I find it strange and stimulating to reflect on what is happening in my body; all the processes that are in play. What goes in, what comes out. The continuous adjustments to light and balance. The thought processes, the automatic responses to digestion and movement. The beating heart, the breathing lungs. The emotions. The hormonal fluctuations. The pains, the pleasures. The flow of information through the senses and the mind. This is me. This is what I am. This is who I am.
What I am? Who I am? Herein lies a fundamental confusion of language and self-understanding. Is my body an object – the what? If so, how am I a ‘who’ – the subject? Are my ankle tendons, my pancreas and my amygdala parts of who I am? These are certainly parts of what I am, but they probably feel marginal to who I am. Nothing about how I define myself relates to the fact that I have a pancreas. I know nothing about my pancreas; I have never seen it and I don’t really understand much about it.
But there are other parts of my body I am more conscious of that reflect the nature of ‘me’. When I look in the mirror, my eyes and my smile feel more a part of who I am. I can see and examine my external features, and I know that other people interact with the partial ‘me’ they can look at.
What am I? Who am I? The body is both object and subject. The phrase ‘I am my body’ is bandied around to try to resolve this confusion of understanding. However, it sits uncomfortably against the backdrop of religious traditions about the eternal qualities of the soul. Another consideration is that few of us are happy with our bodies; particularly as most of us have less than optimal capacities in one part or the other. In any case, what we are now is a mere snapshot of the constant changes of a lifetime.
The challenge to integrate what and who we are remains fundamental to our sense of personhood. It is the foundation for healthy being. But it is no easy task…