One of my dominant childhood memories is of falling over. I did this a lot, especially if I tried to run. The amazing disappearing ankles would put me on the ground. I was born with my feet squashed against my shins, and my ankles have never been right. I’ve never been good at running, either, and this was a constant source of frustration to me, growing up. I could dance though, and started ballet very young. It’s possible I was comfortable about dancing before I felt ok walking – in ballet the heels are often slightly off the ground, and this suits me better. At fourteen I found that the amazing disappearing ankles would not permit point work, and I had to give up.
There are one or two other interesting features of my body that result in it being a constant fight to get it to do what I want. Then, once a month I get beaten up by my own reproductive system, sometimes badly enough to put me in bed for a day. Right now my wisdom teeth are moving and it feels like my jawbone is trying to climb out through my ear.
I use the language of separation deliberately, talking about my body and myself as distinct and different. Rather a lot of the time it feels like the me on the inside is engaged in ongoing warfare with my body. Who I am on the inside has never been the same as the dysfunctional biology I live in. We do not get on, my body and I. We fight about almost everything. There are times when I want to scream ‘stop doing this to me’ at my own systems, but there’s no point, they wouldn’t listen. And for –s sake, why won’t it listen? My body, my brain, my reproductive system, my evil wisdom teeth. But no, I have no control. My conscious mind doesn’t get any kind of say in any of this.
There are days when all of this makes me wonder about the nature of consciousness, and what it means to be human. Intelligent Design? Not in this anatomy, I can tell you. I’m more than happy to believe that the flesh I inhabit came about through a long serious of random accidents. That would fit the bill. Life experience does incline me to feel like an ephemeral soul trapped inside flesh, limited by it, restricted and longing for freedom. I spent my teens wishing I could fly away, and there are still days when the idea occurs.
What if the biology is me? What if this is the only me I’ve got? No soul, no romantic, fleeing spirit, just the cells. It means no turning out to be a swan after all, no hope of transcending this flesh and moving on to something better.
I’ve made my Druidry very much about embracing life, and the body. The theory is good. This body drives me round the bend though. Surely it would be easier not to want to transcend, if I had a more useful and co-operative body? But so many people are far less able and functional than me. I’m merely inconvenienced, not crippled. How to find the balance? How to be a fleshy thing with something on the inside that never feels like it fits. There are moments when mind and body are working together and I achieve a sense of wholeness, a peace with myself. Mostly those depend on the body co-operating. Mostly it doesn’t.
Are any of us who we want to be? Does the notion of soul appeal so much because we are all swans inside the bodies of ugly ducklings? Frog Princes and other trapped and transformed beings crop up often in both fairy tales and myths. Is it that sense of being more than the biology allows that has us imagining the soul, and some kind of entity within, not defined by our physical limitations? Who are we really?