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Hope, Marx and the Body

I have had the great fortune of studying with and, in some cases, just been able to listen to, some people that I would consider to be genuine geniuses.  My fortune has been so great, that it would not be possible to list everyone here.  One of these people is David Harvey, who I met and studied with when I was a student at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York.  David Harvey is a critical geographer and anthropologist with significant passion for improving the conditions of life for humans everywhere.  Anyone who has studied Anthropology, or perhaps, any social science, knows that, it doesn’t look good for humans.  Almost every ethnography documents some kind of suffering—-the kind that we inflict on each other, the kind that we inflict on ourselves and the tragedies inherent with war, famine, natural disaster, racism, disease and the list goes on.  After six years of graduate work in Anthropology, I can tell you that the research consistently reveals that we aren’t that nice to one another and we don’t like to share.  Therefore, it is of considerable joy to read the hardly lighthearted, yet somewhat hopeful, work of David Harvey.  Specifically, I refer to his Spaces of Hope (2000).  Basically, the news still isn’t good, but Harvey presents small flickering lights in the tunnel of human doom that provoke the reader to become a part of something bigger than themselves in the name of the greater good.  The other risk of reading Harvey is that you have a song in your heart for Balzac, Marx and Benjamin even though you’ve never had the least bit of desire to read their work.

What role does Karl Marx and the body play in all this?  Harvey (2000) suggests that Marx, “…from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts onwards, Marx grounded his ontological and epistemological arguments on real sensual bodily interaction with the world (Harvey 2000: 101).”  Here, Harvey quotes Marx (1964 edition, 143):

Sense-perception must be the basis of all science.  Only when it proceeds from sense-perception in the two-fold form
of sensuous consciousness and of sensuous need–that is, only when science proceeds from nature–is it true science.

What is not discussed here is how, for many of us, we have lost our sense perception.  Many of us dis-abled our tools of sense perception somewhere along the way and now we move in a most un-sensual way through the world separated from our bodies.  We do not know hunger or fullness and spend a remarkable amount of time in some variation of the over-pose: over-whelmed, over-ate, hunched over, over it, over you, over and under—-trapped.  One of the only sensations we recognize is discomfort.  While this can be seen as negative, this discomfort is an invitation to return to a sensual state and to notice how we feel.  For many adults, this discomfort encourages a first experience with yoga and many new opportunities for health and wellness.

If all you feel is discomfort, there are two things that you can understand that may be helpful:

1-As you are human, and your discomfort is part of your experience, you can now be open to a deeper sense of compassion for all other humans.  I invite you to sit and feel your discomfort and know that you are not alone.  We can use our own suffering as a connective link to all living beings.

2-No matter where you are and no matter what your circumstances, if you can feel discomfort, there is still hope!  If you have remained sensual enough to feel this pain, then you can use these sense organs to feel non-pain.  You can use the skills of yoga and movement to wake up these capabilities that you have for something different.  Something better!

Here is a short exercise that you can do for as long as you like or as short as you like and wherever you are right now. This is the exercise of pure sound:

Take a moment to open your hearing senses and listen to sound without  judgment.  No, it isn’t easy when you’d like to throttle your neighbor for power washing his driveway each time you try to take a nap with your newborn.  But, just for the sake of this exercise, hear the power washer minus the judgement.  The same goes for hearing something lovely, like the song of the Cardinal outside your morning window.  You might hear this lovely bird-song and suddenly wish that it would never end, or think of some other time you heard such a song or you might think that it is time to purchase more bird food.   The idea is to just listen—-without the stories, ideas, thoughts and negative or positive judgements.  As soon as your mind starts to wander from the pure sound, let go and return to a sensing of sound.  Don’t get frustrated if this takes work.  It is work.  This work helps us understand the quality of our thoughts and how so very much of our experience is determined not by reality, but by what we are doing with it.  The mind is constantly moving, but the more we can create some space between experience and thought about the experience, the more rested, relaxed and clear we are.  Less angry, less in pain, but more sensual, more open and liberated from the confines of our memories and experiences.

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Harvey, David.
Spaces of Hope.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Marx, Karl
1964 edition, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.  New York

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