I don’t know whether Barbara Ehrenreich is entirely sincere in her new book, Natural Causes. Gabriel Winant thinks she is and argues the author’s intent is to “refute the idea that it’s possible to control the course and shape of one’s biology or emotional life…” (“Mind Control,” by Gabriel Winant, The New Republic, June 2018, pg. 58.)
I don’t have a Ph.D. in cell biology, as Ehrenreich does, but when it comes to the shape of my anatomy, I don’t need one. I know I’m out of control. Exercise has no effect on the jowls that have replaced my jawline or the pendulous swing of my breasts. The scientist/writer explains the reason is as follows: “…the body is not even a single thing, but rather a continuous, contradictory process.” (Ibid. pg. 61) I am not one person, apparently, but a collection of “tiny selves,” (Ibid pg. 61) none of which consults with my central brain before they make decisions. Worse, my mind is unable to control its own thoughts or moods, says Ehrenreich. Meditation, therefore, is a waste of time, something akin to expecting a single wave to influence the tide.
As for diet and exercise, again I bow to her superior insight. No matter how hard I concentrate on either, my body continues to deteriorate. Like Ehrenreich, maybe I should stop resisting. “…I pretty much eat what I want and indulge my vices, from butter to wine. Life is too short to forgo these pleasures and would be far too long without them.” (Ibid pg. 62.)
Given Ehrenreich’s flawless logic, I should be headed for the bakery right now… except… except I don’t believe her. Not entirely. Oh yes, experience tells me she’s right when she says, even “the process of thinking involves conflict and alliances between different patterns of neuronal activity. “(Ibid, p. 62.) I have only to pass an ice cream parlor to experience the conflict. But I don’t agree I’m a collection of disparate parts with no one at the helm. I can say “no” to three scoops of rocky road… or someone does.
As for meditation being a fool’s journey, I detect some of the author’s conflicting neuronal activity, here. Didn’t I read and admire her book, Living with a Wild God? Wasn’t I enthralled when she described how the heavens opened and poured into her? (Click) Didn’t she admit to sensing the harmony within diversity? I know she’s not religious. Neither am I, but whenever I feel communion with something larger than myself in nature, I call that meditation, girlfriend.
No, Barbara, I don’t believe you. You’re playing a skeptic’s game, possibly tongue in cheek. I admit I have no explanation for why diversity leads to harmony, but you and I know it does and that harmony goes for the body, too. So, pardon my ‘’oms,” but I’ll stick with meditation. Ditto for a healthy diet and exercise. Your life, oozing with butter and wine, fills me with envy. But I’m guessing I’ll look better in my coffin than you will.
(Originally published 6/28/2018)