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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Awareness continued from yesterday 7/6/11

One time I was asked to examine a dead body that had been found on a riverbank near a salt marsh to see if I could determine how long the body had been in the water. There were barnacles encrusted on the skeleon and since I was a marine biologist, the coroner thought maybe I could tell how old the barnacles were and, therefore, how long the body had been in the water.

When I walked into the morgue I immediately smelled death. The odor, left over from dead bodies through many years, was pungent and lingering. The room where the body lay was windowless with white walls and bright lights and very cold to keep bodies from rapidly decomposing. The body was on a stainless steel table with a plastic sheet over it. At first, I had the feeling of not wanting to be there at all - the feeling of wanting to turn around and go back outside. I felt like I didn't belong there.

When the coroner uncovered the body, it was mostly a skeleton with a little bit of rotting flesh clinging here and there. There were a few sprigs of hair on the head and there wasn't much of a face except for some muscle where cheeks once were. The eyeballs were long gone, eaten away by crabs and small fish. There were no internal organs except for part of a trachea.

Interest overtook apprehension as I began examining the barnacles on the bones. Looking more closely at the skull and down to the dark thin ribs I realized that this once was a walking, talking, breathing human with the same fears, wants and desires that I have. This was once a person who referred to himself as "me," but now this rotting body had nothing to do with the life that once inhabited it. It no longer felt joy and love and could never feel pain again. How could this be? How could a body filled with so much life and energy one minute be nothing more than a curious object the next?

While examining it, I was thinking that this body is nothing more than just a thing that has no permanence at all. Once life leaves the body it is entirely useless and wastes away in the blink of an eye. How closely we identify with the body to the point of trying to keep it looking youthful with all kinds of surgeries, make-up, hair-coloring, diets, clothing and drugs. We adorn the body with jewelry, we exercise beyond the point of exhaustion to keep its muscles firm and yet, much like the self, this is not what we are.

This body, which once housed living energy, helped me realize that how the body looks is not who or what we are. Each body is different but the power, the force, the energy, is the same in all of us. Life is vastly more than matter, physical appearance, and physical process. Although energy appears inanimate and tenuous, there is no denying that it is inherent in all that exists. The vibrating forces of energy pervades throughout space and every galaxy as well as your mind and every cell of your body. The 16th century physician, philosopher and scientist, Auroleus Parcelsus said, "The human body is vapor materialized by sunshine mixed with the life of the stars."

Continued tomorrow.

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