When Does Body Stop Making Sense?

Hint: It’s a historical moment…

And a personal one.

Photo by  Jeremy Bishop  on  Unsplash

Often in my work as a Back Pain Coach, I try to precipitate experiences where body stops making sense.

Not in a discombobulated way, but I mean, Body stops making sense as a third person object. It no longer makes sense to call it your body or my body or the body.

I once had someone say to me after a breakup, ‘But doesn’t your body miss my body?’ and it didn’t make sense to me.

Because it’s not my body that does the missing.

It’s ME who does the missing. It’s me who works. It’s me who relaxes. It’s me who enjoys the learning.

Yesterday when I worked with someone, she got up from the session and said, ‘I can’t quite put my finger on it, but my right foot feels more ALIVE.’ And then she said, ‘That’s not quite the right word, but that’s the only word that’s coming close. It just feels… I don’t know. Alive.’

This is what I’m talking about. When body stops making sense. It’s a moment when the words at your disposal fail to get at how it feels to be alive.

In 1969, in Guadalajara, a 40 year old American professor named Thomas Hanna launched the word Soma into the cultural malaise of the late 20th century, trying to knock Body off whatever pedestal it was on.

Here’s the riff:

‘Soma’ does not mean ‘body’; it means ‘Me, the bodily being.’

‘Body’ has, for me, the connotation of a piece of meat—a slab of flesh laid out on the butcher’s block or the physiologist work table, drained of life and ready to be worked upon and used.

Soma is living; it is expanding and contracting, accommodating and assimilating, drawing in energy and expelling energy.

Soma is pulsing, flowing, squeezing and relaxing—flowing and alternating with fear and anger, hunger and sensuality.

Human somas are unique things which are belching, farting, hiccuping, fucking, blinking, pulsing, throbbing, digesting.

Somas are unique things which are yearning, hoping, suffering, tensing, paling, cringing, doubting, despairing.

Human somas are convulsive things: they convulse with laughter, with weeping, with orgasms.

Somas are the kind of living, organic being which you are at THIS moment, in THIS place where you are.

- Thomas Hanna - ‘Bodies in Revolt: a Primer in Somatic Thinking

Obviously, Hanna’s book deserves a whole report, and I’ll write one soon.

But in terms of understanding When Body Stops Making Sense, that riff says a lot.

The organic being which you are at THIS moment, in THIS place where you are.

And the context. It was 1969. The first shimmers of the internet, the final Beatles’ album, the Stonewall Riots, the start of the draft for the Vietnam conflict, influx of gurus from the East.

Revolutionary times.

Soma came on the scene when BODY stopped making sense.


2012, Oakland

During my Feldenkrais training, I lived in a half-finished, half-underground basement, with an exposed foundation that was always crumbling imperceptibly. I could only tell because there was always dust to sweep up.

And a structural pillar in the middle of my living room that someone had painted black with chalk-paint.

So I wrote a couple things on it in chalk.

First a non-sense name from a dream: Repetitit Blankenship

Then a phrase that didn’t quite make sense then, and still doesn’t quite make sense, which was

There is no body.

There is no body.

There is no body.

At the time I was doing a lot of Feldenkrais lessons, and even tho that phrase didn’t make sense, my experience told me it was true. There is no body. There is no body. There is no body.

I think if you do enough close observation of experience, especially Awareness Through Movement in the Environment, body stops making sense.

Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.

- Dogen, 1200-1253

YABUUCHI Satoshi1.jpg

When Does Body Stop Making Sense?

There was a historical moment when soma came on the scene as a better word than Body for how we experience ourselves. For many of us, it still makes more sense than Body. We are somatic organisms acting in an ever changing environment, feeling our feelings and doing our deeds and thinking our thoughts and speaking our words, one of which is Body, but maybe Soma is better. And maybe no words are best of all. And if someone talks about their body, it’s fine. Deborah Hay wrote beautifully about ‘My Body, the Buddhist.

But still, for me, Body stops making sense in a personal way through the process of attending to experience very closely, because you end up in moments when it stops being possible to treat your ‘body’ with a word that can’t really contain the fullness of being THIS being, in THIS place.