The dangers of the vanity of the body

As I age chronologically, I am reminded of what an Indian doctor once told me in Calcutta. “The body is like an old Mercedes Benz, sir – replace the tires, clean the headlights, and change the oil, and it will run for over 500,000 kilometers.” What he meant by this, of course, is that the corporeal being carries me throughout a, potentially long, life: keep it healthy with prescient and intelligent practices – good nutrition, regular exercise, etc — and it will run for a long time.

Now, there are some philosophies and religions that believe that my soul or essence is distinct from my body and has a continuation after my physical demise. There are others, contrastingly, who say that my death is the total end of me. I would maintain that this is an individual decision we must make. I most certainly have my, strongly held, private beliefs. That being said, it is an issue that we must resolve at some point in our lives to have peace and psychological integration. Those who don’t, to paraphrase Sadhguru, (1) do not know that they are alive until they are almost dead.

This is an age, nonetheless, that has fallen in love with the body. The cell phone must surely be in competition with the mirror (2) for the replication of images of the self. The looking glass, however, doesn’t have the capacity of the digital device to copy that image again and again and again. The myth of Narcissus gives us a cautionary note when he tried to kiss a beautiful image, fell into the pond, and drowned. (3)

The other day at a stoplight, I watched a pretty young woman take three photographs, or “selfies,” of herself. It was partly the speed that impressed me. She posed, took a snap, tousled her hair, took another picture, and finally a third one, as well. Then the light changed and we were off. This got me to reflect on the physique and how it is seen in the modern world. Due to the replication of the human anatomy on social media, even the most unsophisticated have seen themselves many hundreds if not thousands of times. These personal images are reinforced by the Kim Kardashians (4) and their ilk who give us the “body perfect” ad nauseam. (5) This massive exposure to the exterior self has irrevocably altered the way we see ourselves in the world. Is this good? I, for one, think not.

It is only the very foolish who believe that my physical presence is the net sum of who I am. It would be illogical to believe so. A quick glance at any group reveals a range of body types, skin colors, and sizes. Surely not all can be perceived as beautiful and attractive. It is self-evident that the “developed” human being is one who has taken the time and effort to reflect on the magnificence of life not laud their personal physical contribution to it.

As we grow older, no amount of plastic surgery or exercise can forestall the inevitable passage of time. We would be wise to come to peace with our God so that our passage through this life is as productive as possible. Failure to do so produces the bitterness that we see in so many old people, seemingly regardless of their wealth or station in life. The great philosopher, mystic, and theologian Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) leaves us with a thought. A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there. (Parts of this essay were first published in 2020) 

A closing thought: It would be an error to say that we should not aspire to look good, dress well, and be attractive. The body, however, is but a temple. We must learn to respect it as such. I always question why you wouldn’t want to present your very best and most alluring self when you are seen in public. This is a time in history when “dressing up” is seen as unimportant and somewhat self-indulgent or vain. Yet, we accept the semi-nakedness of many female starlets and artists – odd! There is a strong undercurrent, I feel, to lower our standards of excellence: physically, intellectually, and spiritually. This “race to the bottom” seems to serve the consumer market extremely well. We should be aware of this and be cautious about following “the herd.” By keeping our standards high, we will always see far in life. From General George S. Patton (1885-1945): If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.     

To sum up: This week, we spoke about respecting the body, but also respecting our intellectual and spiritual growth. We need to find an obvious balance in life.   

Today we have this old chestnut:It is better to let someone think you are an idiot than to open your mouth and prove it.

Just for fun:

This week on your beautiful walk, please reflect that the body is the temple that must carry you throughout your long life.

Every day look for something magical and beautiful

Don’t be a wage slave –critical thinking is great!

Quote: Learn to appreciate your body as it ages.