The other beings that inhabit my body with me

Through practicing martial arts, I learned to recognize and feel the other parts that comprise who I am, in addition to my conscious mind, or my intellect. I learned to be comfortable when other parts of me take control and trust them.

My body is faster and wiser than me. It can mimic complex movements without understanding what I am seeing. I can allow my body to act without being guided by conscious thought.

In drills that require a rapid motor response, I learned to let my hands move, guided by my peripheral (and less conscious) vision. When I started practicing martial arts, I would stretch my muscles deliberately, e.g. by stretching a leg with my arm. I now stretch internally: my knowledge of what’s good for the body comes from internal sensation itself. I am now able to balance my body is space during different types of kicks, despite the deep and sickening fear of losing balance that continues to haunt my conscious mind.

In some stressful situations, fear infects both my conscious mind and the other, more corporeal parts of my being. When I am afraid, I breathe heavily, even when I am not engaged in any physical effort. My muscles tingle, and my body feels stiff and heavy. When stress is extreme, I feel electric pulses moving from my shoulders to the tips of the fingers of my hand, energy being released from the ends of me to the world.

I am aware of and open to the sensation of all my body parts and organs in different situations. Even as I spar (in BJJ), I am constantly attuned to the rest of my being at any given moment.

I know now that I am never alone, even when I am by myself. I have other beings inside me. I am plural, and we encompass a continuum, from the intellect and conscious thought to the brain stem.

The spectetor and the man in the control room

I was sitting in class, listening to a student’s presentation. Suddenly, there was a very loud sound. Immediately my head turned, with full force, to the direction from which the sound came. I felt as though someone else, or something else, turned my head toward the stimulus.

I intentionally wrote “there was a very loud sound” and not “I heard a very loud sound”. The “I” implies my conscious self, which was not the subject of that event, but merely a spectator.

This was intense. For a very short period, someone or something else took control over my motor ability and turned my head. Precisely and firmly- to the direction of the stimulus.  My conscious self was merely a confused spectator, rushing in a bit after everything had already happened.

This gives me the pleasant feeling that I am not alone in my body. That there is someone or something else, already there, already with me, in my body. Waiting. For a sudden fall, a sudden pain,  or a very loud stimulus. There to protect me, or guide me.

I first began to think of the differential relationship between my mind and my body when I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. I noticed that when I turn my attention inward and focus, I can feel the beats of my heart, like little electric pulses all over my body, in every organ. There are certain places, like the artery in my ankle, where I can visually see my vein pumping with every beat.

To fall asleep, I need to turn my attention away from all of the liveliness inside my body.  How can I relax and lose myself when all of these complex actions take place inside me? Who takes charge? Who organizes my bodily orchestra?

If I move my hand, I express my conscious will. Whose will causes my heart to beat, to beat regularly, and to continue to do so?

I noticed that generally speaking, my conscious self has different relationships with different body organs/system. When it comes to the functioning of most internal organs- my conscious self is as a spectator to my body. It can only watch- it cannot take charge or stir things away from their natural course.

I know that I have only one body and that my existence depends on this body. But one consequence of the fact that my conscious self is merely a spectator to my body is that aging means watching my body gradually losing its capacities for regeneration, with only a limited ability to intervene. Theoretically, I can watch my body lose blood and wane, without any way to intervene.

This is also true for my sensory system. I cannot will myself not to smell the breath of the person in front of me. I cannot will myself not to feel the hand that touches me. After a while in a room with a very strong odor, I will get used to the odor, but again, this process takes place outside of my control.

When it comes to my motor functions, however, my conscious mind transitions from being a spectator to being the man in the control room. I can execute various movements with my body, I am in charge, I use my body.

When I’m in extreme pain or illness, however, my body uses me. I cannot allow myself to ignore it, and I grant my body all my mental resources.

Some types of complex bodily activities, such as sleep or breathing, are somewhere in between these two extremes. My mind can influence them, and be the man in the control room, until my mind will take extra leeway, than my body will overwrite my mind’s control and shift back to autopilot- like what happens after I try to stop breathing for more than a few minutes.

So, it seems obvious to me that I would feel greater alienation in regards to my body than to my mind. How can I not feel alienated to a certain degree, if I’m as helpless as a spectator in relation to some of the most essential qualities of the body to which my soul is moored?

 

The force of a flickering light-bulb

I want to feel that I truly inhabit my body. But I only experience it very rarely. When I move or execute movements automatically I’m as far from inhabiting my body as one can be. So maybe expressing doubt, indecisiveness, pondering – through the body – is one mode of inhabiting it.

This occurs in situations when you’re not sure what to do with your body or part of it. Or if you are trying to change some form of bodily habit, a former way of moving, adapt yourself to something new. Your movement is tentative, faltering. Your muscle tonus oscillates, tenderly changing, from one moment to another, like a flickering light bulb.

Regardless of your will, you now express something new with your body. It is precisely the indecisiveness and doubt that communicates this fact to you and others. You make an effort; moored in time and space, because you lack confidence and authority.

This experience is inextricably bound to imagining new ways of inhabiting ones’ body, and to a genuine willingness to change. This experience needs to be sheltered to take place. Aggression, humiliation, pressure, social or physical, dictation will strangle it like putting a glass over a little flame. When it comes to human sexuality, I believe that the spread and force of symbolical and material erotization of violence, and more broadly, of hierarchy and power relations ( along with the accompanying construction of human sexuality as genital penetration) suffocates this potential mode of inhabiting one’s body through sexuality. By definition, this mode of sexuality or eroticism, would not lend itself to commercialization or consumption.

When intellectual learning interferes with corporeal learning

I really like doing drills with B. Even though he trains about 1/6 of the time I train, he teaches me a lot. He sees right through my errors. He told me that I think too much about the drill, and that I should just do it. He’s right.
Whenever I’m presented with a drill, and I need to  execute it or perform it, I try first to intellectually plan or go through each phase of the drill and then do it. But then I get confused. I have this kind of very strong, inner lack of trust of my corporeal learning ability. If I physically execute a drill correctly, I’m surprised. I tell him: I have no idea how I did it. But I did it.
By saying that I have no idea how I did it I actually say that I execute the drill without figuring it out intellectually. My intellectual capacities are much more developed than my corporeal learning abilities. I have learned to trust and use my intellect much more than my corporeal knowledge or learning. And in relying on the wrong brain faculty I interfere and slow down the development of the right faculty of the brain for this kind of learning.This also makes me think about the traits that a good teacher needs to have for this kind of learning process.
More than anything else, it is our body that connects us to out fragility and weakness. My inability to trust my body partly stems from the difficulty in accepting my weaknesses.

Many people find it difficult to bear another’s weakness and so they react by patronizing -denying their own weakness. Alternatively, they expect or even try to force the other to behave as they do. This may also be another way to distance themselves from their own vulnerability.

Measuring up to myself and not others

As a child, I was very afraid of falling, or of losing balance. I remember my mother telling me once that I tumble like a rock. One time I fell on my face and broke both of my front teeth. My entire childhood, I couldn’t do a simple forward roll. Once a friend had tried  to help me, and I rolled but I instantly felt rage because of the helplessness I experienced during the roll. So I never tried it again.

BJJ is the perfect martial art for me, because it involves mainly ground work. But when I came to my first BJJ training, I had to roll forward and backwards as part of the drills during warm-up. I cherish my first coach’s empathy, un-judgmental encouragement and competence in teaching. Thanks to him.  both the fact that I rolled at this first training, and it didn’t make me feel helpless or enraged. I persevered and now BJJ is one of the best and most enjoyable experiences in my life. Through my first coach’s help, I could transcend the limits of my body and mind, and genuinely improve myself. Improve myself in relation to me, not in relation to others.

I’ve been training for a year and a half now, and I usually “lose” sparring matches in both clubs where I train. I often get comments from my training partners, such as, ” You always gives me your back”‘, or “you shouldn’t put your weight forward in guard”, “why did you do this, last time you were better”, or “Why do you keep repeating this mistake”. I know their intentions are good, and that they are trying to help me to improve, but these comments make me feel helpless. I try to do my best. Really. I try to  follow the principles I learned, and I try to work well. But when I get these comments, I feel like I’m not as competent as I should be, or that my understanding is flawed. These comments make me appreciate all the more the teaching style of my first coach. When we rolled, he rarely criticized me. He always succeeded in finding the right level of game that will challenge me yet give me a clear sense of enjoyment and sense of competence.

When I shared my frustration with one of my current coaches, he told me to focus on my successes and not failures. So I want to focus on my success in transcending myself. Yesterday, I had to do a drill that mortified me. It involved jumping to a closed guard when you partner is standing. It was the first time I observed the drill, and taking part in it really scared me. Jumping was relatively easy. Being jumped, was another story. I don’t know whether my fear was related to my body (the fact that I am a woman, and that most partners are much heavier than me), or a mental one (the fact that I never had to stand up with the weight of another person on me).

This really scared me, and the fact that the first time that I tried it I fell on my face and on my training partner did not help. A blue  belt at the club stayed after training to teach me. He had the patience to break up the drill into several stages and I felt that he had faith that I could do it, despite my fear. After several attempts as well as escape attempts (on my part, I already said that I am a coward) I managed to stay on my feet for two seconds with the weight of another person on me. I know that it is probably not impressive in relation to others, and I know that I probably “barely” did it. But I succeeded in doing something that I was mortified from at first. And it was the best feeling I had in quite a while and an accomplishment I cherish. For me, this is the meaning of measuring up to myself, and not others.

I am my right arm but I have a left arm

I am my right arm, although I have a left arm. A sense of ownership versus a sense of being one with. I enact the most complex movements I want to execute with my right arm. It seems to execute my movements immediately and fluently. This sense of uncomplicated immediacy, the fact that the route from my conscious thought to my movement is so rapid, is probably what grants me the feeling of being one with, or inhabiting my right arm.

My left arm is a completely different story. It feels like a tool for me most of the time. It feels clumsy and a bit stiff when I try to execute complex movements with it. I can hold the tomato in place with my left arm, while chopping it with my right arm, but not the other way around. I am usually more aware of the existence of my left arm then I am of my right. The former is a small fleshy presence next to my torso. The latter is transparent to me. It was simultaneously surprising and not surprising to me to discover that my right hand is slightly more developed and large than my left.

Injury disconnects my feeling of being one with my right arm. The strange sensation, pain, damage to my normal range of motion, causes alienation. I now have a right arm. I need to stabilize it a bit in space next to my torso. When my left arm is injured it is made even more alien to me than it already is.

Perhaps it is the immediacy with which my right arm corresponds to my conscious thought that makes me feel I am it. I have a somewhat similar relation to other humans that are very close to me. If someone is close to me to the degree that he or she can instantaneously grasp what I am feeling (and I was blessed with the ability and opportunity to forge such connections), I have a feeling that we are no longer completely separated from each other.

Does this stream of thoughts bring me closer to the question of why most of the time I have a feeling of objectification/alienation regarding my body, while feeling unity with my mind? Immediacy seems to be the answer. My conscious thought immediately reflects my conscious thought. But this is a tautology. And I am no less my flesh than I am my conscious thought.