Temple or tree?
Which one is this body of mine?
In a recent radio interview*, author Florence Williams said that she used to think of her body as a temple…
…but now she thinks of it as a tree.
A tree interacts with its environment. A tree absorbs all sorts of stuff from the air, the water, the soil. A tree is affected by its environment and affects that environment as well.
But isn’t a temple also a part of its environment?
To me, a temple is a shelter from the outside world—a part of the world, yet apart from the world.
So perhaps the body as tree is a better metaphor.
But do I even need a metaphor?
Why can’t I just say to myself: “I should take care in what I take in from my environment.”
That’s accurate. That should be all the warning I need, shouldn’t it?
And yet, to think of the body as a tree is somehow more emotionally/mentally satisfying to me.
But why? Why do I find satisfaction in expressing ideas using metaphor?
Perhaps the metaphor helps me to express what is beyond words. The metaphor comes closer to the truth of my experience.
In any case, this tree metaphor can be beneficial to me. If I think of my body as a tree, perhaps I’ll treat it more kindly…
Like many Americans, I often treat my body like a horse that needs the goading of the crop.
I excuse myself this occasional brutality because I know that accomplishment comes at an expense, and part of that expense is physical.
But perhaps the horse metaphor could actually help me balance…
If I am a horse, I need to allow myself some time to graze, to relax, to meander.
Nonetheless, I don’t want to give up the tree metaphor. For one thing, there’s a spiritual element to it…
After all, a tree needs to be rooted securely in this Earth as it reaches upward to the sky.
For that matter, I also like the metaphor of body as temple.
This body, this container can be seen as a dwelling place for the divine, a temporary home for spirit…
When I close my eyes—when I shut the shutters—I can feel that spirit.
So now, my body is not only a tree, but also a horse and a temple.
Which metaphor should I go with? Which one serves me best?
Maybe I can keep all three—maybe that’s what serves me best.
These metaphors are talking about different aspects of the same thing. So to keep all three would give me three helpful, valid viewpoints, instead of just one.
Furthermore, I like the idea of metamorphosis, of one thing becoming another thing. Of a horse becoming a tree and a tree becoming a temple.
Maybe I’m just complicating things for myself. But I should be able to get my mind around this concept of three. After all, as a mere boy, I was instructed on the Trinity.
(* Florence Williams, author of Breasts: a Natural and Unnatural History, was interviewed on the National Public Radio show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 16, 2012.)
© 2012, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry