Written on the Body #44, November 13, 2021: The Body Speaks

The title of this whole blog is “Written on the Body” — but today I want to focus on the body. Or rather, just as Einstein spoke about “spacetime,” seeing space and time as inseparably connected, I want to think about “bodymind” or “mindbody”: the idea that we experience life through an inevitable relationship of mind and body. We take in data through our senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and the kinesthetic senses of our muscles, bones, and organs (e.g. stomach cramps, backaches), our feelings of heat and cold, of wind, wetness, hunger and thirst — and the mind (however we define it) interprets that data, names it (or sees that it is new, as yet unnamed), lets us turn it into experiences that we can feel, think, and talk about. Feel attraction or repulsion, love, fear, anger, comfort, need. This begins happening in infancy — probably, even in the womb — and continues, I think, all our life, even if the mindbody begins to fragment in old age. Making love, sleeping and dreaming, experiences of terror and ecstasy, just the act of waking up in the morning… all engage our body, mind, emotions. It is somehow a mistake to see mind and body as separate, or expect the mind to “control” the body.

Interesting that as a writer, I use words — intangible symbols — to create a world of the senses, of flowers, trees, animals, people, weather: both the world I can actually observe in “real life,” and worlds that I imagine but embody with life that both I and other people can feel as real. We even talk about a writer’s — or any artist’s — “body of work,” as if the work itself is a body (in this larger sense of mindbody) with an ongoing life.

We also talk about bodies of water, and the earth itself can be seen as the body of the world, breathing, growing, changing — and now in extreme danger.

Some of these thoughts were provoked by the visit to B.C. — as many people have noted during the covid19 lockdown and its gradual easing, it is essential to see people in person — especially loved ones but also friends and others in our lives. Zoom and other media can communicate voice, faces, information, but not touch, not smell, not the feeling of being (as a friend of mine put it) in the “fabric of each other’s lives.” There is something about cooking and eating with people, walking together, sitting in companionable silence, doing activities like carving jack-o-lanterns or playing sports — all the in-person ways of being together.

Also walking in nature felt really good after so long — being on the beach, reaching into a tidepool, touching the smooth red bark of an arbutus tree. I find this is true at home, too — smelling flowers in the garden, watching the leaves turn colour, hearing a bird sing is an experience you can have just going out the front door.

It also was my son’s 41st birthday on Nov. 5: being pregnant, having a baby, raising a child are ways we experience our own bodymind in new ways, as well as forming an intimate relationship with the child. (This is true for raising a child, where we gave birth to the child or not.). Making love,

We have just passed Hallowe’en, a time when, it is said, the veils between worlds grow thinner, and also Remembrance Day, when we honour the dead — and the survivors — of war…. and certainly war is one of the most horrendous mindbody experiences humans inflict on each other.

In illness or injury, too, we become aware of body parts we have always taken for granted as working well; now, when they don’t, we sense the loss. I am finding this in the current problem with my eyes, as they are affected by the chemotherapy. I can see, and manage to get around, but things are blurry, giving me a sense of disorientation. And I felt a real loss when I could hardly read, even with a magnifier; I realised how much reading is important to my inner life. And of course the illness itself is a huge mindbody challenge — even when I only see the CT scan reports of what is going on, invisibly (but steadily) inside my body. In the next blog, I will bring you up to date, as far as I can, with my current treatments. Meanwhile, as people keep telling me, Carpe Diem — sieze the day! With body, mind, and heart.

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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