Content in the Body

This is a curious thing to say, but I rather like my body.

It has been quite good to me. In 2012 my feet took my hundreds of kilometres from Port Augusta to Adelaide. They complained a bit, they griped, but they obligingly, companionably, took me all the distance. My legs served me well during years of fencing, and they enable my daily commute. My arms cook for me and brush my teeth and nonetheless retain the deftness to unhesitantly voice a F7b5 chord.

I am helping to build a fence.

They also help out with manual tasks.

Late in 2012 I had begun a regular exercise routine after a hiatus of many years: every second day I’d crisscross the Carlton Gardens, trying to make my weavings add up to 5 km. I liked how it made me feel not only in myself but also about myself. This feeling of pride in my own physicality was weird for me, and seemed incongruously material, far too “this-worldly” for someone whose greatest asset was surely his mind, if not his thorough familiarity with the seminal novel of the Sturm und Drang movement.

I voiced my concerns to a friend of mine, while eating risini in her garden, telling how I’d return home from my run and shower and then take the chance to dig my half-dry towel-clad body in the hall mirror. Only then would I get dressed for the day. By pleasant coincidence she had done an honours thesis and knew a bit about embodiment and – while she didn’t go so far as to say my behaviour was normal – she explained that it was at least healthy. After exercising, asking something of my body, pushing my body, she elaborated, it was a positive thing to take it in, appreciate it, admire its capabilities.

me wearing only a towel, but it covers most my body.

And boy is it capable.

Learning about embodiment from her made me think many thoughts, and eventually I realised that it wasn’t so much a case that my body belonged to me and was an effective tool, or a diligent servant, or a loyal companion – but that my body was me and that I am my body. That my body is Joel Dignam incarnate: an abstraction made flesh.

Around the same time I also began attending 5Rhythms, a form of dance meditation, which was very consistent with the concept of embodiment. In 5Rhythms one dances a ‘wave’ of around an hour, moving through the five rhythms: flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical, stillness. I found here I could express in my body inchoate moods, or states, or ideas, that couldn’t have taken shape in words. During 5Rhythms one is encouraged to avoid mentalising, but instead not only to express oneself bodily, but to think bodily, to let one’s chaotic, peaceful, or jagged thoughts be placed in and explored through the body. Frustration at work could be released while dancing to chaos, or perhaps a promising new friendship imagined through flow. Thus my body took on even greater significance for me, as it became anew a medium for both catharsis and self-discovery.

My having won a fun run

One such discovery: I am faster at running than many.


So.

So I’ve come to appreciate what my body is for me. It allows me to explore me, to be me, to share me, in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. As my body I can play ultimate frisbee, knock on a hundred doors (jogging between them, naturally), and be a consoling presence for a friend. My body is to me, as Cat Stevens was to him, “a good friend”. It is perhaps even, as Walt Whitman writes in I Sing the Body Electric, my soul.

I still have an exercise routine, although a different one, and I still look at myself in the mirror every now and then and it’s still a little complex. In that reflection are questions of body image, of self-esteem, of metaphysics, of blackhead removal. But most importantly there’s a comforting answer in the knowledge that my body is both here for me, and is me.

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