Midweek Devotion #5

August 5, 2015

The soul is merely a word for something about the body…’I’ you say, and are proud of this word. But the greater thing—in which you do not want to believe—is your body and its great reason: it does not say I, but does I.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

We are not accustomed to thinking of our bodies as having reason.

The ancient Chinese perceived that each organ had its own governing system, its own “mind.” This governing mind was interconnected to all part of the self, including one’s emotions. The lungs, for example, are associated with grief, the liver with anger and depression. Acupuncture is built in part on this premise. Understanding how each organ’s “mind” works provides instruction on the stimulation of the organ and its meridians, which in turn promotes health.

In the West, beginning with Plato and finding salient expression much later in the French philosopher René Descartes (I think therefore I am), we have tended to look upon reason as being like a control tower, separate from the body and having its own essence.

Bodily Wisdom

Bodily Wisdom

Spirit and Mind are very connected in this view. The self, or soul, is an immaterial existing thing that is now temporarily attached to a body. Physicality then becomes about suffering; spirituality becomes about escaping the physical. Thus the ascetiscm and body-denial found in many religions, and exemplified in Christianity: Jesus must go into the desert for 40 days, we are told to “crucify the flesh.” Bodily activities are less pure than mental ones: better to marry, Paul says, than to burn with lust, but being celibate is an even greater achievement. And what is more pure than the Mother herself, the sexless virgin Mary?

Nietzsche wanted to turn this body denial upside down: “There is more reason in your body than in your finest wisdom.” Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a meditation on reversing the religious values handed down through the ages, and achieving a new sense of the power within each human being as creative selves.

Stride, by Helen Frankenthaller. Acrylic on Canvas, 1969

Stride, by Helen Frankenthaller. Acrylic on Canvas, 1969

Take a GoodMinute:

What practices help me return to the wisdom of the body?

When I say “I”, to what am I referring?

What did Aristotle mean when he said “The soul is the form of the body?”

Why is this topic important for Nietzsche, and why is it important for us?

How well do I listen to my own body?


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