“I’m literally always looking at my reflection not because I’m conceited but because I just think it feels kind of strange to have a physical form and I’m constantly trying to process who and what I am.”
When I ask who you are, how might you answer? I would wager you might tell me your name, what you do for a living, list your likes and dislikes, your political leanings and your moral absolutes. You might tell me about your personality and about your spirit, but what would you say of your body? Do you consider it to be part of who you are? Maybe I should ask what you are you instead?
Do you believe in a soul? Do you believe it exists before, after, and apart from the body? Are you a body with a mind, or a mind with a body? I do not believe in a soul, and I do not believe I am more than the matter I am made of, and science seems to agree. Even the Gods who made us in their image of arose out of mere human brain matter themselves.
Without a frontal lobe, the limbic system, the pituitary gland, the thumbs, and even the gut flora, we wouldn’t recognize ourselves. If any part of the body had been different, you would be different. What you are may go beyond what can be touched or seen, but you are still made from matter. This matter is where your choices are directed, where your memories are kept, where your needs and pain are felt, and where your personality is shaped. Matter imagines the self, and that self is made to serve the body. The spirit was conjured to paint the prison into a paradise.
Even the intelligence we hold so dear and take so much pride in is nothing but well-placed neurons and our emotions merely coordinated releases of hormones. The soul is an electrical signal and a chemical reaction firmly rooted in the physical world. You are not just in your body, you are only your body.
“Body is a home, a prison and a grave.”
― James Runcie, The Colour Of Heaven
None of us wants to be made of mud and air. None of us wants to be reduced to DNA and hormones. None of us want to be chained to a sad sack of meat and bones, and we surely don’t want to be dragged back to mud with it when it’s ceased functioning. So we ignore the body, compartmentalize who we are from what we hate and what we hate to be so limited. We hate to be so fragile and easily broken.
The immortal and transcendent soul has not been shown to exist, and when science deemed it unnecessary to our understanding of the mind, we needed a new illusion we placed ourselves at the top of the animal kingdom and announced we were the aim of the evolutionary arrow. We are biology at it’s best.
Look at this body, your body, any body at all. You think that is the peak of evolutionary excellence? Hardly! The human body made of “good enough” solutions. From the size of our skulls to the bones in your feet, you are made of weak points and inefficiencies. The knees are easily injured, the spine is stupid, each of our eyes contains a blind spot, your teeth are crowded, you can die if you don’t time breathing and swallowing right, and so much more. Your body is prone to problems and always aging. It was designed by chance with no forethought or care for the quality of human life. It’s a disappointment.
Worse, its delicate design is the end of us all. The truth is you are tied to something that is dying. You can prolong the inevitable with maintenance, medication, and mindfulness, but you cannot live forever. The smartest, most empathetic, prosperous, self-aware, and free among us will all be dragged, kicking and screaming, to nothingness right along with the body.
Death is not a being or a state that comes for you, death resides in your bones, in your heartbeat, in every cell of your body that is obliterated and replaced, obliterated and replaced, a little further from perfect every time. Eventually, the body just breaks down, from the bones in the feet to the lungs, to the limbic system, and everywhere else. The body is where you were born, it’s kept you alive, and it is where you will end. You will never leave this place.
“The body is the outermost layer of the mind.”
― David Mitchell, number9dream
But, for all its poor design and problems, isn’t just a prison, it’s our freedom too. The hips, knee, and ankle may be inefficient and fragile, but those bones carried humans all across the globe. Our opposable thumbs made tools and technology possible. Our large skull makes for painful childbirth, but the frontal lobe is worth it. We love with our bodies, we fight with our bodies, we feel heartbreak, loneliness, and fear in our bodies. The body is the boundary of your being and the interface through which you exist and interact with the world.
The human body is capable of many wondrous things but it has its limits, and the body’s limits, no matter how much you resist, no matter how much you fight, are your limits too. You cannot exchange it, and you cannot replace it. You may live in blissful ignorance for a time. You may even conquer it for a time, through rigorous workout and extreme discipline. You may take advantage of technology and surgery and mold it for a time to your vision of perfection but the fact remains and that facts catch up. You are limited to this space and resigned to the physical world, and it’s laws.
We are not beyond mere matter. We are trapped within the physical relm. We have limits, both in quality and quality of life that are set by the body, but there is freedom and great privilege in this body too. Realizing our limitations and your dependence on mere matter can be a hard reality to swallow, but doing so will help you face what is to come. You will get hurt. You will get sick. You will age. You will have to care for your body, for yourself, with acceptance and compassion.
The mind may recover some power, but care must be taken. Compassion and cooperation with the body are crucial. You will have to be patient, understanding, and ready for the body’s disappointments and betrayals. You must understand that what it goes through, so too, will you. You must accept that the body may die before the mind is ready, but the mind will still be taken too. You cannot separate the two.
Your body may not be what you wished it to be but is a prize to cherish. It has taken you this far and will surely take you further still. It has given you an identity and a universe all your own and shown you all you are capable of. Your body is a gift as much as it is a coffin, and you would do well to see it, and yourself, as both.
“Having a body is in itself the greatest threat to the mind… The body encloses the mind in a fortress; before long the mind is besieged on all sides, and in the end the mind has to give itself up.”
― Marcel Proust
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