The wonder that is embodied being

Adventures with ‘The Call’ #Cork continued

This is the second piece written specifically for the workshop, bookstall and exhibition at the Critical Voices Network Ireland annual conference in Cork 2022.

The first piece can be found here

The wonder that is embodied being

by Elisabeth Svanholmer

Trying to write something concise and meaningful about the body has turned out to be much more challenging than I imagined when I set out to write this piece.  There is so much to say and to honour; both the pain and the joy.

I will focus on my sense of wonder.

I feel passionate about the body at the core of what it means to be human. I often think to myself: ‘the body is everything’. And I think the body is particularly important in the context of mental health, social/emotional wellbeing and lived experience.

And given this passion, I am often struck by how little space the body is given.

The body, our human bodies, just as they are.

The body as a place, The body as a living glorious natural organism. The body as a fundamental reality.

And not the body as we think it should be – subject to all kinds of pressures, evaluations, expectations, and prejudices.

In Denmark where I grew up and the UK where I now live, my experience is that collectively our personal relationship with the body is becoming increasingly detached.

The body is often portrayed as a mechanical instrument, as an object used to achieve something. We are encouraged to alter how our bodies look, feel and function, often under the heading of improvement.

We internalise external pressures to have a productive, pain and disease-free body that fits within the cultural beauty parameters of the day.

We can change it through things like exercise, diet, clothes, make up, various so-called beauty treatments and through medical interventions. We are told we can control our body, make it do our bidding.

Mind over matter. Medical and technological progress over what simply is.

It is painfully easy to become frustrated with and detached from the body. To judge it, blame it, and fight it.

There is not much permission for our bodies just to be.

My body is here with me every moment of my life. It is where I experience everything; it is where I feel things, think things, believe things, digest things – food as well as sensory, emotional and mental input. The body defines us as humans. As individuals and as a species, part of the natural world.

The body is a very real place – it is what we are born in, live in, and eventually die in. It is what we live life through. It is where and how we learn, it is where we gather knowledge, its where we relate from and what we express ourselves through.

The body is where our lived experience happens. It is where we share our experience from.

On the surface my body’s needs are straight forward. Sleep, food, warmth, shelter and a place to take a dump or a leak. But somehow these things can get very complicated in modern life.

And my body also needs love and movement.

It is an awestriking organism, so complex, intriguing and – despite our best efforts – still a mystery.

Just consider all the things that make up a body. All the soft tissue, the ways the bones fit together and how the joints are beautifully constructed. Our cardiovascular system, our neural pathways throughout the body, the hormonal system, the digestive system, all our organs and our skin. And all of this made up of tiny little living cells.

The body is alive and built to move. Even when we are most still our bodies are moving. Our heart is pumping, our blood moving, our organs working, lungs breathing, nerves chatting away to each other, cells producing energy and doing all their little jobs.  

I marvel at the ways in which we can move our bodies that are both functional and expressive.

And I marvel at how being an embodied being makes it possible to experience love.

If I did not have my body, where would love happen?

How would I hear, speak, write or read words that express love?

How would I share touch or sense another person’s loving presence, being and attention?

How would I know what it means to feel seen and heard?

How would I experience embrace and how would I hold space for someone I love?

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