I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul? And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
“I Sing the Body Electric,” Walt Whitman
I think this is going to be the first in a series of rambling, disconnected posts, because I’ve been meaning to write about how my studies in massage therapy and holistic/alternative medicine have altered my thinking and perspective about the body, the sacred, the physical, the mystical, the “natural” and “unnatural.” But it’s such a huge subject–my god, look at that list I just wrote–I don’t know where to start, of course. But I’ll get started anyway. Because I think I’ll figure out what I’m begining to understand intuitively if I write it out.
The program I’m doing here in the Southwest is really a bootcamp, a crash course in Western anatomy and standards and Eastern (and Western alternative) practices: pathology and tai chi, reiki and deep tissue therapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cranial-Sacral techniques. And by now I’ve been working in the student clinics several months, learning how to be a healer, essentially. It’s a tall order and I know this is only the beginning of my education.
And when I’m not daydreaming in class (hey, you’d have trouble focusing on symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome too, if you’d been working 8 hours already), I’m sitting there thinking, “Wow.” Just a simple “wow,” because I find it hard to articulate beyond that. But holy crap, the human body is an amazingly elegant…..and here’s where I’m lost for words. “Machine” is absolutely the wrong word, and I’ll get to that eventually. “Thing” is too cold and objectifying. “Creation” brings up all these Christian resonances in my head, with their notions of a distant creator god and the sins of the flesh. “Artwork,” I think is the best one I can come up with. The human body is a work of art, with all those meanings of organic symetry and balance; Beautiful with a capital B, so much beyond superfical notions of aestethics. It’s perfectly evolved.
And I’m not talking about some classical ideal here, perfect proportions carved in marble. The 60-something woman sitting across from me is a wonderful example of how the body adjusts to external pressures while maintaining a very precise internal order. That’s what I mean by beautiful: the same beauty that’s illustrated by the mathematic fractals which outline the growth of a tree branch, the Divine Proportion (1.618…) found in both Debussy’s symphonies and the curve of a seashell.
Your body really is electric, incidentally. Connective tissue called fascia spreads throughout every part, even at the cellular level; fascia is made up of collagen fibers that consist of a crystal matrix that generates its own electrical pulse. It even glows under a blacklight. This connects every area of your body to every other area so thoroughly that you can’t affect one part of the body without affecting the whole–which includes your brain and mind.
I’m not sure really where to go from here without sounding too breathless, except that now when I see someone on the street, instead of (well, to be completely honest, usually after) thinking “Wow, that’s a truly hideous shirt. Did they get dressed in the dark?” I’m starting to think “Hm, looks like he has a nasty case of Upper Crossed Syndrome. Bet his back is killing him. And his heart’s wore out from working so hard, since he can’t breathe properly with that posture. I’d hate to see his blood pressure numbers…” I’m trying to learn to see the body not as a thing to be displayed for aesthetic reasons, to see beyond social markers and cultural cues of dress and so on. It’s similar to taking an ecological view of nature, seeing it as having intrinsic worth instead of resources to be exploited. Your body has its own wisdom, it’s more than a rack for displaying your wealth and social status. And it’s kind of appalling how hard it can be to readjust your thinking along those lines. But that’s probably the subject of another post.