Seriously, why? I don’t just mean in the ‘I hate my bum/legs/boobs/stomach/arms’ kind of hate, the hate I’m thinking of goes much deeper than ‘this is too big, that’s too saggy and that’s too small’. I mean the deep resentment, discomfort and hatred that a lot of us seem to feel towards our little physical bodies.
Society teaches us that we are our bodies, and that they aren’t good enough. Not to worry, just buy this, do that or have those changed and you’ll be temporarily better. Sometimes I see adverts for products promising to correct things which I had no idea could even be wrong. Like eye colour, what could possibly be wrong with the colour eyes you have?
Conversely, religion and spirituality teach us that we aren’t our bodies, and that the physical world isn’t real or important. Not to worry, just pray to this god, say that mantra, sit in these positions and you can (temporarily) transcend and escape your body, or be rewarded once you die. For me, there’s a general underlying implication that the body and the physical world sucks, that the goal is to transcend and leave it behind.
Why then, would we bother having bodies? Whether God created the world in 6 days and had a rest on the 7th, whether we evolved from sludge, whether Shaki was feeling playful and brought the Universe into being, a lot of effort has gone into making this physical world that we’re so keen to judge, criticise and want to leave behind. Even the 9 months of effort that our mum’s put into being pregnant warrants an appreciation for being alive. If the physical world was shitty and rubbish, surely Life wouldn’t have bothered with it. Either there’d be nothing and nothing would exist or we’d all be chilling out in the formless Oneness of undivided consciousness.
I must confess, I’m really not very good at being ‘here’ and don’t feel particularly at peace with the physical world. I’m all good ‘up there’ in the ethers and in my mind; I totes ‘get’ everything. But here, on Earth, in a body and as a person, I’m not great. I berate my body for how it looks; too much leg and bum fat, stubby hands, stupid short, curly hair and so on. I also feel restricted by it on a more existential level, and use the idea that ‘I’m not my body’ as an excuse to not engage with it. I ignore my body on the grounds that it’s not who I am, and then suddenly get all attached to it and get pissed off at how it looks and operates after not being looked after.
Not the best relationship, eh?
In my more enlightened and aware moments, I can see my body as the densest manifestation of me, or of Life expressing itself as the person referred to as Jade Liana Doherty. That’s cool. Densest physical manifestation works for me. It’s an aspect of who I am, I am my body, but I’m also more than my body. However, I find that so easy to forget, or to not really ‘get’ and embody. I could write a whole article on bodies as the densest manifestations, all the while being totally disassociated from mine, mindlessly smoking, eating and drinking and not really being here.
I remember the first time I became aware of not being my body. I was in Amsterdam and had taken mushrooms, and caught sight of myself in the mirror. I cracked up laughing. ‘People think this is me’ I thought, ‘this isn’t me. I just live here’. I promptly forgot about any deeper meaning that that might have, and carried on fretting about my body, only referring to that experience as a funny thing that happened while I was all cool and shit taking drugs in the Red Light District.
I think a lot us find it difficult to be ‘here’ because there is trauma, pain and unpleasant experiences stored or remembered in our body. My body and I were best buds until I hit puberty, and then suddenly (like literally, overnight) I closed down on my body, I didn’t want to be here. Before then, I felt immense freedom in my body. I loved using it, be it playing football as often as I could, pushing myself in gruelling karate lessons, climbing trees and seeing how far it could bend and twist.
Suddenly, my body wasn’t a tool or a joy, it was something to be judged and hidden. I gained weight, in hindsight not that much but enough to make my formerly wiry and coltish body feel heavy and slow. I stopped enjoying moving and jumping and climbing and running. Instead I felt like my body was bad. It was big and clumpy, it bled, it hurt. It should look like this, it shouldn’t do that. Suddenly it wasn’t my friend anymore, it was something public to be judged, it was an enemy to overcome, it was an obstacle to transcend.
For me, puberty, sexuality and becoming a woman triggered my dis-ease with the physical world. It all felt scary, and grotty and difficult. I felt like my body was no longer there for my enjoyment, it was somehow public. Whether that was others or myself judging it and it’s suitability, or feeling like people wanted it and would take it, I no longer felt connected to my body. I did, and do, my best to hide it, to cover it up, all the while thinking it’s not quite good enough and feel like it’s outing all the things I internally feel. You can lie about how you feel, but my body bears the physical evidence of how I truly feel and how I treat it. You eat too much or not enough, your body will show it. You cut yourself or make yourself sick, your body will show it. You feel you’re not good enough, your body will show it.
How can my body not be good enough? It does everything a body should do. It breathes, it beats and pumps, it converts food into energy, it heals itself, it’s a pretty good body. It supports my life, it gives me a physical expression of who I am. Yeah okay, it’s a bit fat in places, but that’s not only changeable but my fault not my body’s.
I’m sure we all carry issues in our bodies. But we need to embrace them, accept them, love them and say ‘yes’ to them. It’s like having a messy room in your house. Yeah it’s messy, broken, dirty and unloved. But sort it out! Go in there, get to know it, clean it up and bring it into alignment with the rest of the house. Otherwise, it limits our movement. Certain rooms become off limits. We don’t venture into that room or part of ourselves, yet it’s affects are felt all the time. If there’s a bad smell in one room, chances are it’ll waft over into the other rooms. Or, so much effort will have to be put into keeping that smell confined to its room, that it would probably be easier to just clean it up! I find it really hard to address my issues on a physical level, but I’m getting the sense that I really don’t have a choice. They are there, and the longer I ignore them the more extreme they’ll get.
If you think about the things that society dislikes and finds disgusting, it’s generally to do with the body and physicality. Poo is disgusting. Sick is disgusting. Death is disgusting. Aging is disgusting and must be resisted. Blood, snot, bones, decay, mould, dirt; disgusting. Sex, birth and death are the most gross things to us. Sex is bad, birth is messy and death is nasty. The horror stories of women pooing a bit whilst giving birth; eww. The placenta and blood; vom. It’s funny that given how messy and earthy life is, that we are generally born and die in the most sterile of conditions that bear no semblance to the life we will live, or have lived.
I’m not quite sure where I’m heading with this, so thank you for your curiosity and patience! I’m just becoming more and more aware of my own, and other people’s beef with physical life. Like it’s somehow not good enough, from the most superficial of levels to the deepest. We deny our bodies, the functions that come with them, the world they operate on. I’m aware of how vacant both myself and other people are. Without our consciousness in our bodies, we’re a bit like zombies. Our bodies keep themselves alive, they go through the motions, they laugh and they cry, but we’re not truly alive.
I think everyone has certain ways in which they can come into and embrace their bodies. For me, playing football was so joyful and I loved being there doing it. Now, maybe dancing and raving gives me that feeling. I’m sure you all have your own mediums in which you feel comfortable being physically alive and present.
And we like it when we’re here. I always feel like life is a bit much, a bit too intense, a bit too lifey for my fearful and austere likings. But when I’m really, really here, it isn’t too much. If anything it’s not enough, I want more life, more noise, more people, more intensity!
I lived and taught English in Spain for a while and lived in the Seville, in the hot, fiery, passionate, flamenco loving South. The people were loud, they shouted, they stomped and clapped, niceties gave way to genuine outbursts and expressions. At first, I was a bit intimidated. It would take me ages to get served in cafes as all the sevillanos would shout over me. Then, I ‘Seville-ed up’, I got louder and pushier, I met life head on, I shouted and pushed and stomped and clapped. And I liked it! There was something to push against, in me and in other people. I met people, not in a ‘hello, I’m Jade nice to meet you’ way. I really met them, and they met me. From Santos in my fave café, to people in bars, to students, to the teachers I worked with, to dogs I shouted at, to the trees, places and the river; I met them.
I was there. I liked it. So why don’t I do it more often. Why wait for Seville to invite me to be present, why not invite myself to be fully here?
In football, there’s an understanding that if you go into a tough challenge, a ‘50/50 challenge’ as it’s known in the biz, and wimp out; you’ll get hurt. If you go into the same challenge with everything you have; you won’t. I’m thinking that the same is true of life. Go in with only 40% and the 60% (or more!) that life will bring will be too much, it will hurt and you’ll ‘lose’. Match life, or even better go in with more, and it won’t hurt or be too much. You won’t get hurt and you’ll get the ball; result!
If I could live my life with even 50% intensity and presence, I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t feel like too much. I wouldn’t want to transcend it, it would be fun. Sure it’s not ‘real’ in the ultimate sense, the physical world is transient, things seemingly live and die. Just because it’s not the ultimate reality, doesn’t capture all of who and what we are and will end, doesn’t mean it’s not worth living and fully participating in. Imagine if a sports person said in their post match interview that they lost because ‘the match isn’t the ultimate reality, there’s more to them then playing the sport, and the match will end’. We’d be like ‘Huh?! But you were playing, so what if it’s not real, or all of who you are and will end. You’re there, you wanted to play, so play!’
What I’m really doing is saying all of this stuff to myself. Chances are, you’re better on the physical level than I am. Maybe you’re happier with how you look than I am, maybe you find it easier to be here and get stuff done and make things happen, maybe you don’t hide behind transcending your physical form in favour of a formless, ultimate reality.
What I really want to say myself is be here! Look after yourself, bring the awareness that you have ‘up there’ down here. Live with your body and in the physical world. You don’t like something, change it. You want to make something happen, do it. You find life a bit icky, man up. You are in form, you have a body. Other people have bodies. The earth is muddy, there are bugs. You will die, you might get sick. You will probably get hurt, be it physically or emotionally. But you decided to be here. You wanted a body, you wanted to experience life in its dualistic form. You signed up to play the game and the clock is ticking, so play!