A few weeks ago, I asked what a body can do. I wanted to change the question from “What does a body look like when it is at rest?” to “What does a body feel like when it is functioning properly?” The latter question is a very good one, and yet it leaves hanging a more basic question of how one comes to love one’s body. My body may function properly, surely, but perhaps I do not love it. What, then, would cause me to love it? With a friend, I was writing further about this yesterday and came to see why it has come so naturally for me to love my body.
The reason I love my body fully, wholeheartedly, unquestionably is that it fits my philosophical form of life so seamlessly. It feels as though this kind of body is just the right kind of body for the life that is worth leading–namely, a philosophical life.
Two spiritual exercises (ascesis) led me to this conclusion. The first spiritual exercise–the ‘view from above’–called my attention to the various forms through which my body has passed on its way to philosophical life, with each form fitting for that way of life. My baseball-and-lifting body were fitting for a hyper-masculinized late 90s way of life: mildly hedonistic, showy, virile, cocksure. My climbing body, more lithe, more sinewy, lengthier, was fitting for the itinerant way of life embodied in climbing: the life of travel, the approach to the crag, the carrying of gear, the pensiveness of the boulder project, the steadiness of powerful movement.
In the above, what we are surveying are at one and the same time the fitting of form to way of life and the transformation of one form into another. Let us ask: what appeal did that kind of body have for that form of life? Let us consider: why did that kind of body pass away, passing into another, the following form? Let us say: the body thinks along the path of inquiry. The immediate aim of this long survey is to achieve a sense of gratitude for all one’s body has done.
The second spiritual exercise turns my attention to all the present alone. I am learning to take supreme joy in the mundane activities that make up my day: my typing these words; my dodging children while running around the Park yesterday; my hiking with a friend last week; my sitting on a park bench on Saturday and touching another friend’s shoulder; my… The joy I experience in these acts is immense and immeasurable. Oh words, you fail me.
The conclusion to this story, as I stated at the outset, is that my body is as fitting as it could possibly be for the life I lead. It feels rather as if there were a ‘pre-established harmony’ in the universe (this term a nod to Leibniz) such that my body were properly attuned to the cosmos. At 5 foot 9 or 10, I am not too tall or too short. Imagine me having a conversation with a conversation partner and being 6’6″ (domineering) or 4’5″ (diminutive). I am properly sized. I am also properly shaped: thin, flowing, rather Pleistocene looking, if I had to summon forth a couple word description. In my movements, I am firm yet flexible; subtle, light and graceful; quiet, soft-stepping, never loud or heavy or sharp. I feel Daoist.
The one word I’ve heard constantly over the past two years is that I have a ‘calming’ presence. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting body for my philosophical life. Because of this, I feel entirely in my body. Indeed, I love my body entirely for however long it is my body; for however long this is, I desire to have no other.