I started doing something yesterday. No one told me to do it. It just popped into my head and it seemed like a good idea so I went with it.
I started calling my body, “this vessel”.
I am not my body and my body is not me. I’m not my thoughts and I am not my feelings. I am not even my actions.* I am a spirit, energy, a soul. I am something my mind does not comprehend because our minds exist within a specific framework and “I” exist outside that framework. I use my mind, my mind does not use me. I exist outside of it. I use my body, my body does not use me. I don’t really know who the “I” or “me” or “my” are in those sentences. “I” doesn’t seem to accurately describe it. But here we are. I am me.
So saying “my body” is accurate because it is the body I have control over, it is the one I use. But there are certain connotations with the phrase “my body”, at least for me, that keep me from really understanding what my body is.
One, there’s the idea that this vessel, my body, IS the embodiment of “me”. That this flesh represents who I am. But as I’ve already said, I am not my body.
A lot of emphasis is put on physique, weight, appearance, health. But these are all flesh issues, not soul issues. And it makes sense, in a way, because our flesh is the most visible part of us. It’s the part of us most frequently judged by others. Our appearance sends messages to others, some we intend and others we do not. My weight, tattoos, skin color, hair style, nose ring, height, clothing – they all send a message. A message I can’t even know because it is only known to the one receiving the message. I can try to send out a message with the choices I make regarding my appearance and a lot of times those messages can be received as I intend them.
But I am not my body. I live inside this flesh, it is not me. It will one day die but I will live on. How can something that I outlive be me?
Two, there’s the idea that this vessel, my body, is all I have. Once this flesh dies, I am no more. My spirit, energy, soul lives on somewhere else. But to the living world, I am gone. So we must work to keep our flesh in top running condition for as long as possible because it is all we have. It is our only connection to the living world.
I don’t believe this either. I believe we impart a piece of ourselves in everything we create and when others enjoy our creation, they are enjoying a tiny piece of us. This blog, for example, contains dozens of tiny snapshots of my soul that I wrote down and sent into the world for others to enjoy. When I go back and reread some of the things I’ve written, I see a younger version of myself that I’d forgotten existed and I feel her feelings and see through her eyes. They are tiny horcruxes** that allow my spirit and soul to live on, long after my flesh is gone.
The Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting ever created. It was created in 1503 and Leonardo da Vinci, the artist who painted her, has been dead since 1519. It has literally been 500 years since he died and we are still utterly fascinated by this painting and by him. People still analyze it, study it, try to copy it, and flock to see it. Why? It is because it is a horcrux that contains both the soul of da Vinci and the soul of Lisa, herself. A horcrux, if you remember from Harry Potter, is an object used to store part of a person’s soul, protecting him or her from death.** When we look at this painting, feelings rise up within us, whether we want them to or not, something of the artists’ soul was left on that canvas.
Visit any art gallery, go to any concert, read any book, look at a beautiful garden or enjoy a delicious piece of pie. You’ll find a part of the creator’s soul.
So my body, this flesh that I occupy, it’s only one vessel for my spirit, energy, soul. There are so many others: the stories and songs I’ve written, the recipes I’ve poured a part of myself into, the moments I’ve shared with my loved ones. I left a tiny piece of myself in all these, a piece I wanted to share with the world. Some day, when my flesh is gone, part of me will still live on in the things I’ve created. Perhaps this is why so many people feel the call to create and why everyone should practice a little creativity from time to time. To remind ourselves that we are more than these vessels we occupy.
This is one reason I started calling my body, “this vessel”, because it’s only one vessel that I occupy. And not even the most important one.
It’s also the one vessel that I know of that connects me to the living world but I really can’t say that for sure because, to my knowledge, I haven’t died yet. But since I DO know that here and now, it connects me to the living world, I need to take care of it as long as I’m interested in staying here. This vessel is a vehicle to travel the land of the living and just like I take care of my car, I should take care of this vessel.
Thinking of it this way helps me see that my health doesn’t define me and there are some things about my health I have no control over. Maybe your car doesn’t have power windows, that’s ok, you’ll just have to use the hand crank. The vessel I’m living in doesn’t handle gluten well. That’s ok! It’s not ideal but it’s manageable. It doesn’t say anything about ME, the being living in the vessel. But it tells me that if I want the vessel to function well, I should avoid gluten. If I want my car to run well I have to put in the correct fuel and oil, why should my body be any different?
I have not always been kind to this vessel, both mentally and physically, and I would wager that every single person reading this without exception can say the exact same thing. But if I view my body as just one vessel to live in, I separate my worth from it, I am not defined by it. And if I view my body as just the vessel I occupy, I can take care of its needs and issues without wrapping up my sense of self and value in it.
This flesh is just one vessel that I live in. It needs maintenance and care but it is not all that I am. Just like water leaves the banks of the river to join the mighty ocean, one day I will not occupy this vessel but that doesn’t mean I won’t live on.
So it’s weird and a lot of people will probably think I’m completely nuts but that’s ok. I’m going to keep thinking of my body as “this vessel”. Because there is so much more to me than my flesh and because my spirit, energy, soul is already out there in tiny horcruxes, keeping me alive long after my flesh dies. This is just one of my vessels.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
* I am not even my actions seems like a problematic statement. Some would argue that our actions are the only true way to define us. But that doesn’t take into account people who are drugged, people with mental illness, those forced to do things beyond their control, people with OCD or Tourettes, this list goes on and on. It also doesn’t take into account people who made mistakes and have since changed their lives and behaviors. While some people would probably love to be defined by their actions, others hope they will not be and some hope their actions will be left in the past or forgotten. I personally do not want to be defined by past actions as I have changed and grown since then.