keep in shape through daily exercise because doing so enhances the quality of my daily life. Yet keep in mind that the fitness level of your body, and indeed, your body itself, is ultimately meaningless. What truly matters is not what you look like or even how you feel but who you are. Accept and embrace your inner divinity, and your vision of life and your role in it will be forever changed.

The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.
Richard Bach


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5 Responses to “Beyond the Body”

  1. Cweston Says:

    Heidi and I have been told repeatedly that “no one cares” what happens to us. It is a wonderful surprise to know that it’s not true. Thank all of your kind words it means more to us than you know. To be in this position all alone is very scary. So I will show this to Heidi my sweet strong Baby Sister. She is safe now but we want our home back!
    So INDYMAC/ONEWEST’s Fraudulent foreclosure is in Federal Review and we were Right it was illegal forgery and Duel tracking at a minimum!!!
    Follow for updates Jan.2014
    C and H Von Beltz Thanks again for “CARING.”

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Christy, it is a joy to hear from you! I tried to contact you and Heidi through every means available but came up empty. I am so glad to hear that you and Heidi are safe but am deeply saddened about the loss of your home. I hope that you both are back in it where you belong sooner rather than later.

  3. dee Says:

    I wish Heidi had a Facebook page…been looking for you for a long your book and just want you to know you are thought about and cared about..Denise

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Heidi’s sister, Christy, left a comment on this post earlier, Dee. I hope she sees your comment as well. There are many of us who send our thoughts and prayers to Heidi and Christy.

  5. Dave in Carlsbad Says:

    All the best to you and your sister. Such an inspiration.

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