Our bodies tell us what it’s like to be ourselves

There are so many little ways I inhabit and experience my body. Which is just another way of saying there are so many little sensory experiences that add up to “what it feels like to be me”.

Typing right now, my thumb nail is digging slightly into the skin around it, making a strange scratching feeling.

I can feel the particular pressure build-up in my right ankle when it needs me to point my toes to give it a good pop.

The little twinge in my lower back on the right that lets me know I leaned a little too hard on my right leg on my run this weekend.

The way the ends of my hair feel on my back when I have a tank top on.

The way “that one spot” itches when I’m anxious (for me, the inside of my right elbow).

The different ways my body lets me know my period is coming up.

The slight twinge on the left side of my throat and the light headache in between my eyes that tells me I need to get rest because I am teetering on the edge of illness.

The way sour tastes in my mouth. The exact form happiness I feel after the first bite of ice cream.

The knot I get high in my stomach when I’m allowing someone to violate a personal boundary.

The tingling I get on the top of my head when I’m stressed.

The elation, release, and stomach-knot-loosening I feel when I am reminded that I can do this whole philosophy thing well.

I know we complain about getting older, and there are legitimately a lot of ways that our bodies start breaking down that are uncomfortable, painful, and hard. Add to that the psychological effects of trauma and healing and health that we experience in our body, and it’s remarkable that we’re able to focus on anything else but the myriad sensory experiences that go into being a human. The accumulation of these “getting old” aches, the little pains, the big pains, and the comforts and joys all make me more aware of my body, of what it literally feels like to be me, than when I was younger. And how amazing is it that while anyone can identify with a particular sensation, but no one will ever know what it’s like to feel all the sensations I feel at any one time, in the body I have. No one else will ever know what it’s like to feel like Jana Light. And I will never know what it’s like to feel like someone else. If my mind were somehow transported into another body (I’ll save my criticisms of Cartesian dualism for another time), in some ways it might feel more foreign than familiar.

Think of all the little things you do with your body throughout the day/week/month and what it feels like. The persistent hangnail on your left ring finger you have to clip. The one dark, stiff whisker on the right side of your mouth you have to pluck lest it take over your face (dammit). The knot of tension at the base of your neck you have to massage away. The flossing to keep that one spot of your gum particularly healthy. The protein smoothie you make to fuel your muscles after a long workout. Taking a bath with your favorite scent to destress and relax. The stretch you do to ease that delicious soreness in your left quad after a good HIIT workout. The angle and optimal nail-length needed to dig a raspberry seeds out of that one particular tooth. We all know very particular ways to take care of our bodies, because our body has educated us. Our bodies (and our brain) teach us how to take care of ourselves. And no one could possibly know how to take care of our bodies than we do. It would take them years, even decades, of experience in our body for them to be such knowledgeable stewards of our body.

From moment to moment, there are a near-countless number of little sensory details that go into each person’s experience of their own body — their embodied self — and that is kind of blowing my mind right now. To be an embodied being is so much more rich, complex, and connected than we ever recognize as we go about our days, because we’ve never known anything else but *this* body and its unique ways of responding to the world and to age. It’s damn miraculous, is what it is.

She’s a good body and I love her so. Even though I wish she had eyebrows.

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