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Self-Knowledge • Behaviours

Interviewing Our Bodies

It sounds very odd indeed that we might be able – let alone need – to interview our bodies. Surely if our bodies have anything urgent to tell us, they will do so in direct ways through the standard pains and pleasures. Surely ‘an interview’ is something we should reserve for an entity that can speak, not an arrangement of bones and tendons that can never answer back?

Joseph Maclise, The Relation of the Internal Parts to the External Surface of the Body, from Joseph Maclise, Surgical Anatomy (London: John Churchill, 1851), Plate 15, 1851, coloured lithograph.

But this is to miss that, strangely, our bodies do have a lot to tell us, much of it vital – and when we bother to ask, they will go into plenty of details. Unlike what we might suppose, they are in fact ideal candidates for an interview.

An interview with our bodies should probably take place when the world is fairly quiet and we’re lying in bed with our eyes shut. We should scan our bodies and – in an internal voice – direct a set of questions at them and wait for what stands a good chance of emerging.

We might start with: What does the body need now?

The answer may surprise us both by its rapidity and its specificity: a hug, a stretch on a ladder, a chance to curl up, to let out an enormous scream, a desire to be pressed by a huge weight or to cry. Even perhaps, a desire to push away a parent or draw a friend closer. How surprising that this lay just beneath the surface and that we would normally have overlooked it entirely.

We can go on:

What does the body not dare to ask for?

What has it had enough of?

What does it need more of?

What is far far too heavy for it?

What is it very scared of?

Where does it long to be right now?

Then we can move the questions on to specific body parts:

What do my shoulders need?

What does my back want?

What does my stomach long for?

What would my legs ideally like?

When considered in this light, a lot of what we call illnesses are attempts by the body to speak about particular discomforts that we have been too busy, tense or dutiful to attend to in more standard ways. We get back ache, or sore shoulders when there are burdens we repeatedly ignore. Our jaws clench and we grind our teeth when there are cries we haven’t let out. We may find our muscles aching and retreating when there is an energy or rage we have not given ourselves licence to experience. The body can be the locus for those of our wishes, fears and griefs that we have disowned and exiled.

The more we can entertain our emotional lives, the less the body will need to articulate them for us in painful and bothersome symptomatic forms. The more we can directly feel, the less our bodies will need to enact. Through regular interviews, we can try to catch the body’s communications when they are still in the form of moans and hints rather than screams, panic or despair.

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