Treatise on the Body
Ah, so here we are, finally getting to talk about the body. The olddddd skin sack, the oldddd bag o’ bones, the oldddd miraculous marriage of machinery, animal, and spirit that we still don’t *super* understand.
A lot of my musings reflect my Christian upbringing, because that was the lens by which I was taught about the world and myself. And because America never *really* shook her puritanical roots, I think a lot of us heard teachings about the world and ourselves that were rooted in some version of Christianity as well.
In the Bible (Christianity’s Holy Book), there’s a lot of talk about the “spiritual world vs. the natural world”, and encouragements to “overcome the sinful flesh”, painting a picture that the flesh — or the body as we’ve taken that phrase to mean — is a hotbed of temptation and forbidden desire. A breeding ground for — you know what, why don’t we let the Bible speak for itself? Let’s, for kicks, look up some of what one of the holiest and most revered books in human history has to say about your body:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galations 5:19-21)
Whew, that was a doozy! Seems like the body’s real busy trynna get you into hell huh? Let’s look at another one:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8)
Bummer. Ah, then there’s this one that surely never fucked anyone up:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
“Put to death the deeds of the body”? Damn. Honestly it kinda feels like whoever wrote Romans 8 had an axe. to. grind:
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)
And okay, just one more to prove it’s not ALL in Romans 8 (Everything else is in Galatians 5):
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galations 5:24)
Alright alright, so we get it, the Bible wants your body to die — at least that’s how it’s sounding. This book seems to have made it painfully clear there is nothing holy about “the flesh” — that the Great War of Time is between our flesh and our spirit, and that we must spend each moment of our lives on this earth battling the flesh and its cravings to save our souls.
So listen, I’m not trying to be blasphemous here, or pronounce sacrilege. I still consider the Bible a holy book, and I still technically consider myself a Christian (though the bounds of that definition have expanded considerably in the past year). I’m not here to say the Bible is full of shit, I’m here to offer that maybeeee some things got misunderstood in our Quest for Truth. Whether purposefully in pursuit of power or by honest mistake, I’d argue that thousands of years of a story being passed down essentially through a game of telephone, and then transcribed into however many languages and translations within each language *MAY* have led to some mixups. And when I consider the God I know now, and even closely examine the God I was taught throughout my childhood, I don’t know that He (I use that pronoun very loosely and with much chagrin) would create or manifest something and then call it bad. As a matter of fact, He has a pretty famous record of creating things and then calling them good immediately afterwards. So why would he diverge from that pattern when it comes to our bodies?
Fundamental Christian teaching tells us that the world, and our bodies, have become the devil’s playground. Essentially it WAS all fine and the body USED to be holy when “Adam” and “Eve” were walking around, but then Adam blew it and condemned us all (that’s right, it’s his fault not hers misogynists), and then Jesus came and fixed it kind of(?), but then we still had to spend the rest of our lives battling and denying our bodies and its desires — DEFINITELY sex (until marriage duh and then go wild but also if you’re confused and awkward about it in marriage it’s weird even though we spent your whole life up to that point shading and shaming sex), but also sometimes food (fasting), and then sometimes we decided it was okay to harm the body for no real reason at all other than existing (flagellation) or just generally planned on ignoring it, waiting for the sweet by and by when we will be freed from our ugly bodily temptations.
However, what I have experienced, is that you can’t separate the self from the body. We as humans have this wild compulsion to compartmentalize. We need things in boxes and we need those boxes labeled, STAT. A lot of what drives that is efficiency, which makes sense. For example, our brains created and labeled a box called “couches” so that every time we encountered a new couch, we wouldn’t spend precious time and brain power trying to figure out what it is and how to use it. (Can you imagine? Owning a blue mid-century couch and feeling perfectly comfortable with it but then going to your friend’s house and their couch, God forbid, is some bright red victorian situation and you stand there for 20 minutes like
). We love labels, we love distinctions, and to our credit, they’ve gotten us pretty far. They’ve also hurt us pretty badly (see: racism). And I think this idea that our existences can be compartmentalized (“I am a spirit, I have a soul, and I live in a body”) is one of the more damaging cases, as well as evidence of our inability to see the fullness of ourselves.
First of all, removing holiness from the body makes us treat it like a second class citizen. We don’t pay attention to when it’s telling us to stop working, when it’s telling us to give it food, when it’s telling us to stop giving it food, when it’s telling us to sleep, when it’s telling us it wants to be touched, because we’re like “Oh silly body, what do you know?!” Spoiler alert: A LOT. But we treat it like a sinister two-year-old, something that needs to be controlled, manhandled, subdued, as if ridding ourselves of the body is the last barrier to enlightenment. (Which I think is a real thing in some traditions? I’m not into it.) We reduce our body to the means by which our all-important brains move from point A to point B, ignoring vital signals and desires that can lead to fulfillment, content, and satisfaction.
And here’s the real tea: our bodies hold a wealth, a ton, a CORNUCOPIA of information about our emotional states — about our souls and our spirits if we’re still working from the compartmentalization model. Have you ever been hungry and gotten angry? Of course you have, the emotion is so popular we gave it its own portmanteau: hangry. That is the body affecting your “soul” or your emotions. Have you ever been through heartbreak and experienced headaches or chest pains? Have you ever been angry and started crying or felt your ears heat up? This is your soul affecting the body — your emotions producing a physical response. There is no separation, there can’t be. Our bodies are ourselves. Further, have you ever experienced the physical manifestation of a “hunch”, maybe you met someone or entered a room and all of a sudden your stomach turned, or the opposite, you started a project and your whole body felt light — this is your body INFORMING you about your surroundings, leading you in a direction, picking up on clues maybe your frontal lobe hasn’t caught on to yet. (In high school I learned there’s sort of a second brain in your spine for reflex reactions? Don’t quote me on this, but in situations when your body needs a response faster than it can send the message to your brain to give the order — like if you’ve accidentally touched a hot stove and you need to move your hand pronto — your spine steps in for your brain and tells you to knock it off. BEHOLD THE MIRACLE OF YOUR BODY. COMPLETELY BYPASSING YOUR BRAIN TO SAVE YOU FROM HOT STOVES.)
So with this understanding, that we are all one thing, also noting that we are part of nature, just as organic as the trees, wind, and grass, that God created/manifested/inhabits all things uniformly, that the body informs us of things before our conscious minds can attach to them, how can we condemn the body? How can we say it is evil, that it should be denied? I understand there is something to be said for refraining from overindulgence, which is likely what the authors of the Bible were touting. But I believe if we’re really listening to the needs and desires of the body, we will naturally avoid indulgence. We may THINK our body wants that extra piece of cake in the fridge, but if we stopped to listen, it might just want to cry. We may THINK our body wants to fuck that random person at the bar, but it may just want to be held by someone safe. I don’t believe listening to our body leads us to indulgence and self-destruction, I believe *not* listening to it does.
So what would happen if instead we were taught that our bodies were sacred as well? And not in the weird Purity Culture way, that’s more about power and control than it is about honor. I mean instead what if we made space for our bodies to feel, and gave ourselves permission to feel our bodies? Pleasure, pain, frustration, tenderness, elation, despair, hopefulness. What if we let our bodies lead us? I know it can be vulnerable; somehow inhabiting the body can make you feel invincible and finite at the same time. But I think honoring the body, elevating it to sacredness, is IMPERATIVE to really living this life. The body is how we stay connected to the present moment. It humbles and softens us, it empowers us to take up space and be, and it deserves to be revered.