Monday, July 25, 2005

Corporeal Realities

I often find myself wondering about how other people feel inside of their own bodies. I also wonder whether others experience the same sensual input that I do in sort of the same way. For instance, when listening to the same piece of music, each person's cochlea and nerve endings receive the same basic impulses, although each person's brain will interpret the music through various filters of personality, knowledge, culture, prior experience, and so on. That said, what is it exactly that causes those two individuals to have a separate experience of said music? What is actually happening in their brains at the cellular level (and on the spiritual and psycho-emotional level) that can engender a totally disparate experience of the same sensory input?

And take bodies, for instance. I know what it's like to inhabit my own body. I know it's skin, it's idiosyncrasies, the "feel" of living in this particular bag of bones. Why do I feel the way I do? What's so different about how I feel inside of my body as opposed to how Mary feels inside of hers? What do my dogs feel within their skin and psyches? I've always wanted to have the experience of "switching" bodies with someone and seeing through their eyes and experiencing the world through their senses, sort of like "Being John Malkovich" but without the weird office building and strange connection to the New Jersey Turnpike (if this is nonsensical to you, rent the video).

As a healthcare professional, I think my desire to understand others' experience is an expression of a desire to feel empathy on a deeper level. I know several doctors who've taken AIDS medications simply in order to know what the side effects are like, enabling them to more fully understand and empathize with their patients' symptoms. Some of you may remember Isaac Asimov's science fiction story, "The Fantastic Voyage", also made into a 1966 movie of dubious quality (now there's a great idea for a remake, you screenwriters out there!). That said, being a microscopic hitchhiker inside of someone's body is not exactly what I have in mind. Rather, I wish for the experience of being a psycho-emotional hitchhiker, actually living another's life as that person, so to speak, but also having the wherewithal and self-awareness to compare that experience with my own unique life.

Now that's impossible, you say! Why waste time even thinking about it, let alone writing about it and wasting our time with reading such drivel? Well, that's a good question, dear Reader, and I don't have a ready answer, other than that I'm certain others may have had similar thoughts, and this is simply a self-exploratory process by which I will, in the end, learn more about myself through my connection to others.

Reading this, you, too may have a change of perspective, however brief. Perhaps, the next time you're at a traffic light waiting for the light to change, a man will be squatting in the island between the lanes, holding a sign saying, "Disabled Vet, Will Work for Food or Money", and you'll pause longer than you might have otherwise, and wonder what it's like to be that person, to live his life and feel his pain. Maybe you'll be moved to give him a dollar that you may not have given otherwise. Maybe you'll give thanks for your own priviledge of not having to stand on that traffic island begging for money. Perhaps you'll simply see that man and know in your heart that he is simply an extension of you, another manifestation of spirit on earth, if you will, made of the same clay from which you were born and to which your body will return. If you have such an experience, please write to me about it, or share it with a friend. It's all just grist for the mill as we live on this wonderful and horrific physical plane of ours.
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