Machinery Blues

I’ve been meaning to make a suggestion about a metaphor I hear a lot.

Over the years it’s quite common to hear people make reference to the body as a machine. Maybe you have even thought about a replaceable body part over here or referred to food as fuel for optimal performance over there. 

Then there are doctors using terms like “roto-rooter procedure” (like you are ready for a plumber to work on you) or referring to themselves as the “electrician” (electrophysiologists) or referring to the heart as the ol’ ticker. In all instances, it’s clear we are comfortable thinking of the human body as a machine.

There’s just one important point to remember: your body is not a machine. It’s a far cry from a machine.

I’d like to suggest we move on from this common metaphor. It is so Industrial Revolution; it’s too limiting. With the old metaphor, it’s no wonder why disappointment can connect itself to aging. It’s no wonder we sit on the frontier of merging more with machines.

In reality, there is so much more than machinery with the physical body. Our physical bodies are a truly majestic wonder that contains vast amounts of sensitive, cosmic information, in both sickness and aging as well as in health.

I would like to suggest a new metaphor.

Music to Our Ears

Your body is more like a hand-made, finely-crafted musical instrument. Every instrument that comes from this particular shop is a masterpiece: the result of sublime artistic craftsmanship.

Your body resonates. As a primary function, it sounds. When it does, it transcends time and space. It is an antenna for frequency, vibration, and sound; and, it creates also them, through the musician’s work. With a musical instrument human engagement is inseparable at every moment. Nothing happens without human presence and without the development of skills and capacities. Beauty expands when human presence intensifies.

There are many different types of orchestras and genres of music. There are all types of instruments in the orchestras. No two instruments are alike; no two performances of a symphony are the same. Each instrument is best understood in connection with the orchestra to which it belongs.

Every instrument makes an important contribution. We all have important soloist work to do as well. Practice and good habits are essential.

No matter how perfect an instrument it is, it needs to be handled carefully by the musician. Our instruments need the right ambient temperature and air moisture, and they need protection. We have to treat it with great respect and need to develop an ear for sensing when an adjustment is needed. We need to fine-tune it regularly. We need to be the master tuner!

Our instruments get more refined as we age. An aged musical instrument will sound in a way unlike one that hasn’t been differentiated by its experience. (Fun fact: playing a musical instrument is associated with slower cognitive decline.)

And as with any well-rounded musician, there is a life that is separate from the instrument. We should never get too attached to one facet of our existence. The musician herself and her good work are far more important than the actual instrument that so graciously allowed her to perform her piece. At the end of a performance or at the end of the day when it comes time to put our instrument down, there is a plethora of activity with which we can engage, all of which is greatly informed by our life as a musician and caretaker of our particular instrument.

We have our choice of metaphors. It’s interesting how what we choose, consciously or not, colors our experience.

Now go tighten your strings, you budding virtuoso, you.