Being a human is absurd
Are you watching the show Resident Alien on SyFy?
Are you watching the show Resident Alien on SyFy?
It’s about an alien that crash lands on Earth, and has to take on a human identity to complete his mission. Harry (the alien) hates humans, and really hates being human. I don’t want to give anything away, but his observations about the utter absurdity of human experience are both darkly funny and sometimes really sweet. I LOVE THIS SHOW.
It’s got me thinking about how weird it is to be human, and my own relationship with my very weird human body. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been extremely frustrated to be stuck in a body. Too much sci-fi TV growing up? Maybe. But I’d look at all of the things that were possible in books and shows and movies, and I’d feel cheated. Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I go to space? Why can’t I transform into an animal at will? Why can’t I fly? Also, while we’re at it, why are there no giggling flowers in the real world, as much as these kind of freaked me out?
It didn’t help that I wasn’t particularly coordinated (if you know my childhood nickname, you get bonus points) and definitely not good at sports (who knows the Peter, Paul & Mary song, “Right Field?” Pretty sure it was written about me). Obviously, I was — and still am — taking a lot for granted. Being able-bodied, at least from the neck down in my case, is a stunning privilege, and if you’ve ever had (or continue to have) that not be true for you, you know an acutely real pain of embodiment that not everyone does.
The disconnect between brain and body in our cultures is just so significant. Race, gender, ability, sexuality — we could go in a million directions. I’m thinking a lot about identity and the body, because it only occurred to me recently that I am my body — my body is not a tool, or a shell, or a vessel, or (just) an electrified meat suit that my soul is trapped it. It’s me.
I’ve been exposed to various spiritual practices that say that your soul chooses your embodiment, based on what your purpose is for this go-round. My answer to that has always been, “Really? I chose this? To be human?!” It’s so messy and confusing. When someone shared Terry Bisson’s classic story, “They’re Made Out of Meat” with me years ago, my soul screamed with recognition and validation. One alien is describing humans to another and says, “They talk by flapping their meat at each other!” That’s a pretty weird thing for a soul to actively choose to want to do!
I threw my back out a few weeks ago by being a dumbass who thought she could, and should, shovel snow. I was flattened for a few days, and of course, the first thing I did was criticize myself for not taking better care of my body. I heard all of those people who are way healthier than me and get way more exercise than I do in my head saying, “Your body is a gift! Cherish it!” To which I answered, “Nnnnhhhhnnnnnnnnhhnnnn” as I attempted to keep stretching through the (minor) injury. Once I was able to tone the self-criticism down a bit, I was thinking about how weird it is that the cells in our bodies remember everything we’ve ever done. They’re not even the same cells who got the initial message! They’re just repeating what they’ve heard! Little gossipy cells talking about the knee I broke when I was ten, and how they better keep regrowing that scar on my other shin — can’t not have that for eternity!
So, how are those cells still “me?” You can go down a rabbit hole here, of course, and I’m a strong believer in the Buddhist concepts that there is actually no “me,” no “self,” that we’re all one, etc etc. But if none (or few) of these cells are the same ones I was born with, how does this configuration still keep manifesting as me, Deanna, DZ? I have no idea, and I could probably google it, but this is what started leading me towards working on feeling more integration between my soul (what I consider “me”) and my body (what I consider an electrified meat suit that I happen to live in).
It occurred to me that I have not been trusting my body as a team player in this weird configuration of “me.” I established early on that my body had betrayed me by not being at my utter and total command for every whim I had. When I was lying on the floor, wincing through the spinal twists I needed to do to get blood flowing to the injury, it finally hit me: I can trust my body to tell me what’s up. It knows. It’s keeping score, whether I know it or not, and it’s there for me.
It’s like when my friend Anna explained to me years ago that feeling grounded was not a tether to the ground, not a trap around my ankle. It’s feeling supported and strong enough to do what you need and want to do with your life.
I’ve spent a ton of time working on healing and supporting my electrically-configured soul, with therapy, medication, spiritual practice. Anything physical I’ve done for myself has mostly been in service of the soul — I do yoga to feel better mentally, I go for long walks with my dogs every morning because it I love being in the park with them and seeing my homies there. I’ve started eating better the last few years because it makes me less grumpy when I don’t feel physically gross. (Wacky concept, I know!)
Can I negotiate a more direct relationship with my chosen embodiment? Can I cultivate a feeling of groundedness and integration, of not just being in this body but being this body? We’ll see.
(Part 2 is here.)