I stumbled across this quote by Eckhart Tolle the other day: “When you no longer believe everything you think, you become aware and realize that the thinker is not who you are.” I feel both liberated and banished by this idea. If I’m not the person thinking this thought then where does that leave me? Suddenly, I’m standing outside myself in some unimagined place that has never been seen or mapped or described before, a somewhere that looks like nowhere, observing from a distance like a ghost or a shadow or an audience member. It must be dark out there. Are there walls? Is there a floor? Am I alone?
In other words, after 46 years, I no longer believe everything I think or feel.
By now you have probably noticed that I use the term “body talk” loosely to include bag full of notions: “body talk” is my aches, pains, paranoias, symptoms, subconsciousness, instincts, and impulses. I know, it’s a mess. If I were spiritual I’d call it spirit, or if I were an academic like my friend Rich Doyle, I would probably call it “ecstatically embodied implicate orders” or what my uncle Ned Block, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at NYU, terms “phenomenal consciousness.” Uncle Ned would probably say it’s all in my head, it has nothing to do with the rest of my body at all. But let’s agree I am thinking like a poet, not a professor, when I say that my body knows things I don’t. If I spend too much time defining terms I’ll be stymied by precision, I’ll lose focus and forget what I was trying to say. I might even have to abandon the whole trip because it doesn’t add up. It’s ineffable. So please forgive my transgression, sit back, and listen to the story.
I’m thinking about the things I’ve done because I didn’t stop myself, the many times I didn’t listen to rational fears or common sense and instead, allowed some illogical, unsentimental, ruffian part of me to take over. I’m talking about stepping outside of the so-called box (although I cringe to use this cliché. Let’s call it a picture instead.) If “the thinker is not who you are” and you no longer believe everything you feel, where does that take you? Strange places.
In elementary school, I invented a game of creek walking. After school let out, I’d wander across the street to Old Mill Park where instead of playing on the swings or jungle gym, I’d walk down to the creek, pull on the pair of ratty shoes I kept in my backpack, and start walking downstream. I didn’t walk along the water, I’d walk in it, scrabbling from rock to mossy rock, balancing myself on stone walls and overhanging branches, sending the crawdads and minnows and water skeeters skittering in front of me. It ran through the town, under streets, and through neighborhoods. The creek was no-mans-land and I walked where no one had walked before, through sections clotted with bushes, under people’s houses and along the neglected edges of their gardens, lulled into a trance by the soft plunk and shhh of my progress, my pants by then soaked and heavy, walked so long I became one with the water, a water creature, a wild thing in a cold, mossy underworld littered with broken glass and ancient bits of rusty detritus.
Mind: Why would you do that? It makes no sense at all. What’s wrong with using the sidewalk?
Body: You could have gotten hurt. Or sick. Or caught a cold. Giardia. Tetanus. Slip on a rock and drown in the water. They’d never find you.
Mind: Harebrained. Like the time you spent three days and two nights alone in Death Valley without food. 15-year-olds should be at home, not traipsing around in the desert in their underwear.
Body: What the hell is wrong with you? Do you have a death wish?
Mind: You say rites of passage, I say ship of fools.
Body: At least she wore the underwear that time. Remember the time she posed nude for that magazine? I have never felt more exposed in my life.
Mind: Rhymes with Fauntleroy, killjoy, Helen of Troy, and could you please shut up? I’m trying to pretend that never happened.
Body: Or the time she I took a trip around the world by herself. Throw yourself off a tall building, why don’t you, it’d be much quicker.
Mind: Speaking of suicide, what kind of numbskull chooses to write? There’s no money, appreciation, or power in writing. Paper airplanes make more sense.
Body: My tailbone hurts. I have carpal tunnel. Get up and do something, for god’s sake.
Mind: And by the way, intelligent women don’t have to have children these days, you know. Motherhood is so regressive, so anti-intellectual. You don’t have to think with your vagina.
Body: I resent that remark. If I had anything to say about it, we’d have adopted. Besides, you of all things should know better than to bad-mouth the vagina. I wonder what she’d have to say in her defense.
Mind: Okay, you’re right. Let’s leave her out of this.
I wish I could say I acted with intelligence and courage, but I didn’t. Looking back, it seems that the choices that made no sense were the ones that transformed me; senseless steps were the ones that took me somewhere provocative, towards something I didn’t know I needed.
When I forget myself, step out, and keep going, that’s when I can turn around and see the bigger picture.
This is the 7th entry of my series called “body talk.” To read more, go to my home page to select.