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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