Tag Archives: Body

The Gift of Being Sick

It is funny how “catching a cold” grounds me to the present moment by continually reminding me of my “unhealthy” physical condition. It is hard to move past the barrier of “pain” that being sick creates. In our healthy moments, the body disappears (for the most part), while under the condition of sickness, it becomes a subject of woeful rumination.

In these times, I am reminded of the fragility of the body and the delicate condition of health. Being healthy is indeed a gift. And, in some ways, being unhealthy is also a gift if only for it’s power of reminding me that I indeed do exist through a physical body, one that weakens with age and one that needs to be taken care of.

As the weather shifts and the coldness of winter approaches, take care of yourself.

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Deep Breathing: The Corpse Pose

How often do you focus on your breath, on the very process of your physical breathing self? After several weeks of daily physical training, I have become aware of the impotant healing and relaxing potential of focused breathing.

As it usually is, throughout the day, I tend to get enwrapped in various work-related projects and lose all focus on how I am breathing during those times of busily perfecting the project. Even just a few deep breaths can help regain one’s focus and, moreover, actually give one more energy.

The Corpse Pose

Here is my recommendation for you to try for one week. If, after one week, you find no significant improvement in your thinking and overall well-being, continue the exercise at your leisure and try to find some other suitable exercise that may work better for you.

1. Engage your body in some physical activity. If are you not inclined to do so, even a brisk and focused walk is fine. Walking or running, in particular, are helpful as they increase your heartrate and allow you to explore the outdoors.

2. After you have done some physical activity (and hopefully broken a sweat), lie down on the floor (a hard surface is recommended).

3. Extend your arms and legs outward and let them sink into the surface of the floor. Concentrate on your feet and feel how they sink into relaxation. Do this all the way up your body, until you are in a state of blissful energetic lethargy.

4. Concentrate on your breath and how it flows from deep inside your body. Inhale fully through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Feel where your breath comes from and try to feel its power coming from your stomach area.

5. Continue this exercise as long as you like. I tend to use this technique for about 15 minutes.

Hopefully, during your state of emptying yourself, you were able to emerge with a lightness to your body. I have also found that sometimes after engaging in this, I come out with even more energy. Also, this is a great way to relax your muscles and to purify your body of the stress and body habits that may have been accumulated throughout the day.

Indifference and Once-Occurence

NTLam

An email from a friend this evening contained an aphorism from E.M. Cioran. The aphorism (from, I’m guessing “The Trouble With Being Born”) is:

She meant absolutely nothing to me. Realizing, suddenly, after so many years, that whatever happens I shall never see her again, I nearly collapsed. We understand what death is only by suddenly remembering the face of someone who has been a matter of indifference to us.

For most all of us, our daily life includes the presence of other people. The boy on the train with the white earphones, the young lady walking under the streetlight holding a shopping bag while typing on her cellphone or the young man at the cash register of the discount store down the street. These nameless others are somehow part of life and not part of it. We sometimes see them and sometimes do not. Probably, we see them and forget them. Even after only thirty minutes I fail to remember the face of the young man at the discount store. On some level, he means nothing to me other than being “the guy that works at the store”. More so are the countless others that we may pass by on the street, at the train station, on the bus. For the most part it seems that we move in our own bubbles, bubbles filled with holes, openings for the others that we must interact with in daily life. Its not that I don’t like the person at the counter ringing up my goods, but its just that I know that it is probably only in this brief encounter that we will ever meet.

It is hard to grasp other people as the unique once-occurent happenings that they are. Other unknown people come bound up in their garmented state, alight perhaps with make-up or fumbling about with shopping bags and briefcases. Perhaps we ignore them. Probably we do. Even if we have a brief-run in with them, they fade a bit from our consciousness and disappear. The boy at the store who held the door, the smiling passerby, the bus driver…they all fade away.

For Cioran it is through the recognition of the unique existence, the pure only-onceness of the other person, that we can understand mortality. To say the words “well, we are all mortal” is cliche, but sometimes…sometimes…it is through this way of thinking that the realness of death as the ultimate happening, strikes us, grounds us and transcends us. The unknown others that one never had the chance to meet, that slipped away, are gone. The face of a friend’s deceased relative passes before the mind. The face that we didn’t interact with, the face that while illuminated with life, didn’t enter into our close communicative sphere.

The passing-away of an unknown other, of an other who we may have just only brushed shoulders with or the passing away of a childhood classmate strikes us at some meta-level, some level below the radar…there is something cold in it, something indifferent in the whole act itself…something chilling, perhaps. The chance to see that person again has vanished, they are no more. However, something lingers, that face again, that distant face which hovers and fades like a distorted image of a television screen filled with static.

I think that in this aphorism, Cioran has captured and transcribed a moment of lucidity, one of these looking through the cracks moments, and he feels death welling up…a death that calls him to realize our for-the-most-part ignorance of the reality of the other as a pure unique moment of space and time. I think Cioran is calling the reader to think deeply about those around us that we simply see but do not meet, hear but do not know and, perhaps, through this contemplation, we may savor something, some recognition of the other, perhaps even a compassionate complicity for the other. Maybe, this is hopeful…

Kiyokazu Washida: “My Body…Dead Body…Corpse” from “The Screaming Body” (JP title: 悲鳴をあげる身体)

This is my unpublished (amateur) translation of Prof. Washida’s work. My tools were a Kanji dictionary and a Japanese-English dictionary. I hope you find this stimulating.

Then there is the question of “whose body is this?” Namely, the person that is my body becomes a problem in the fact that the relationship of “me” to “my” existence is not all that there is. Also, there is the problem of the (place) scene of this current existence. In particular, the temporal boundary between living and not living. That to say, there is an edge that is the death of “my” existence.

“My” life will be terminated with the coming of death. This means that “my” existence, in respect to death is limited. This corresponds to the moment that the body will cease to function. “My” death and, more precisely, my body will become a corpse. But it is definitely not obvious whether or not we regard this person as a thing as we discuss this purely material body.

Actually different cultures have woven different ways of perceiving the appearance of the dead body.

For example, we can contemplate the “who” of “my” existence in the case of brain restoration. And in the case of “my” death, we can think upon the ceasing of my brain. In this way of thinking, a person who has had their brain removed exists in a neutral space. Namely, it is good for us to contemplate this experience of space.

Carrion Existence (2003)

Carrion Existence

Commenting on the horrifying future of the skin and of the constancy of its decay, Cioran said, “Much more than the skeleton, it is the flesh, I mean the carrion flesh, which disturbs and alarms us—and which alleviates us as well (1974).” Further, in the same essay, he writes, “In order to conceive, and to steep ourselves in, unreality, we must have it constantly present to our minds. The day we feel it, see it, everything becomes unreal, except that unreality which alone makes existence tolerable (1974).” From this standpoint, we experience a vision of the skin—of the flesh—as our uninterrupted reminder of death, as the site from which we are everlastingly decaying. In this way, the garment may act as a cloak to shield away the future existence of our corpse. The, as Cioran writes, “alleviation” of our existence can be greeted quite readily by exposing ourselves to an honest contemplation of the body. In this way, we find the beauty of the body, the beauty of the garment, to be nothing but a transitory phenomenon, a continually slipping and aging object that we are continually at the whim of.

In Cioran’s words, we may read “unreality” to be a kind of mask from which we, quite unknowingly, come to veil the starkness of the world. In not ruminating on the skin, we come to capture its sensual aspects, its pleasures and its reified naturalness. This is the same with fashion and its relation to the body. The transfixing of clothing to the body, at the same time providing us with a unique and changing visual identity and semblance of beauty, brushes away the animality of our body and all that is “disgusting” about our body.
This transcendence through the garment and into the carrion provides us with an angle of beauty that fashion plays upon, opens and closes, calls attention to and ignores—the complete exposure of the skin and of the movements of the body’s interior. Phenomenologist Alphonso Lingis writes, “We crave to break through the self-contained form in which the feminine is so utterly removed, not only from the world of work, but also from us. What excites us is to break through this jeweled mirage, though we sense that we will thereby join not in its radiant epiphany but in its decomposition (2000).” The illusion of the feminine (so aptly displayed in fashion) haunts and possesses us with its semblance of carrion detachment.

The desire of the body, of the symbols surrounding the body, stirs us unto this desire of transcending the social sphere of reason. Returning to Rudofsky’s comments on the “intoxication” of certain garments, we find an overall “intoxication” with in the perception of beauty—a horrifying intoxication. Horrifying, in that, any analysis upon the body’s exterior beauty is simultaneously a reminder of the decaying flesh, of the transformation that that body will eventually be—a corpse. Fashion, apart from being the site of our hybrid existence, is also the site of our bodily unreality, a fleeing from the truth of our bodily destiny through style and sartorial transfiguration. Moreover, an analysis of beauty and elegance in relation to the physiological functions of the body renders us appalled. Why is this?

Cioran writes, “In order to vanquish attachments and the disadvantages which derive from them, we should have to contemplate the ultimate nudity of a human being, force our eyes to pierce his entrails and all the rest, wallow in the horror of his secretions, in his physiology of an immanent corpse (1974).” The shocking analysis of the human condition, instead of repelling us, should act as a valuable lesson of lucidity. Our perpetual exposure to the exterior of things hides the interior, makes it invisible and, hence, ugly. However, the human condition cannot be ignored, it is what we are, our concrete solidification and connection with the physical world. The suggestion and enhancement of the bodily in fashion opens unto a new light in the realm of pure bodily exposure. That certain garments enhance sexual attraction is clear enough, but that certain exposures to the carrion opens for a spiritual experience seems almost taboo. Lingis suggests, “The erotic frenzy sweeps its vertiginous way over barriers, plunges toward nameless, proliferating excesses of life teeming in orgasmic decomposition of the world of work and reason. This zone of blood and semen and vaginal secretions, of excremental discharges and corpses, this zone too of mushrooming eddies of nameless inhuman life, which fills us with exultant anguish and anguished exultance, is the zone of the sacred (2000).” The organic body when examined under sartorial phenomenology can ascend to authenticity, in its organic reality, as our natural and mysterious possession, and, more than that, our vortex of intention and expression. Moreover, what Cioran and Lingis aspire to is the experience of the divine from the interior of the body. In addition, they call attention to our proclivity for a hidden fascination with the animality of the body. From this, fashion lends its hand to play upon this sacredness of the body and to thrust the body into a new animality—a civilized animality complete with new and, hence, inorganic desires, desires apart from the physiological. In this way, a desire to appear beautiful is concretized and the beautiful image idealized. Finally, in a world where this image-making shifts and mutates, comes a propensity to create and solidify one’s own beauty as an individual and away from the mainstream of fashion. It is in this individualistic drive for visual singularity that we have come to accept the changing faces of fashion and even have come to embrace the fluidity of fashion.

———–

This is a short piece that I wrote in 2003 while studying at Grand Valley State University. It has not been revisited until today. Enjoy. The texts mentioned in the essay are:

E.M. Cioran: The New Gods

Alphonso Lingis: Foreign Bodies

Kiyokazu Washida: The Disproportionate Body (my amateur translation)

ちぐはぐな身体

The Disproportionate Body
Kiyokazu Wakabayashi

1. The Patchwork of the Body

The Shy Body, The Tense Body

The body is a troublesome thing.
Our body never changes directly by our own will. It is awkward and resistant to change. Not wanting others to see it, we conceal this ugly body. Why is this ugly body of mine so full of tension? I am quite disgusted and am beginning to dislike my body.

It starts with the teenage years. This is the period when one’s voice begins to fully come out and when oil starts to accumulate on the skin of one’s face. Here and there, small patches of hair begin to grow. Or, for girls, the breasts start to take form, the stomach starts to cramp and, among other things, blood begins to seep out.

There are the aches and pains of the body. I never know when these attacks will come, but whenever I have to face them, I can only deal with them with a passive defense. From the time when the attacks occur to when they leave, I must strive as much as possible to soothe the pain and only through some effort, can I come to terms with it. I am miserable and powerless in this defenseless existence. In this way, one’s body is always holding on to this state of unease.

Moreover, there are things more disturbing than this. That is, one cannot ever fully see one’s own body. We cannot see inside of our own body. Personally, to what extent can we really see our body? Take, for example, the hand and the arm or moreover, the armpits, which one can never fully see. When one shaves one’s armpits, the eyes and neck become tense and one becomes quite fatigued. If one uses a mirror, the image is reversed, so one must use intuition. Since I am a man, I deal with my body hair by shaving my beard or mustache. I remember when my armpit hair first started to grow. I strained myself to try and fully see that hair until my shoulders became very tense and I had to use my imagination. Also, there is the stomach. Here as well, if we try to fully view it, we need only attempt to look down to just below the stomach and it becomes quite difficult to see. For women, perhaps this is the most cared for part of the body, or perhaps just below that point is the part, which they don’t want to care for. Maybe, if one had never used a mirror, this part of the body would never be seen. Whether concealed or not, that part of the human body can never fully be seen.

Although we cannot see our back or the back of our own head, the most disturbing fact is that we cannot see our own face. If we use a mirror, we only see our postured face or our “I’m making plans” face. We cannot see that naked face, which only strangers and passersby can see. That emotionally wavering face is the face that is continuously exposed to other people. I have no control over that face and this realization frightens me. In the past, people would wear a soft hat or conceal their face with their hair. Even now, in some cities and some societies, people conceal their faces with a transparent veil. However, if we look closely at this, we find that the main reason is merely that it is their custom.

The philosopher Nietzsche wrote that, “The farthest thing from us is our own self.” If we imitate this quotation, isn’t it true that I am saying that one’s own body is the farthest thing? One can only see a fraction of one’s whole body and one cannot see inside of one’s own body. Using X-rays and a stomach camera, a doctor told me, “This is your stomach.” But, those pictures and the experience of the reality of my stomach were separate. Concerning the body, our sensory information is scarce.

If we think further about the idea that our body is far from us, is becomes very frightening. Also, by thinking and thinking about the body, the perception of our body can change at our convenience.

Recently, I have begun to experience the feeling that my body is withering. When I was 21 and lived in Tokyo, I especially felt this same sensation. I couldn’t move in ways that I wanted to nor did my voice come out, as it should have. That was a very terrifying experience. I was scared of many things and lost many things as well. My body was definitely withering. Not even one good expression would come to me and I suffered from extreme irritation.

Recently, the modern Butoh dance group, “Butoh Judan Byatsukoshya,” has stopped performing due to the untimely auto-related death of one, Ms. ___ Aoyama. Ms. Aoyama wrote about the feeling of the body’s inability to move properly and I think that everyone of us can readily understand that feeling. In particular, the experience of “freezing up.” Not only the feeling of the body being nervous or shy, but the fact that there are various cases of bodily obsession that petrify us. For example, touching someone else’s body can be frightening or having a strange person close to us begin to touch our body can be frightening. Or, the panicking awareness of the feeling that others can smell one’s own body odor or bad breath (“the oral cavity nerves”). Moreover, there is the syndrome of having to take a shower or shampoo oneself in times when one’s skin is sticky or oily. Perhaps there are people who, when they find their weight to be outside of the their average range, see themselves as unattractive and start to diet in order to be slender. In this way, there are people who have no control over their eating habits…My existence is side by side with these conditions.

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This book, “Chiguhaguna Karada” is yet to appear in English. Washida, Kiyokazu currently teaches at Osaka University and regularly publishes works on ethics, clinical philosophy, phenomenology, fashion and cultural studies.

I think my translation is sufficient, but could be improved. The subtly of the Japanese language is a struggle to work into English. Thank you for reading.