Quaint

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It’s one of those words with changeable meaning. Originally it meant clever, ingeniously unusual, something to marvel at. Nowadays it is used in an almost derogatory way: obsolete, old-fashioned. Sometimes though it goes further and means simply unobtrusive, nothing to write home about, and if relating to décor, to be changed to something more modern.

Kind of like us, then 🙂

Even if the Chinese didn’t say “may you live in interesting times” it remains a favourite wish of many to do so. Craving adventure, out of ordinary events, escapism, forgetting perhaps that we also need solitude, peace, a roof over our heads sometimes, security even. Not to mention the money that must be made somehow, relationships that need sustaining, books that are too heavy to carry in a backpack.

I am one of those people, you see. Railing sometimes at the routine I am told will make my life easier. Watching jet planes tracks across the sky and wishing I was on one of them. Wanting to go with the retreating wave.

It doesn’t mean I am forgetting the above. The small pleasures, the gratitude for so many things, the safety routines can bring to everyday life. Just that sometimes I am also aware that there is more to life than just the small circle in the sand I have been marking. That’s where the envy comes for those who travel, who create, who explore.

If I remember correctly, those anti-suffrage used to say that women who go to higher education will no longer be content with the life prescribed for them. It was true, too! 🙂 Whole systems needed to be changed to accommodate those women.

So what to do when life is prescribed and I am no longer content with it? When the soul demands that the eyes witness what documentaries present? When the spirit rebels against bedtime as night dreams can’t hold a candle to daydreams? When the body aches from sitting in the office and asks to be allowed to roam at will?

Reading remains a staple, sometimes to the point of obsession, but fiction can’t hold me anymore. If I am to be stuck on the couch then I want my brain to fire on all cylinders. I can find emotion and feelings elsewhere! Music, especially live, is another good way to escape routine. Walking, while useful, is no longer enough in the weekends, so gardening will have to take its place, especially permaculture where the brain is involved as well, not just the wonder at life appearing out of seemingly nowhere.

It seems to me then that the brain is the culprit then, so it’s the brain that needs to be pleased until the time will come for an escape from the routine. And stubbornness will have to suffice, until freedom is at hand. And if there is a sacrifice… well, I assume it will be sleep!

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A long long time ago, under a Mediterranean sun, this verb could be used to say anything that doesn’t involve standing still, from stealing to killing to think of to administer to perform to do.

The English have reduced to preferring action instead of contemplation which, funnily enough, does not exclude any of the above. No, not even the “thinking of” since the implication is a focus on something and I have already written about how our minds put our bodies into motion.

If there are two existing things that I would get on my knees and beg to be changed in this lifetime, they would be: encourage your children to move and let your teenagers sleep. There are many things that we need to change in our lives, but the above do not depend only on individuals, but on systems that can sometimes feel too cumbersome for the humans who created them to actually enjoy. Encouraging children to move is the first thing

I shall attempt to explain.

As you may know I love learning in general and I enjoyed going to school in particular. There are many types of schooling (currently I vouch for the Montessori method) and mine was pretty bog standard for that time: you come to school, you have 50 minutes of learning, 10 minutes break, a longer break at lunchtime and so on and so forth, for years on end with the prescribed holidays in between. Most of the learning was supposed to be happening by sitting down, listening to lectures, reading, practicing times tables etc. There was very little movement involved, unless you want to count me writing while my teacher spoke too fast and I couldn’t get all their words written down unless I learnt short hand – I didn’t, although my writing is terrible enough that it looks like I did 🙂

For some reason or another it was considered that PE was for the children who were not “intellectual” enough, so most classes didn’t happen, we did maths instead. The ten minutes break between classes was not enough to organize much more than a run around the school race which barely got our heart rate up. I still hold that lack of PE responsible for my less than honourable awareness of left and right sides. 🙂

Then we move to more sitting down in high school, even more at university and we dream of jobs inside air conditioned offices where we sit on our respective bums in comfortable chairs. Then it’s the pension years where a laz-y-boy is a must and then we lie down for the final act.

And yet if there is one thing our bodies know how to do is moving. The body mostly moves for the sheer joy of it, although it does protest useless expenses of energy (dancing is never in that class!!!).

The body regards as useful any activity that it can enhance survival. But the body doesn’t understand statistics that say a certain number of bicep curls lead to a determinate increase in the strength of that muscle. Most of the time we give the meaning to the activity. And if we want to keep that activity going it’s the meaning we need to address, as adults, by adding mindfulness, competition and assorted other incentives like losing weight.

Isn’t it easier to just allow and encourage the children to move? It comes so naturally to them 🙂

*I found the image on quickmeme.com and thought it more appropriate than any I could ever take 🙂 I could not find who took the photo though.

Body

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A mystery word… oh goody goody, I like those 🙂 For such a finite object, so widely probed and explained, so much taken for granted, isn’t it ironic that we don’t know where the word comes from?

Now I will try my very best to stay away from the mind-body problem. Not because it’s not an interesting one, but because it gets complicated and mysterious so very quickly and I am simply not trained enough to follow through all the arguments. It would be interesting to try a Socratic discussion on this with good friends over a glass of something and see if we get to the Forms Plato was talking about.

But for now I want to focus on the body. The poor sister, when it comes to philosophy and religion, one of the main objects of study when it comes to human centred science.

Funnily enough, once you start paying attention, rather than taking it for granted as explained above, bodies are discovered to be very complicated, too. You just try to imagine 11 systems working at the same time with a lot of overlapping and minimal intrinsic faults, then tell me the body is a simple matter. At the same time I am fascinated time and time again, with true evolutionary curiosity, by vestigial features, by fail safe systems, by fossil records of limb development and by annoying little things like snot and hair.

But the most fascinating thing of all is, indeed, the way the body good-naturedly accepts commands and tries to fulfill them. Please see above, I am not going to even try to figure out the relationship between the brain, the mind, the spirit and the soul, whatever those last three may be. Sometimes not knowing has to be accepted, much as it frustrates me no end 🙂

When I say commands I do not necessarily mean those I link to survival, like eating, sleeping, defense and reproduction, although they are amazing in and of themselves, and especially when seen in the context of the entire biosphere. I mean those that sit higher on Maslow’s pyramid, static as it is. Our brains command manners, education, bizarre behaviour and entire cultures and our good little bodies speak, act and change accordingly. We also do this to other animals – did you know that certain breeds of dog cannot reproduce anymore without human help? Oh, but the little darlings fit so well on a human lap!

You’d think our bodies would reject some of our commands, if only because they go against survival. Do they? Do they? Well, not really, not until it’s too late to matter. Our bodies obey whether that means they live or die… that is beyond weird!

We usually learn to control a portion of our body functions by 3 years old. We spend the entirety of our life at least marginally dependent on this body. We tend to mistreat it, expose it to diseases, subject it to all sorts of activities that it is not specifically designed for (high heels? office chairs? pierced ears? uplifted mammary glands?) and still it will keep going, finding ways around and forever trying to act and to be used.

Ah well, better indulge it in a bit of gardening 🙂

Versus

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Hm, Latin makes an appearance yet again… why is it that the interesting words almost always come from Latin? This one hasn’t even been changed much! It means turned to face something, opposite. And today, from two different areas influenced by religion (Christianity in this case), the duality it implies demands a bit of analysis.

The first area that brought duality on my mind is the environment. I remember being a very young student, taking the environment for granted but starting to realize the extent to which humans change it. I had heard about an organization that protected animals from excessive hunting and I happened to talk to a devout Christian about it. He disagreed with that organization because he thought they interfered with his fundamental religious right to do what he pleased with the environment, as said in his Holy Book, right at the beginning (Genesis). It had not occurred to me at that time that people considered themselves lords and rulers of the Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up around and among people, in the world of people. I was aware from books and TV of animals and plants that exceeded human abilities by magnitudes. I suppose I just saw us as very different, sharing the same whole world but with humans interested only in the domesticated species, while leaving the others alone. I know, naïve, huh? I hadn’t thought that there might not be enough space for everybody – there are no trees in a wheat field, are there? And once we domesticated sheep, well, wolves really had to go, right?

The second area that brought duality on my mind is art. I love reading about art, especially figurative art (where I don’t have to wonder what the artist meant by it). Just as an aside, one of my friends brought home to me how Eurocentric my education really is (well, with good reason!). I remember talking to her about European history and I realized that, not being European herself, she had an idea about what I was talking about, but not necessarily the time and the significance of the time for the history, the art and even the religion. Ultimately though, being a devout Christian herself, I was able to use the religious timeframe to put it in context for her. Truly, I know much less about her timeframe than she knows about mine, and that is a sobering thought!

But back to art, this book I was reading covered very thoroughly the period on time in Europe (and neighbourhood) after Christianity became a lawful religion, therefore it could begin to truly influence art. The intensity of feeling around this new religion was quickly evident in artistic expression, even though this remained essentially figurative. Even though it was not doctrine, the conflict between Christians and non-Christians started to be assimilated to the perceived conflict between body and spirit, between Nature and Heavens. Nature and body and non-Christian (believing maybe that one god controls thunder and another the sun) needed to be subdued, conquered, put in their places. In art, it means that perspective all but disappeared, important people took front stage with stiff bodies and huge, intense, disembodied eyes and nature only took the symbolic place that showed the spirit’s purification.

Seventeen centuries later some are still struggling with this duality, still try to impose a hierarchy with people at the top, even evolutionists 🙂 We call it progress.

Maybe we need to look beyond?