Blog » The body paradox
How often do you become aware of your body? I mean, really aware. Aware to the point that you can distinguish between your consciousness — the dynamic thinking, feeling, sensing, perceiving part of yourself — and the flesh, bones, muscles, tendons, veins, arteries, organs and more that make up your body.
A friend of mine once said to me, "You're so in your body." I didn't know how to take it — was he criticising me for being too literal or not philosophical enough? Or was he complimenting me for being down-to-earth and grounded?
When I asked him what he meant, he said, simply, "You just seem to be very aware of your body."
On reflection, I realised how right he was. I am really aware of my body. I have to be. It rarely does what I want it to do, so I need to be constantly on guard and focussed. If I'm not, I may fall, knock things over, break something (an object or myself) or create any manner of other unintended, unexpected outcomes.
This necessary hyper-awareness of my body has led me to reflect on the paradox our bodies create for us. They are the most wonderful things — examples of engineering brilliance — and they can be terrible to us — causing irritation, pain and suffering in the most merciless of ways.
Watch an Olympic athlete and immediately you see the body brilliant in action — performing in ways almost unimaginable. Although I have very little interest in sports — elite or otherwise — I can appreciate the marvels of a well-kept, well-exercised body. Not to mention the pleasure our bodies can produce — from our senses of taste, smell, sight and hearing to the delight of more sensual and sexual pursuits.
On the other hand, our bodies can be ruthless — from the simple cold and flu to long-term painful and debilitating illness and dysfunction — physical, mental and emotional. No matter how accessible, accepting or non-disabling the environment and society becomes, our bodies, minds and feelings will alway create restrictions, discomfort of varying degrees and, most insidiously, frustration and despair.
I'm not one to whinge about my situation — in fact, I've written previously (somewhat controversially) against it — and I stand by that sentiment. As a pragmatically spiritual person, though, who believes in a greater purpose (simply because it feels more meaningful to me to believe it than not), I often wonder about the existential reason for inhabiting such restrictive "shells" (even when some of us are gifted with above-average ability).
What also intrigues me is the lack of compassion we have towards ourselves and each other about having to lug these lumps of often hostile organic matter around for seven to nine decades. It's a nuisance at best and laboriously difficult at worst.
Sure, we utter limp platitudes when we engage with people who are sick or injured. Or we pity and patronise those with longer-term bodily limitations. But this happens in limited and stark contrast to a backdrop of shame-causing cultural bigotry about weight, beauty, fitness, gender, age and other bodily characteristics, amplified by the media, consumerism and social strata.
What we need is a movement of body compassion, a shared agreement to acknowledge the limitations of the physical experience (as well as celebrating it) and a commitment to ridding our culture of body shaming. We're all in this together — nobody is immune to the latent wrath of our material existence.
I was going to name this post to "Bodies suck," because I've been saying that a lot lately to people in my life who are, either directly or indirectly, experiencing everything from short-term illness to long-term injury and serious diseases like cancer; to neurological incidences like strokes; or mental/emotional distress like anxiety and depression.
But I changed it to "The body paradox" because bodies are indeed paradoxically wonderful and awful and, like any paradox, it's important to acknowledge what the Oxford dictionary eloquently defines as "a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true."
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