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The pleasures of bodyfulness

3 things I no longer believe about my body

From when I was a teenager until well into my thirties I believed the usual amount of guff we women are fed about our bodies and their general unworthiness. Too fat, too skinny, thighs too big, breasts too small, hair all wrong etc, etc. I’m betting you know this story, because you have one of your own.

Simply enough we learn we are supposed to be worried about our bodies and their general lack of perfection in comparison to some ideal. And then as we get older, it’s time to start worrying about how our bodies are letting us down, as we begin the apparently inevitable decline.

Basically, we’re encouraged from a young age to be at war with our bodies.

And ultimately this means we are at war with ourselves.

We force our bodies into shape with diets and the gym, and eye them in bathroom mirrors with unconcealed disgust!

Yet as a jeweller, the body is my gallery. And the more fascinated I became with the way that bodies and jewels work together (indeed, conspire together – but that’s another story), the more I decided that as a society we just have it all screwy when it comes to attitudes around and about ourselves.

I had an inkling there was something way more mysterious and wondrous about bodies.

And not just the female body which has the ability to actually create a new life (dismissed by the powers-that-be as merely ‘reproduction’). But all bodies, everywhere, of all shapes and sizes and genders.

Curiously, I’ve started to find that the frontiers of science increasingly support my suspicions.

And fundamental beliefs that underpin ideas of our self, and ideas about our health, are being shaken loose and discarded.

It can happen with these 3 small shifts in what we currently believe about bodies.

1. That the body works like a machine.

Humans started building machines, then thought “hey, what a great metaphor for how the body works”. But somewhere along the line the metaphor became the fact and now this meme shapes everything from medicine to physiotherapy and how we train. Then physicians realised that it’s not just fluids being shunted from here to there, and joints grinding away from wear and tear, there’s also lots of electrical activity going on. So now the computer has become the new analogy for body functions.

But despite comparing bodies to things that humans have built, science still cannot fully explain how it works.

We’re only beginning to understand that it’s not a computer, or a mechanism, it’s a living eco-system.

To describe it as mechanical is similar to saying a rain forest is like a machine. Because, we’re more like the rainforest with an extraordinary complexity of things going on in our bodies.

And while all the cells are producing energy and vitality, this is also being translated into emotions, ideas, and dreams.

Scientists have dealt with this complexity that is life by considering all the stuff of mind (visions, language) as separate to the stuff of the body (blood flows, cell divisions), and then confounded themselves with questions such as “how does consciousness arise in the brain?”

Which brings me to the second thing I no longer believe.

2. That the brain is in charge

In fact, the mind is not the brain. Plenty of scientists continually refer to the brain as the mind, and they keep looking in the brain for how consciousness can exist in ‘grey matter’. So far, no success in locating it.
Because they’re looking at consciousness the wrong way.

Neurons that produce the neurotransmitters associated with emotions and thinking are also found in the heart. And in the 2-way communication between heart and brain, the heart sends more information to the brain than comes back in the other direction.

We humans love hierarchies. It’s a tidy way of organising things to have a simple centralised control. And so we’ve come to believe our brains operate rather like a monarchy, where a single boss tells everyone else what to do.

Aside from all that information our hearts are constantly sending to our brains, there’s plenty of other bodily systems ‘thinking’ for themselves and influencing what the brain does.

You may have heard of ‘the second brain’, the digestive system, with it’s superhighway of nerve cells making judgement calls about whether what we’ve just eaten is useful and nutritious, or needs to be sent off to the garbage. And then there’s the community of microbes in our guts that are actually impacting the thoughts our brains are busy creating.

Our body is not controlled by our brain just because it’s ‘on top’.

While language and thinking are shaped in the brain, everything we know comes through our body and our presence in the world.

Without your body you can’t know anything.

The parts played by all the elements, cells, organs and systems in the body are relevant and equally important.

Think of it like a movie. Even though the director and stars get top billing, there is a plethora of worker bees without whom that movie would never exist. And these people bring their own skills and imagination to creating the whole.

Once we move away from the meme of the singular “I” (or brain) at the centre of things it’s necessary to let go of another belief.

3. That I am an individual entity

There’s a multiplicity of ways in which I am not a single, individual entity held in place by my skin. However the simplest example is found in the ‘human biome’ – the colony of microbes, viruses, macrophages and what-not that live with us, in and on our bodies.

Depending on how you run the stats each one of us humans is only 40% to 10% human*.
The rest are the kind of creatures we’ve been fighting against since Pasteur invented germ theory. (*If we count the red blood cells we’re 40% human. The reason some don’t count them is that red blood cells have no nucleus. That’s a lot of cells being ignored…)

Since most of these trillions of cells aren’t ‘human’, how can you be an individual?

You’re actually a collective. And the story of life is the story of the triumph of the collective.

It was the banding together of those original life-forms, single celled organisms, and their decision to co-operate, which created the more complex life forms and eventually the complex life form that is the human. For example, mitochondria in your DNA are an early bacteria that agreed to help out. They now shape genetic destinies.

Therefore, strictly speaking, ‘self’ is not an ‘I’.  It’s a ‘we’. A confederate of us. A united states of being.

Because there’s the percentage of us that is ‘human’, and then there’s all the microbes that are not ‘us’. But they live with us, inter-dependently. Bringing the outside world inside, the ‘other’ into ‘self’. Basically you and I are composed of multitudes: 10 trillion+ cells, all working together.

 

You’ve heard that “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything”.
In the same way, how you think about one thing (like your body) reflects how you think about everything.

You might consider these little changes of perspective I’m talking about as just mind games.

And yet they have the potential to create a social revolution.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that how you’re trained to hate your body’s imperfections and fear its potential for disease is your own problem, disconnected from the larger story that creates inequality, violence against others and destruction of our environment.

When we recognise that our body is not a machine but an eco-system it erodes the modern idea that we humans can just live in an urban bubble separate from nature. (So no, Stephen Hawking, moving to Mars is not the answer to the environmental mess we’ve made).

The natural world lives inside us as well as out. Our health depends on it’s health.

When we understand that intelligence isn’t located in brain or language, it’s diffused through our whole body, this sets in motion a new meme of co-operation.

A meme with the potential to dissolve old authoritarian thinking currently running the world.

And once we recognise what we consider as ‘self’ is actually a collection of diverse beings not an isolated ‘I’, it allows us to see difference in a new way.

Xenophobia no longer makes sense.

Thus, a few small shifts in how we understand our bodies create ripples that begin to re-weave the defining elements of our current reality.

Valentine, saint or sinner?

Half the population consider Valentine’s Day the most romantic day of the year and a great excuse for a night of indulgent dinner and loving each other up.

The other half of the population (the cynics & the single) consider it a load of commercial cr*p, with florists, jewellers (yep, guilty), restaurants and innumerable others vying for our Valentine dollars.

But why is some medieval saint is still so popular?
He’s really the only one we take notice of anymore… who cares about St Catherine and her torture wheel, or St Ignatius being torn apart by lions?

And due to his reputation for love, where there’s Valentine’s Day there are hearts.
By this I mean the symbolic kind – though there’s certainly many a beating heart as well.

I’m quite enamoured of this organ… images of the real thing keep recurring in my artwork, for lots of non-Valentine reasons.

The heart is gloriously evocative, rich with magic symbolism – as well as being pretty damned impressive, since as long as we are alive it will faithfully beat its incessant rhythm about 100 000 times each day.

The famous symbol of the heart I have a more ambivalent attitude towards… (putting aside those votive images the Mexican’s are famous for of hearts aflame).

Sacred Heart in tin
Large Tin Sacred Heart handcrafted in Guanajuato Mexico.

Well, right now there’s just way too many of them everywhere. You know the kind I mean – those shiny balloons made out of some weird cellophane stuff, boxes of chocolates, heart shaped cards and jewels, etc. etc.

Being the nit-picky, curious type I always wanted to know where the heart symbol came from.

Because it’s only vaguely reminiscent of a real heart.
(I mean what’s with that pointy bit on the bottom?)

But it’s a bit like Santa Claus in that there’s a long and convoluted trail to follow to find the reason why. (Is he a Coca Cola invention? Is he a Northern Shaman wearing a bloody animal skin?).

But, as usual, I digress.
Back to the St Valentine and his connection with hearts.

I recall a snippet of infotainment I stumbled upon years ago: the symbol we identify as a heart was originally derived from a representation of genitalia, or specifically testicles. Which becomes more obvious when the heart is shown inverted in some Kabbalistic symbology.

Inverted heart
Inverted heart, a Kabbalist figure by Jakob Boehme (1575-1624)

True or not, it’s actually very appropriate for Valentine.
As the saint of love, he’s a direct descendant and sanitised version of those Greek and Roman love gods Eros, Cupid, Priapus & Pan.

The saint was, reportedly, invented by the church who wanted to substitute saintliness and sermons about love, for the original licentiousness of the Roman festival of Lupercalia.

February was sacred to Juno Februata the goddess of feverish [febris] love.

In the febrile ides of February, young men of Rome chose partners for erotic games by drawing billets with the names of their potential lovers.
These were the first Valentine’s Day cards!

Pompeii - Casa del Fauno - Satyr and Nymph - MAN

Lupercalia’s orgiastic festivities were ceremonial fertility rites – fertility, according to reports, being something of a long term problem for the Romans.
Something to do with the lead in their water supply. (We on the other hand only have to deal with fluoride and chlorine…).

The truth is, like Christmas & Easter, this day is really a cover-up job.
But despite the fact he was dubbed a saint, we haven’t been fooled by the church’s coyness.

Valentine’s day is a veneer of sweet romanticism over the instinct common to all animals: feeling horny about the approaching spring.

Except, of course, here in the Southern parts of the world we’re all back to front.
I mean, who’s actually getting excited about winter?
(Perhaps those who’ve been enjoying a 40˚+ summer… )
( Oh, and those of us who like furry coats. But that’s another story.)

Valentine’s day – celebrate or ignore it? What’s your take on all the fuss? And do you think the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day has sullied the reputation of the heart symbol??