Bodies and the Moral Life

Pages: 51-52
Year: 1995
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

ROLF LINES, Vol XXIII nº 01, March 1995

Volume: 23

One of the most remarkable things I learned during long years of graduate studies was that the moral life, which the ethicist presumes to study, is lived with bodies. I learned this quite by accident. In my naive attempt to actually read everything which was required in my course of studies, I developed butt aches, back-aches, and an aching brain to boot. Whether attending lectures, taking notes, reading, or writing for too many hours a day, I found the life of the mind to be a downright painful undertaking. Scholarship is a physically demanding activity!

I joined the university’s “Tai Chi Tao” club in order to learn how to focus my attention better in my studies, and happily discovered that it felt good to move that 130 pounds of flesh hanging off of my brain casing. From that time on, however much graduate studies would seem to conspire to suck me entirely up into my neo cortex, I used Tai Chi to root myself in my body and ground myself into the earth.

While ethics is an abstract discipline, I found I could not support the pursuit of that discipline with integrity apart from deepening my relationship with my body. To practice ethics required the involvement of my body, ready or not. While this may seem ridiculously obvious (or not?) to those long ago initiated into the works of the body, from my ivory tower, it was a striking revelation. Even intellectualism has an essential physicality to it. Furthermore, ethics consists in the analysis of the moral life-different ways of being in the world and the claims inherent to them. The life and interactions which the ethicist attempts to describe or promote, the moral life, are phenomenon of bodily relationships, too.

So, as surely as the ethicist needs a body, so does the body matter for the moral life. All of the shoulds and should nots, all of the rights and responsibilities, all of the actions and reactions manifest among persons in moral relations are also taking place among persons in bodies. How can I be expected to fulfill the moral injunction to “turn the other cheek” if I have a crick in my neck? Or on the other hand, how do the needs of my body direct what I should or should not do? More essentially, how does my understanding of my body impact on my way of being in the world?

One’s understanding of what human bodies are is especially though not uniquely pertinent to the work of Rolfing. The metaphor and the science which illuminate my perspective of the body, my own and another’s, will also shape and qualify my way of being in relationship with my own person and with another. Is my body a slab of meat reluctantly quickened by a vegetarian spirit who would rather “go home”? Is my body a sacred temple of the Holy Spirit, a sanctuary of God in which my own divinity dwells and from which it shines forth? Or do I wholly identify myself with my body, such that I might say “I am my body”; and when it is finished, and returns to the ground from which it was formed, so am I neither less nor more than the earth and the elements which shape me? Is my body singular, or does it refer to a constellation of bodies, physical, emotional and mental, which in coordination express multiple dimensions of my present personality? Does a body of knowledge have a leg to stand on?! Maybe my body is a wicked thing, at war with (or worse, in cahoots with) my soul, a thing to be conquered like an enemy. Or, perhaps, is it more like a classroom whose lights are shut off and doors closed when the lessons are accomplished.

Bu enough about my body. Let’s talk about your body. Is your body radically separate from mine? Is it merely apparently separate? Do we share bodies, or are they just attracted somehow by invisible links (or can the links be seen?… “I just knew that that was your brother wife mother )If our bodies are not spatially limited by the borders of our skin, perhaps “bumping into each other at the supermarket” is more literal a phrase then we normally consider it to be. Psychotherapists, despite professional prohibitions, might be body orkers after all!

So let’s assume one perspective and see where it leads. The whole person is composed of different aspects, we agree. We commonly refer to the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual components of a person. Another way to slice the pie of the human person is soma, psyche, and no us. These refer to the realms of gross matter, emotional substance, and the even more rarefied stuff of ideas, respectively. Each of the three can be said to constitute a body, and everyone has one of each. Together and in relationship, they compose a given personality, yet they are not of the same dimensions: an idea or law is not subject to time in the same way as the physical body, for instance. Further, each body is assembled from elements native to its respective dimension. When we touch a whole person as a whole person, we contact these multiple dimensions her/wife/mother!”). If our simultaneously. The scope and moral valence of “physical” touch is magnified exponentially. On this account we can maintain the consciousness that we are Rolfing several bodies at once. Integration is a person’s physical body segments in gravity, indeed, and it is also a matter of relating a person’s physical body as a whole to their psychic body and their body of ideas as well.

I do not spin this yarn in order to suggest yet something else to do in a session. Rather I am identifying an expanded usage of “the body” as a metaphor to explain the extent of change through touch which we as Rolfers so often nudge into being. Dr. Rolf, I am told, was interested in working with stuff she could put her hands on. Yet she and we who follow her have got our hands on stuff which we might never have imagined when we undertook this work, and the responsibility entailed is truly awesome. When we open ourselves to acknowledge and accept the multiple dimensionality of the touch we employ in our work, our task is revealed as one of moral leadership: we offer a person a different sense of how they can be in the world, and invite them to feel it and look out from it and hear the call to change.

“Integration is a matter of relating a person’s physical body segments in gravity, indeed, and it is also a matter of relating a person’s physical body as whole to their psychic body and their body of ideas as well”

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