Let us celebrate life. Let us celebrate living. We only live once. This is no dress rehearsal. Let's not waste a minute of brilliant beautiful life. My father (RIP), whom I love more and more as I get older, had loads and loads of old country sayings. One of them was: "Ah sure, we'll be a long time dead!" It's rather on a par with what St Paul criticized people for doing: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" How true the saying, how forbidding of St Paul, even if he did say that a little wine was good for the spirit!
As I grow older I have grown more bodily, if I may put it that way. Let me explain. By this I mean, as we age the body begins to get us to take it for real. It's as if it says: "Hey, don't abuse me. My foot is sore. My teeth pain me. My hair is graying... Bring me out for more exercise. Why are you pumping all that shit into me?"
Strangely also, for a man who lost his religious faith at 40 and who then began to find spirituality and psychology and psychotherapy and the real soul soon after, I became so much more aware of my body - all of it indeed, including the bits and pieces which were taught were somehow ugly. Let me explain further...
Western man has been brought up on a narrow restricted diet of Cartesian dualism, fortified with a very negative Augustinian and later take on Christianity which literally became an ideology in certain conservative circles which could be reduced to something like this: "Soul Good, Body Bad!" My generation (I'm 50) were at the tail end of the era whose catch-phrases were "impure thoughts" and "sex is bad and dirty" and "masturbation is a wicked act." Then, I remember when I was only 16, a girl whom I knew, a beautiful girl, only 15, being sent away to have her baby!" She somehow miraculously arrived back, sans baby, and I think sans hope, having given up her child for adoption! What a dreadful unfeeling introspective, conservative society. Thankfully those days are gone, long gone. However, some vestiges of it still linger. I have written at length about the twin influences of negative Christianity and negative Cartesian dualism in a post of May 27th his year, entitled Break from Dreaming which you can read more fully there: Old Attitudes
All of this above has been inspired by the reports we have had in the papers recently of the wonderful installations of the famous (or infamous - well done he!) international nude photographer Spencer Tunick. Unfortunately, I could not attend the Dublin Installation as I had to collect some visitors for the airport. I envy those who had the opportunity of being present at such a liberating event. At long last, the Romantic Ireland myth (and an ideological one at that, like the myth of the worker in Soviet Russia) of the "comely maidens dancing at the crossroads" is dead. O Dev, you've a lot to be blamed for as well as praised for!
It is wonderful to see the human body recognised in all its naked beauty, as distinct from its naked eroticism. I forget what percentage of the web is made up of pornography in all its variant forms from softcore to hardcore and still much worse still I'm told, but it is nice to see the naked human body being portrayed artistically by people at union with each other celebrating the beauty of their very own bodies. I've looked at a good lot of Spencer's work on the net and have found it interesting and indeed respectful of the earthiness of the body, of the beauty of that earthiness. I can only say, as anyone with any wit will know, that his images are anything but erotic. They are natural, beautiful, earthy, good and pure. Now back to that horribly ideological phrase: "Soul good, Body Bad." Spencer Tunick's motto should be: "Soul Good, Body Good!"
Anyway, in honour of a New Ireland, come of age at last and in honour of all those brave souls who went either to Blarney or the Ring's End installations let me offer one of my favourite poems by way of tribute to the beauty of the human body. Now, also as I have aged, I have come to realise that anyone who embraces their body, paradoxically, embraces his/her soul. That only convinces me of my belief of the last 10 years or more that the human person is a holistic unity of Body-Soul. I love that term Body-Soul. Now, to all of you brave people out there, let me say, well done, embrace your Body-Soul because it's the only way to grow! The poem is by Walt Whitman (1819-1892) I have heavily edited the poem as it is very long. You'll find it here in full on the net: Body Electric
I Sing the Body Electric
I SING the Body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves;
The love of the Body of man or woman balks account—the body itself balks account;
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.
The expression of the face balks account;
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face;
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists;
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees—dress does not hide him;
The strong, sweet, supple quality he has, strikes through the cotton and flannel;
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more;
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.
The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up, and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats—the horseman in his saddle,
I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment—what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight—I swim in it, as in a sea.
There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well;
All things please the soul—but these please the soul well.
And the glory and sweet of a man, is the token of manhood untainted;
And in man or woman, a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is beautiful as the most beautiful face.
Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body?
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.
O my Body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you;
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the Soul, (and that they are the Soul;)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems—and that they are poems,
Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems;
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest.
Upper-arm, arm-pit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you, or within me—the bones, and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul,
O I say now these are the Soul.
It is only when I re-read all the old poems I studied at college - I did English literature for 4 years so we were exposed to a lot of fine poems - that I realise the depth of wisdom in some of them. As I re-read "Body Electric" at 50 years of age I now realise that the wonderful celebratory poet Walt Whitman understood intuitively the concept of Body-Soul or Body-Mind. Here are a few links from some Irish bloggers with some photos of the event at Dublin. Read their blog entries - they are like Walt's poem - celebratory of our Body-Souls: Debbie ; lecraic; Wynner and Darragh Doyle. From this last blog I downloaded the picture above, thanks Darragh. If that's your picture it's brilliant.