Monday, November 2, 2009


I'm going to shamelessly copy Sarah at Handmade Homeschool and designate Tuesdays as "A Quote and a Question" days.

"Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul is the work of the soul, and good for either is the work of the other."
- Henry David Thoreau.

I think about bodies and souls a lot. I work with bodies of course, as a massage therapist, both in the sense that I work with my body and work on other bodies. And I love what I do. I think about it all the time, how things might work better, try to uncover seemingly unrelated patterns of strain. I want people to leave my clinic with more function than they walked in with, and more often than not, that's how it works out.

One of the places all this thinking leads me is into the realm of, what is a body? What is a thought? What is a soul? Is there any difference? Do I think any less with my kneecap than I do with my brain? I'm serious on that. Not so much quantitative contribution, because obviously a person can lose an entire limb and maintain a whole personality, but in the sense that it's a group effort, no matter how small the group is.

I often feel the meridians of my own body, with their subtle energies and flows, and I feel it in my clients, and I know, I know, I know that this is somehow what we ARE. And there it is, like a holograph, the thought in the knee, the tears in the skin, the holy of holies in the in-between spaces that have no name.

But on the other hand, all my limitations flood me, and I can only focus on one thing at a time, and it causes me to break things down into little classifications. This is the body, that is the soul, this is where the pain is, that is where I feel well.

And about 18 months ago I saw the Body Worlds exhibit, and you know? There was nothing there. They were utterly lifeless. Whatever connect or construct between those molecules and the energy of life that had been, was no more. And in a situation like that, it's very easy to revert to viewing the body as a cloak that the "soul" (whatever that is) puts on and off as it sees fit.

So here's my question, and feel free to disagree with everything I've written above. I'm interested in opinions.

What is a soul? Is there such a thing? If there isn't, what's asking this question? If there is, what is its relationship to these fingers typing?

Edit: What a hoot! I just realized that it's actually MONDAY! Can you tell my days are all one very much like the next? Right then, MONDAYS are Q&Q days!... or however it works out....


Deb said...

This is are the SECOND blogger I know who thought it was Tuesday today! Maybe because it's Monday the second? Or the full moon?

As for your questions, I have been reading about energy and herbal medicine lately, and it intuitively makes sense to me that there is a soul, life force, energy, call it what you will. One of the books I read by Stephen Harrod Buhner gave compelling evidence that some of our thought processes take place in the heart. When I play a song I know well on flute, it's my fingers that do the thinking. If my brain tries to get involved, I screw up.

arcolaura said...

I think (there I go, living in my head again) that a body is an expression of a soul, and who can express anything without being changed? So they both form and shape one another.

There is a great urge to think of the soul as somehow vastly greater than the body because there is the anxiety to reassure oneself of the soul's permanence while constantly confronted with the body's transience. But I don't think we have time and continuity figured out yet.

Meanwhile I am wrestling with a great demon that I have only just got out where I can begin to see it and name it: my habitual disembodied state, and my severe identification with my thoughts to the point that I resent intrusions upon them. I knew I didn't really enjoy group conversation, always wanted it to be one-on-one (or better yet blogging where I can spin out my own precious threads and decide when to consider the comments, if at all) but it dawned on me suddenly that I don't like following the current of the conversation because I want to steer my own boat.

How will I turn this aloof intellectual self of mine into a caring, involved classroom teacher???

Madcap said...

Deb - I tried reading one of his books, but I didn't get very far with it. Maybe I should have another go.

Certainly in Chinese medicine the Heart takes precedence over the brain in terms of "thought"; anxiety, loneliness, joy, etc. I'm intrigued that Buhner talks about the same thing, and I'd like to know more about that.

A'Laura - Well, I suppose not all rivers are worth travelling! ;-)

Being aware of who you are is like a lever for change, but I think that introspection is more a gift than you give it credit for. There are enough self-convinced extroverts in public schools - your introversion could be a resting place for some kid who never hears anything but the gospel of Group.