Essays

Inhabiting the body

We are not very comfortable staying in our bodies.

Modern, digital life has turned us into some sort of floating head-and-hands species. We are often plugged into our phones either literally with headphones, or manually with fingers tapping on screens to convey the thoughts in that floating head to someone else’s floating head.

We speak less. Our vocal cords go unused. Perhaps they are even starting to decay?

Now, some of that is exaggeration, of course, but it is not completely untrue. How many of you have been in a doctor’s waiting room and the only noise is from voices on the television screen and the tap-tap of people’s fingers on their screens? When someone deigns to make a phone call in that perfected, floating head-and-hands, mediated silence, how many of you have been upset at this violation of the modern social contract?

Even as I type this, I am mostly unaware of the rest of my body. In some vague, deep subconscious, of course I notice my body, but not really. I am aware of my fingers touching the keys of my laptop and I am aware of the light from the screen pressing against my eyes, but the rest of me might as well be absent or in storage somewhere. Even as you read this, something similar is happening to you.

In these moments, we are disembodied and this is a great cause for concern. If anyone could ever have devised a form of living hell it would be this: being trapped in our own heads with our own thoughts to drive ourselves a little more mad each and every day.

Why disembodiment is a problem
Do you think yourself to be a rational person? Most days I am sure you do. Even when you know you are having a moment of irrationality, it is still difficult to break the thought pattern that got you there. In fact, trying to do so likely makes it worse, turns it into an obsessive, circular spiral that hurts more than it helps.

Disembodiment, the floating head-and-hands situation, only exacerbates that problem. Even if we reach out and text a friend for advice, you are still trapped in that head of yours. Even if we listen to music, the lyrics we hear are still warping themselves around whatever thoughts we had in our head and are becoming thoughts themselves. This may be the point where we seek some sort of substance to disrupt our poor, tired, circling brains because that seems more acceptable than the alternatives: permanently beheading ourselves OR actually talking to someone (remember those decaying vocal chords?)

However, there is one more type of alternative we rarely consider anymore, but it used to be practical wisdom. Ever heard the expression “Take a walk to clear your mind?” The truth is that a walk, the physical act of it, of feeling the air on your skin, smelling nature…the sensuousness of it restores thinking to a more balanced place against all the other senses that we have.

This could save your life.

Finding the body
I like talking walks, but I love swimming.

Slipping into the water at a pool or in the ocean is another fully sensuous act. You cannot be in the water and be disembodied. Simply, it is impossible because the water is everywhere. You are engulfed and embraced. Every sense is engaged.

I swim three times a week now because it helps keep my mind clear. When I am in the water, in the rhythm of my laps, it is not that I am not thinking, but I am not just thinking, I am feeling, too. I am present. The thoughts that float through my mind tend to be less choked with ‘hard’ logic and more considerate of the deeper emotions of life: empathy, loss, fear, hope, and joy. I can now have explore these powerful emotions without fear that I will sink underneath their weight, for how could I when the water itself buoys me up?

This is not a metaphor. It is a true state of experience. If you are only inhabiting your head, that is all there is. You are terribly detached from your emotions, and therefore your hard, unyielding, rational thoughts are capable of overwhelming “all” of you. However, when you inhabit the entirety of your body, when you put your thoughts back into balance with the rest of you, you have put down the magnifying glass and may now see things for what they really are.

Saving your life
Take more walks. Swim. Dance it out. (Thank you, Shonda). Lay on the floor, carpet, hardwood, or porcelain will do. Take a shower. Soak in the tub. Sprawl out in the grass. Tramp through the snow. Kick leaves. Go ice skating. Ride horses. Cook a meal at a leisurely pace and molest the fruit.

Text less. Go meet you friend to say the actual words, it will feel better.
Drink less. Just go do something with your body, it will feel better.
Stop scrolling. Pick up a physical book and read it in the park, it will feel better.

Re-inhabit your body – save your life.

Originally posted on Medium, 11 December 2016.

 

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