Our Bodies are not Stupid

Last week at curling I had a most interesting interchange with a fellow in the locker room. He mentioned in passing that the lock on his locker was one he had in high school. He is a bit younger than me, but not so very much, and so I knew that his combination lock is about the same age as my eldest adult daughter. “You must have that number burned in your brain,” I commented, and he replied “Actually, I have no idea what three numbers open up this lock. My fingers just make the motions needed.” He said he would need to watch his fingers do the motions to find out what the numbers are. But I suspect that this wouldn’t work, because when I think about a repetitive task, I find that thinking about it gets in the way of doing it. He would probably have to have someone look over his shoulder while his fingers opened the combination. Every now and then I have a similar kind of experience when working with a bolt, or such, in a tight spot where I cannot see. It is almost as if I have to stop thinking, or think about something else while my hands go to work. It seems that our fingers sometimes know things that our heads do not.

There are philosophers who have noted that one of the conditions of the peculiar kind of thought that comes with being human has been a snuffing out our instinctual capacities. We have lost what other species retain: an ability to intuit when storms come, where danger lay, etc. Of course, these capacities are not entirely lost, and may be more lost for some people than others, for some eras more than others, etc. Some would argue that the age of enlightenment that ushered in the modern era, with scientific developments and the prizing of reason over faith, has caused an estrangement with flesh. Some might say that the enlightenment has cost us our body: we are no longer so comfortable or familiar with the skin we are in. That is probably overstating the matter. It is, I suspect, a question of degree. Our bodies are not stupid, we just have forgotten how to listen to them, or don’t take the time needed to do so.

There are, I suspect, ways to learn anew from our bodies. Spending time with children, with animals, and with trees, for instance, might help, or perhaps rolling dirt between our fingers as we bring it to our nose and smell again the whence of our existence. Spending time in quiet most certainly sharpens our hearing. Exercise can’t be bad. But above all, we need to learn to love our bodies. So many voices command us to despise our bodies. The religions get a bad rap for this, but there are resources in religions for reclaiming the body. It is important to note, for example, that in Christianity one of the favoured metaphors for the church is the body of Christ. If bodies were bad, this would not be the case. Other religions have other ways to affirm the body even while all religions have problematic practices. But I suspect that most of us will find that religion is not our biggest problem in making peace with our bodies. We need to turn away from advertisements. We need to refuse narratives that standardize what a good body is, and so the try to sell us products purported to make us in the image of the model we aren’t. Clever marketers tell us that beauty and worth have to manufactured and purchased. But as we look at the natural world around us, complete with the marvel of birth and the mystery of death, we are reminded that worth and beauty are created, not manufactured, and the fingertips of the creator are imprinted on us, on our body. And so, we can come to accept the body we have so that we can be the body we are.

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13 thoughts on “Our Bodies are not Stupid

  1. Amen! Letting the body do the thinking….I think of skiing like that, or even more, dancing.

  2. shoreacres says:

    You know how much in agreement I am with all this. One of my concerns is the increasing acceptance of AI and robotics as models for human life. From the first comparisons of the human mind to a computer, we’ve been traveling a path that leaves less and less room for instinct or intuition, and very little for the senses.

    I especially appreciate your distinction between manufacturing and creation. That’s been an issue since the beginning of the industrial era, and it’s not going away.

    It’s interesting that one of the most important things sailing gave to me was a sense of physical mastery. Some kids get that early, especially if they’re involved in sports, but I missed it. When I finally realized that I could develop the strength and skill to sail a boat, it was life-changing.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for this. Yes, I really didn’t give any attention to automation in this, which not only numbs our relationship with the body, but the mind as well. I remember reading a report about the way in which GPS devices resulted in the brain activity of London cab drivers being drastically diminished. It would seem to me that we probably need to consider how we can offset this numbing effect of technology. Sports would be one way, music another, but we can’t forget about the value of shutting the devices off every now and then for a time!

  3. redsquirrel says:

    Funny, I was just thinking about the same lines a few days ago at aquafit as I realized that when I was thinking about turning, contrary to when I was doing a particular exercise, I was totally unaware as how my body did it unless I really looked for it. The feeling of connecting to that ability was one of wonder and respect. We are certainly wonderfully made and we need to honour that intelligence which is serving us even when we don’t realize it!

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for your comments! Yes, our bodies are truly amazing and I like the way you frame your reaction to this insight: wonder and respect. And honor is a fitting response to this!

  4. shoreacres says:

    As so often happens, I came across this fascinating related article about bodies and technology today. I think you’ll enjoy it. It certainly is apropos.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks so much Linda. Yes, this is most interesting, so I reposted it on Facebook, where people can read it on their i-phones! About a year ago I chaired a defense in the physch department, where a student looked at the use of apps for infants. Basically, the take home was that until a certain age, the children encountered the phones as an object, and then it became an intellectual tool. But it is good to remember that it doesn’t quit being an object when it becomes an intellectual tool, too.

      The bit about distraction in the article is quite well written, I think.

  5. Would that our bodies cease to twist and turn, could we be satisfied? I thought not. The turns and twists are lovely; the dance holds sublime.

  6. Janet says:

    Thanks for this. My father was not a man of reading and books but his hands could fix anything. He knew and could feel and understand what was needed.
    As a woman the discussion of body and religion is compunded, for me, in the religious teachings that women’s are sinful and tempting and need to be covered and hidden – our hair and faces and so on. I write this as a person from the Christian tradition. I appreciate your article and the missing piece with this is that women can and should love their bodies and their gender and their wisdom. As well as others transitioning genders with changing bodies and people with differing abilities and possible challenges. Thanks for your words.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for commenting! I completely agree with you on the missing piece bits. We all have so much to learn, and it is important to remember that we can start learning at home in the body, no matter its identity.

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