I was talking to my students in dance class yesterday, and I found myself going off on a tangent that I found extremely interesting, and which now has me pondering the nature of self.
I had them lay on the floor and close their eyes, and concentrate on their bodies, how symmetrical they were—if one leg opened farther than the other, if one shoulder tended to lift more than the other, if one hand clenched tighter than the other. To feel the weight of their backs on the floor, and how much of their backs didn’t touch the floor. An exploration of their own bodies. And then I found myself telling them that it’s good to occasionally step back and take stock in the fact that our bodies are life, to reground ourselves in that body, because, unlike the way we usually phrase it, we are bodies, we don’t have them.
The way that we say that, that you have a body, presupposes the belief in a soul. You can only own a body if you exist separate from it. And…I really don’t agree with idea of a soul.
I have noticed I use the term soul in my colloquialisms as a sort of synonym with heart. The dance class I take nourishes my soul. Worshiping the All makes my soul dance. Things like that. But I’m not sure that I exist outside my body. How can dancing nourish my soul, if dancing is an activity of the body?
Sometimes, hearing other people talking about their bodies, or seeing other people dealing with unpleasant parts of their bodies, I feel as if I have a special connection to my body that other people don’t have because they aren’t dancers, they don’t spend as much time engaging actively with their bodies. I especially feel this way about highly intellectual types who seem to think that their bodies are merely a vehicle for the mind, a sort of nuisance they are required to feed and keep warm and rested. They are not their bodies, they are their minds. But as I have said before, the mind is a function of the body. It lives in the brain. I know, though, that my relationship with my body is not different, I just approach that relationship in a radically different way—I treat my body as if it is me, and as if it is the most important part.
I have no frame of reference for an experience that occurs outside my body. I believe other people when they say that they go astral journeying into other spiritual realms, and I absolutely do not disbelieve in spiritual realms. If I didn’t, I couldn’t have conversations with goddesses.
But how can I own something I literally would not exist without?
The Great Tininess posits an embodied spirituality utterly divorced from the soul, in which nothing can occur or exist outside the body. It takes out ancestor worship, especially in terms of having conversations with the dead. And it would, seemingly, disallows for the body hatred so endemic to our society. I think this might be the direction for me to follow.
If you have not noticed, my reverence for my ancestors stems entirely from bodily experiences. I revere them because of the impact they have had on my own body (there’s that turn of phrase again), that I can see generations in the long fingers at the end of my hands and the color of my eyes. I have never met a ghost. I want to believe in them, but I just don’t. I have long considered the afterlife to be irrelevant, and the one moving experience I ever had regarding the afterlife was entirely predicated on recognizing the physical circle of life—the ways that bodies feed bodies.
But I am also a little bit nervous that my assertion that we are bodies and nothing but will be misunderstood by my readers. For one thing, there are body parts that I consider to be essential parts of the body that most people think of more as soul parts. The mind, as an example. Also the imagination. I exist as much in my senses as in my imagination and my mind. The senses, the imagination, the mind, these are all equally functions of the body to me, just as much as my flailing limbs in a dance are a function of my body, just as love and emotion and joy and spirituality are body parts to me.
But if we don’t own our bodies, and everything else about us is inside the body, then what, exactly, is our relationship to them? How do we talk about a body that is the overall sum of the parts of our minds, our senses, our imaginations? Can we use words like “our”? I honestly think that such a language does not exist. Our culture so fully believes in either the soul or the mind/body disconnect, in the idea of possession itself, even (see how I just took ownership of the culture?). There is no way I can find to linguistically discuss bodies that we are, to talk about the mind or the imagination as a physical thing, not an amorphous, disembodied spirit of sorts floating above our heads.
I believe that existence is a dance of bodies in space. That’s how we tend to define dance in the modern dance philosophy—choreography is the arrangement of bodies in space and time. The entirety of the All is bodies in space—solar systems in galaxies, planets in solar systems, land masses in oceans, deoxyribonucleic acids in cell nuclei, food in stomachs, people in bedrooms. You get the idea. And I do, ultimately, agree with the old adage “as above, so below.” And so I believe that the body is a microcosm of existence. And if I believe that there is a spiritual aspect of the universe, that gods exist and that landwights can say hello to me, then I must believe there is also a spiritual aspect of the body. But the primary difference between how I see the spiritual world and how it is usually discussed is that I see the spiritual world as fundamentally rooted in this physical one. The spiritual world is like the imagination or the love of the cosmos—a body part that is usually classified as a soul part, and that provides superphysical connection and superphysical experience to the wholly physical universe.
I believe that I am a body, and nothing but. I do not own my body. If anything, it owns me.
Image is Self-Portrait 15 by Vincent Van Gogh