Monday, October 19, 2009

continuing the conversation: on bodies

I'm so not done with this conversation [edited to add link]! But I'm also not sure the best way to keep it rolling ... well, of course, the BEST way would be if everyone could come over for homemade pizza and home brew -- you know, real, live BODIES in a room, eating, drinking, talking, maybe even kissing each other good bye at the end of the evening (have I ever mentioned that eating and kissing are two of my all-time favorite things? Recently I was remembering the very first time I kissed Julie -- it was at the feminist Seder at Earlham in 1987, shortly before we actually started dating, but I'm pretty sure I already had my eye on her. Anyway, it was an all-women's Seder with a feminist Haggadah, and when it was time to hide the afikomen no one was sure what the prize for finding it should be. I suggested that the one who found it got to kiss everyone there, which probably excited the lesbians in the group more than the straight girls, but they cheerfully played along. And of course, I found the afikomen, because really, there was a room full of gorgeous women, and on top of that, one of them was Julie. So what else was I going to do but find it, right?)

Sigh. In the meantime, I thought I would put some of the terrific comments on my last post up and see if that can generate any more of this conversation. I'm also contemplating another post about Jesus, and the problem of resurrection (or at least my problem, it's probably not yours, but when I get my thoughts in a coherent enough fashion to share, I'd love to know what you think.)

So, here's some excerpts with my thoughts in italics below. Feel free to comment further in the comments (and please do email me if you're having trouble with comments; many of you have mention it, and I'd like to help you figure it out. marta(dot)bloem(dot)rose(at)gmail(dot)com.)

From Patrick:

I'm sure I'll be back with more specific responses, but my first reaction is yes, that mind/body split is one I've been thinking about a lot recently as well (and I wonder how much Descartes has to do with the split as we see it now, between mind and body; I would assume Paul saw it as between soul and body, ie. the eternal and the temporal/irrelevant, but I'm shooting in the dark with both of them)... what was I talking about? Oh yeah, as I age, and notice things my body can't do as a performer that it could once, the connection between it and ME is an interesting question. How much am I my body, and how much is my selfness (selfdom? selfitude?) something distinct from my body, or at least from my body as it changes? I could lose a limb (knock wood) and still be ME, I know. Losing my mental capacity in key ways, would that have more of an effect? The people I've met suffering from dementia do seem to be losing themselves in certain ways, but how does that relate to the body? And here I get into my own confusion about the difference between the mind and the brain, and whether there is some part of us that can only be called a soul, and does IT exist separate from my corporeal self... Hmm.

marta: patrick, i hadn't thought about the distinction between "mind/body" and "soul/body" -- in other words, what was i talking about when i set up the distinction as "Self/body," -- is Self mind or soul or both? i'm not sure actually. i will admit that i too can more imagine still being ME in some essential way if i lost a limb than if i lost my mind to dementia. but lately i've been thinking a fair amount about dementia, because julie's aunt is suffering from it and we are pretty involved in caring for her, and while her Self is quite different than it was before, we still feel love toward her -- a sort of fierce love, in fact -- that seems to recognize some very essential part of HER, her Self, that is very much still there. part of it is that her body is still very much with us, but also something else too .... maybe it's not a duality, but a trinity -- mind/body/soul? don't you like how i bring everything back to faith? ;-)

but actually, as i'm writing i'm thinking that in infancy and in very old age, maybe the distinction between/among those elements of our Selves is more blurred than at other times. precisely at the times that we have less control over our bodies, it is at those times that our bodies become more integrated with, more identified with, our Selves. i don't know if that makes sense. i'll think more on that....

From Jeff:

The way I see it, most of human intelligence and understanding comes of an ability to differentiate. I'm fascinated by the evolution that preceded the modern mind (talk about writing out of MY depth) and I keep coming back to our tendency to divide in pursuit of understanding -- letting go for a moment here the issue of "intelligence" and "understanding" being two totally different things (which they TOTALLY are). I think the ability to think, which eventually led to the possibility for self-awareness, began as a very binary function. At some point we figured out how to differentiate between 0 and 1 (or, Fellow Tribesman and Sabre-Toothed Tiger) and, seeing as how useful that turned out to be, we've been applying it ever since. Don't you find that a lot people define what they believe and who they are by what they DON'T believe, by who they AREN'T?

In many ways, I think approaching an understanding of ourselves and the world through an appreciation of the truth of oneness is a pretty good general description of religion. But there I go: separating myself from the world, if only syntactically.

I came to an appreciation of my own body rather late, not until I was an adult, and then I started exploiting it like mad, especially with regard to theatre and circus work. I still suffer from that strange subjectivity that makes us see abundant flaws and often blinds us to the glorious beauty of this corporeal form, but I try to counsel myself with this mantra: It's not about how you look, but what you can do. I realize even this idea will be tested by aging and may not hold for the rest of my bodily rental; still, I find a lot of understanding through it. We are not only our bodies and our souls or intellect, but also our actions. Energy. It's a lifetime of dancing, really -- some of it's just more choreographed than the rest.

marta: jeff, i'm so glad you stopped by, and i really appreciate your kind words. "In many ways, I think approaching an understanding of ourselves and the world through an appreciation of the truth of oneness is a pretty good general description of religion." -- i'm gonna be chewing on this for awhile, i love it so much. "not about how you look but what you can do" -- i'm chewing on that too. i just told jen (my yogini) that what i think is most beautiful about bodies is their functionality -- what they can do. it's just so awesome. but for me, there's this dynamic interplay between bodies and selves -- the more i love someone, the more their body becomes attractive to me, regardless of it's "objective" beauty (whatever that is, because that's just a social construct right?) but i guess what i mean is that i don't really see a distinction between "how you look" and "what you do" because if "what you do" is awesome and beautiful, then it makes "how you look" awesome and beautiful. at least it does for me. lots to think about, thanks!

From Greg:

Bless you, Marta, for making me realize for the first time (maybe ever) that my body's been a pretty amazing friend to me, in gardens, on dancefloors, on stages, bike trails, the workplace and hundreds of other unsung locations throughout our years together.

I really should be kinder to it. After all, it's hardly my body that says, "
Oh, wouldn't you rather sit around and eat fatty foods instead of going out there and getting some exercise?", is it? Thanks for that.

There IS lots in this post to think and write and talk about, so my response is necessarily incomplete, but I'm quite grateful for the thoughts you put in my head...and to our mutual PAL for sending me back to drink of your blog cup again! I really
mustFavorite you this time.

I just love the way you think when you imagine Jesus. He sounds a lot like the guy I've thought he was, too. : )

(PS: My faithful, under-valued bod wants to know why we enjoyed yogurt and dry cereal while reading about you and your cheese steaks. I tried to explain you just put that in there for local color.)

marta: greg: oh, wow, thanks right back to you, because you just made my day! but i think there's just one thing you might be wrong about -- i don't think fatty foods and cheese steaks ought to be set in opposition to getting exercise and being good to our bodies. our bodies love fatty food and cheese steaks. they also love to move. they also love kale salad right from the garden, and running by the river, and warm bread with butter, and hip-hop dancing, and bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, and yoga, and ice cream, and sex!, and steamed broccoli .... and and and ... our bodies love it all, right? and it seems that we should totally indulge our bodies in all of it, all in enough moderation that we're being healthy ... because we LOVE our bodies. and if our bodies hate yogurt and dry cereal, we should NEVER NEVER NEVER eat it, that's what i say!

From Sara:

*I have zilch to say about the Christian/theological part of it all b/c I just don't speak that language or even have any sort of mindframe to tackle it. But it intrigues, so keep talking.

marta: sara, stay posted, more coming soon!

Sara: *What's my body dooooo - oh my goodness, why do you think I skate?? I used to run - I wasn't fast by any stretch of the imagination, and in large part it was my big dissertation avoidance tactic. I highly recommend training for and running a marathon or two as dissertation avoidance. Highly effective, highly self-rewarding, and highly conducive to letting ideas gel and percolate in your head. Skating is different though - it's like there's an endless amount of "skill" to be learned - I work and struggle and expend huge amounts of effort at mastering something, and once I do, poof, there's something new to figure out. My body does that. With a little help from my brain, but really, it's my body. Isn't it awesome?

marta: i ran a marathon for very different reasons -- for me it was about integrating my body back into my Self after infertility (i highly recommend it too -- did the trick beautifully!), but i can see how it would also be just the thing for both thinking about and avoiding a dissertation, lol! but i hear you about how skating is different -- i still run, but only a few miles several times a week, mostly as an alternative to pharmacological mood stabilization. but recently i've taken up yoga again in a new way that might be similar, and i'm getting very interested in dance for exactly the reasons you note -- that there's endless skill to learn, and it's all just so amazing that my body might do that!

Sara: *and eating. I resist *utterly* the massive efforts women (and some men) exert for virtually their entire lives (except perhaps for the pre-puberty years) on restricting their food intake. It drives me insane and it's really rather sad. I eat. Pretty much whatever I want to eat. Beyond the point of satiety often, but not b/c I like to feel uncomfortable, but b/c a little extra of something yummy - is just so yummy.

marta: oh sara, in this regard we are soul sistahs! eating is one of god's greatest gifts (that and kissing, see above!) descartes had it all wrong: i eat, therefore i am. this is actually pretty central to my faith. more on that too.

Sara: *the juxtaposition of skating and that food thing? Really rather wild at times. Few and far between are the skaters who totally love food and go at it with abandon.

*CP. See this:
LOVE love love the "I can do anything" thing. I can't promise that Toby won't have a level of grief (?) about his body's shortcomings. There are times that are incredibly frustrating, and there are times where I just wish some things were easier for him. But all in all? He's very comfortable in his own skin. He prefers to crawl around the house? So what as far as he's concerned. It works. And the biggest irk I have in interacting with the General Public (of the variety where I'm actually conversating with them - not random folks I'm not interacting with) is when they get stuck on the label of CP and presumed limitations, rather than focusing all the awesomeness that is Toby. Like we're advocating like the dickens these days for a wheelchair for Toby - precisely b/c it'll *open* up stuff for him - but what folks see? Is that it's a limitation. Really, in the end only he can tell his body story - but so far? I don't sense a lot of loss/limitation about it in his head. He does notice difference - but it's not a grieving thing for him largely. He is frustrated at not being able to participate in some stuff (gym at school? Kids run away and he with his walker just can't keep up. See back to the wheelchair note...). But it's not negatively directed at his body.

marta: i think that toby's experience of himself and his body in the world is just an awesome testament to the family that is raising him. you rock.

i know this is also an area of expertise for you, sara, so i'm not telling you anything new (and i'm sure your involvement in the deaf community has helped you to raise toby to see his cp as difference/possibility, not limitation) -- but for me it was such an eye-opening experience when i became friends in law school with someone who was deaf, and for awhile had the honor of being part of a small deaf community. i became a little obsessed -- read everything in sight about being deaf -- and grew so much to appreciate that deafness is mostly viewed as a loss/limitation by the ignorant hearing world. many deaf folks think of themselves as a language minority, not a disabled community -- to me that was a profound and beautiful distinction.

Sara: *More re what my body does - I've been doing this Rolfing stuff since this spring - and it's just incredible. I no longer get really painful back spasms, I am more grounded and centered and *present* in my own body - rather than sort of "hovering" over it. It's really a mind-boggling re-orientation to my body. I feel like I can tackle the world and be as large a presence as I need to be or something - rather than more or less skirting around the edges trying to squeeze myself in. I've been reading this book while in the waiting room heh - It's the most body/mind/emotional/spiritual experience I have ever had - and for me? Spiritual? Again, not a framework I have well-built in my head to hang much on. But in the end - it has been awesomely positive - not just in the physical "stuff works better" way, but in the whole being way - daily, hourly, every minute.... Stuff does work better too - I can do stuff on the ice that I was never able to do before. But more than that, I can just "be" better too.

marta: wow, sara, i really get this. don't know much about rolfing, though am eager to learn more, but my yoga practice is so so much more than a physical experience for me. it's prayer, it's therapy, it's sensuous, it's such a powerfully integrated mind/body/soul experience. i'd love to know more about rolfing as an entry-point to spiritual experience/practice/community for you. powerful stuff.

Sara: Mostly - I would adore having this conversation with the lot of folks commenting here - can we set up a bulletin board like the old Parents Place ? !

marta: yes yes yes. let's see if the comments here are enough, but otherwise maybe we need to find another venue. seems lots of folks want to talk about this.

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