Home is where the heart is? Last time I checked, that’s still in the chest – but oftentimes, we don’t even notice that we are a body, unless there is some problem.
That phrasing alone may strike you as odd, for we usually talk about our bodies as something we have, not something we are – it is “my body,” not “me.”
Arguing from the perspective of biological materialism, though, it is very clear that we are our bodies: what we eat can influence how we feel and how we act (far beyond merely feeling good or bad), there are signs that benign parasitic infection could account for some cultural traits, and brain damage can clearly change a person fundamentally.
Even in simpler regards, like with food and fitness, things are problematic – and full of potential.
Most of the time, we probably hardly think about the way we eat, and don’t consider how much (or little) we move. It is all just force of habit, whatever is normal. Some are concerned about fitness, but only care half-heartedly, and others again go totally overboard and attach what can only be called religious fervor to the particular kinds of diet and training they adhere to.
The ignoring of the body that allows (“toxic food”) environments to shape obesity and bad health has just as bad an effect as the overemphasis on the body that wants to control everything about it – and often overdoes it.
So, we find two extremes:
We either ignore or try to control the body we “have,” and end up with either the slow wasting-away of fitness and health (beyond what would be natural with aging), or the rushed diets or fitness fanaticism.
Both are based on an estrangement from our bodies, seeing them as either unimportant or all too important, as either being outside our conscious control, or having to be brought under total control.
As beings, we live in this world, as a part of it, even if we think or wish it were otherwise. Our brains create our minds, our selves; and our bodies anchor our selves in the reality of the physical world and consciousness. “You cannot have a conscious mind if you do not have the interaction between (the) cerebral cortex … and the body” (A. Damasio, TED Talk)
It is “bad,” since it makes us susceptible to disease, driven by evolved needs and desires that we may hardly be in control of. And it is “good,” for we can learn to be more human, more aware of the connections – and we can derive a lot of happiness from it: the thoughts and feelings of being together with someone we love; the beauty of landscapes that maybe we do react to positively because appreciation for them is baked into our DNA as they offer features good for survival; the knowledge and culture surrounding an object, making it good – and the awareness of how it is more real to us when we can touch it and use it, because we are bodies in this world…
Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.
David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous, p. 22 ([affiliate link], Quote from wildethics.org)
What it takes – and we have all heard something like it before – are good, balanced lives, based on the realization that we are bodily beings. As such, we are living as long as we do – which is a process, not a rash diet.
You cannot be fit if you do not stay fit. And with all the challenges that we are likely running up against (whether you think that there is only a little economic crisis and it will all return to “normal,” or that there are worse problems of resource scarcity on the horizon – or even if a better tomorrow awaits), decent fitness will remain as important as it has always been.
Anyways, there is a pleasure and a purpose in being able to walk somewhere, to run away, and to lift oneself up, literally and metaphorically, after all. So, look for the balance of what you want, and what is always needed, and seek ways to make them a part of daily, normal living.
I will be looking at aspects of this for a while, in the course of 2012…