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Do You Ever Feel Like a Stranger to Your Body?

How to recover the connection and why disconnection occurs.

Did it ever happen to you that you feel like a stranger to your own body? Have you ever had those mornings in which you do not recognize yourself in the mirror or you do not accept the imperfections you see on your face?

It might happen that those mornings stretch into a day of senseless feelings when whatever touches your body does not truly reach you, whether the hug of a friend or the swift contact of someone we barely know.

Although feeling disembodied does not seem to have immediate consequences, it can still make us miserable. Feeling disembodied might create a drift between ourselves and our lives because somehow we get out of touch with the instruments that allow us to live fully.

So, how can we avoid falling prey to this feeling? How can we live a fully embodied life?

Feeling my body

I can refer to my body in plenty of ways. I can consider my body to be a machine that brings me wherever I want. I can look at it as a burden that prevents me from doing what I really want to do. It can be my business card through which others can like me.

Philosophy, in particular phenomenological philosophy, encourages us to see our body as our center of orientation. This means that the body is seen not as something separated from me that I can consider a burden or a tool according to the circumstances; rather, it is what I can be when I am living.

To understand this point we need to take a step back and look at the German language. In German we have at least two words to refer to our body—Körper and Leib. The former indicates my biological body, this thing that lives among other things, while the latter indicates the living body that animates my organic body.

In more philosophical terms, Husserl writes:

Among the (...) bodies (Körper) of this nature then find uniquely singled out my body (Leib)...the only one in which immediately have free rein (schalte und walte), and in particular govern in each of its organs —.I perceive with my hands, touching kinesthetically, seeing with my eyes, etc., and can so perceive at any time, while these kinestheses of the organs proceed in the I am doing and are subject to my I can; furthermore, putting these kinestheseis into play, I can push, shove, etc., and thereby directly, and then indirectly, act corporeally (leiblich). (Cartesian Meditations, p. 19)

The life of our body starts from the kinaesteses — that is, from our ability to perceive (aesthesis) our movement (kineseos). Even in the womb of our mother the first sense that develops is the kinaestesis: the sense of touch. Our first activity in the amniotic fluid is to touch ourselves and whatever is around us. Through this sense we know that our body feels in a different way from all the other things we can touch around us. We learn that we can, that our body can, do many things for us. We can reach out our mother’s uterus walls, we can touch our body, we can feel our skin. It is in this primal I can that every day we know that we are (alive). Our living body (Leib) tells us that we are a living biological body (Koerper) that has the potential to do a wide number of things in life.

Being embodied means...

We are embodied when we are aware of this wide array of possibilities that our living and biological body offer us to fully live our life. The joy of being alive comes exactly from this deep awareness: We can be. This awareness is one of the apex moments of feeling embodied.

Why do we feel disembodied?

It might happen at times that our minds travel much faster than our bodies; we think more than we can feel. We get stuck in our heads or in the heads of people who tend to see us always in a certain way.

We mimic what we think we should be according to our preconceptions or the expectations of family and friends. It is in these moments that we get further away from the here-now that our Leib indicates for us in that moment.

Our living body is in fact our bodily compass—or as phenomenological philosophy calls it, our center of orientation—that tells us at each given moment what matters here and now. I am sitting on this chair while I’m writing. I am taking a walk. I am feeling my body in good shape. Our living body is there to remind us what we are in that moment and what we can do in that moment with what we are. Our living body is our center of being.

It happens, though, that when our mind thinks too much or we are too attuned to the expectations of others we shush our living body. We almost think that what it has to say is superfluous and out of place and we pay attention only to those disembodied thoughts.

In the long run, disembodied thoughts generate a disembodied being which is a big problem for us because a disembodied being does not have a body that can help to put in practice the projects or ideas that come to mind.

For this reason, it often happens that becoming disembodied is accompanied by a "beige feeling." When we are disembodied we feel in low moods and every action we want to initiate seems the hardest to accomplish. This happens because for too long we told our beautiful living body that it was a little stupid, useless, or out of place.

How can we feel alive in our body?

To reverse the process is simple and hard at the same time. If we have developed a dismissive habitual attitude toward our body we need to gain its trust again. We need to develop new habits that allow us to feel inside our bodies again. We can try to do so by...

  1. Focusing on our breathing.
  2. Taking showers in which we actually feel the water on our body. (We might help the process by changing the water temperature every now and then.)
  3. Choosing during the day at least three moments to connect with our body and check what it’s feeling and sensing.

The body is a wonderful source of meaning. It does not matter if it is young or old, ill or healthy. At any time of our life it tells us what it is in the world that it is worthwhile to explore. It tells us what we can do with what we have. Closing the door to all these meanings is an immense loss that we do not want to call upon ourselves.

More from Susi Ferrarello Ph.D.
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