Integrating death into life

I have one little problem with my body. It reminds me that I am going to die.

I have no problem accepting the fact that I was born in a particular year- 1984- and that I hadn’t existed before. I do, however, find it very painful to know that in some particular year in the future I will cease to exist. I treasure life. I want to keep on learning. I want to know how humanity will be like in, let’s say, 200 years from now. What new technology will we invent? What kind of new ways of thought, theories, and cultural mediating mechanisms will we develop?

But I will no longer be part of that “we”.

My body constantly reminds me of that painful fact. Of course, my body has limited me from the get go. It has always been vulnerable. I have always known sickness, fragility, scarcity. As time passes, my body gradually loses its capacity to regenerate, to withstand the impact of damage caused by external forces. I see that little sun spot on my skin, and I know- this means that my skin is beginning to wear out. I experience pains and aches of which I was blissfully ignorant in the past. Sometimes I experience heartburn; a phenomenon I had only remotely heard of until about a year ago.

Our bodies are at the core of the basic ambiguity we have to live with, according to existentialist philosophy. We are bodies, but we also want so much more. I am my body, but I also want to transcend this body. My body is the apparatus of my perception, and yet, in almost every waking moment I experience myself at a distance from this body, analyzing it from the outside in.  To be human is, perhaps, to know that we will die. And to come to terms with this fact, we need to integrate death into life.

Since death is in our bodies, it makes sense to use our bodies to come to terms with it. Here are two examples.

A year ago I hurt my ribs and it was painful to breathe through the chest. So I taught myself to breathe through the stomach. My ribs have healed, but I retain the new skill. It relaxes me more than chest breathing. I can use it to calm myself down. The failure of my body pushed me to learn how to use my body in a new way.

Learning how to fall properly is a central element in many martial arts. Training is usually done on mats. It is reasonable to assume that young, healthy people will suffer no special damage from falling on mats in all sorts of ways.

You learn how to fall properly because you want to minimize the impact of the fall on the body. This impulse represents our recognition of deficiency or vulnerability of our body, and the intent to cope with it. To compensate. To delay the moment of inevitable caving in of our flesh. Conscious effort is put into the understanding of movements and their consequences on our ability to use and reuse the body. 

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My body and death

When I touch my body with my own hands, I live and express the duality of the subject and object- I touch and I’m being touched, I’m touched because I touch, and vice versa.

When I touch my body with both of my hands I connect with my mortality. When I touch my body I recognize and meet again in my present body my past body, the way my body used to be, when I was a baby and a toddler and a girl. When I was born, I was completely dependent upon the two humans who created me with parts of their flesh. In one act they in motion the myriad of potentialities that would become me.

Before I was born I fed on my mother’s flesh. After I was born, she became everything and everyone to me. My body, small and amorphous. Still hasn’t been exposed to the light of the sun. Today, some of what were then potentialities have materialized, others never will. I think that when you’re 30 you begin to grasp that it’s not likely that you will undergo a dramatic change. When you die you will be, more or less, who you are today.

If I do not die young, my  future body will return to being an amorphous bundle of need dependent on others. This time I will not be adorable and sweet, but a sign of decay and disgusting to others. Exploited minorities will be paid to touch my flesh. Medical tubes will pierce my body, many more artificially produced chemical compounds penetrate my blood flow daily, my insides monitored and checked.  When I write this or think about it, I shed tears. Is it still crying if you shed tears in silence? I read about crying in Wikipedia. It says: “[T]he act of crying has been defined as “a complex secretomotor phenomenon characterized by the shedding of tears from the lacrimal apparatus, without any irritation of the ocularstructures”