Commentary on Manoj

- Erin Willimas, Ph.D.,
Associate Director, Law, Policy and Ethics
Foundation for Genetic Medicine, Inc.
l0900 University Blvd, MSN 4E3
Manassas, VA 20ll0, USA
Email: EWilliams@GeneticMedicine.orgAND
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 11 (2001), 113.

Frank Leavitt and I have spent time pondering the physical and spiritual nature of our lives. He and I both practice martial arts, love and promote peace, work in bioethics, and have had spiritual experiences (what he might call mystical experiences). We are both interested the interplay between physicality and spirituality. To a large extent, it was our sense that the logical, "impartial" nature of our lives had come to dominate bioethical discourse that caused us to propose the formation of the Mystical Bioethics Network.

I was frustrated with "high level" bioethical discussions I'd experienced in which unstated and unaddressed spiritual beliefs and emotional experiences seemed to underlie apparent academic conflicts. The substance of various spiritual understandings are nearly impossible to debate, but rather are rooted in faith and personal experience. I craved a sharing of personal experiences so that we might better understand who we are and how we came to believe what we do.

I was wary of people's assertions of their objectivity. I believe objectivity is somewhat like perfection in that we humans are not capable of achieving it, though it is imperative that in our development we strive for it. I wanted to create a safe place to ponder the spiritual, emotional, magical nature of being, and the role that could play in guiding bioethics.

Since I decided to take a more spiritual and simultaneously more emotional and intimate approach to bioethics, I have been extremely well received. I have shared the most personal stories. I have admitted publicly the ways in which I am crazy. I have striven through storytelling and imagination to prompt decision-makers to stand in the shoes of those they are likely to affect.

Now that I have begun to pay attention to spirituality and emotion in my professional life, my attention is often focused on my own body. It is possible to spend a tremendous amount of time viewing one's body as an object separate from oneself. Many times I have experienced this alienation and the accompanying sense of frustration. As a woman living in the United States, I need only pick up a fashion magazine, or turn on the television to be bombarded with images of a social ideal of beauty. These same images have led many of my friends, my sisters, my loved ones to torture themselves into sickness and even death.

The most common method of judging good and bad around me is related to this obsession with the physical form. My female friends almost uniformly exhibit shyness about ordering fattening food or dessert, adding a quip like, "I know this is terrible, but I was good this afternoon and had a salad." And exercise is seen as the redemption for dietary sins.

Obsession with the female form in particular is a double edged sword for women. Male fascination with it can be a source of power for women, but can also lead to objectification, rape, and a discounting of women's mental capabilities. On one hand, if a woman looks too appealing, others may assume she is shallow and unintelligent. On the other, she is not attractive, others might not recognize her at all. These possibilities have prompted me to erect barriers on more than one occasion, blocking communion with my fellow humans to a certain extent. It is uncomfortable to be viewed as an object rather than as a complete person.

Given the current whirlwind of negative, belittling, and judgmental input we receive about our physical bodies, how can we undo the harm and integrate our spiritual and tangible forms? Darryl Macer might be pleased to know that I think as an antidote, we can love for our bodies. We can be happy. We can exude awe and appreciation for the opportunity we have to be on this planet in this form.

I have days of insecurity with my body, and I find that I feel best when I stay rooted in the joy of my own existence. My body can do so much. My body can move me. My body can heal itself. My body can gestate life. My body can feel extraordinary things. And the more I love it, the more others around me seem to love theirs. Thank you, Manoj, for taking the time to love your body and to share your story with us.

Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.
Chairman, The Centre for International Bioethics
Faculty of Health Sciences
Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel
Fax: + 972-8-6477633
Email: An Aikido master in Israel once told me a Japanese story, whose source may be in Zen.

A Samurai and a Master of the Tea Ceremony happened to meet. The meeting did not go well, and they started to argue. The Samurai challenged the Tea Ceremony master to a duel to the death with swords, and said: "Meet me here today at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and we shall fight.

Honour would not permit the Tea Ceremony master to refuse the challenge, so he had to agree. But he was frightened, and went to his own teacher of Tea Ceremony, to ask him what to do. "I have never held a sword in my hand in my life," he said. "He will surely kill me".

The older Tea Ceremony master replied with a calm smile. "Do not worry," he said. "Go meet him at the appointed time, and do what you know how to do. Perform the Tea Ceremony."

At four o'clock, the Samurai arrived with swords. But the Tea Ceremony master arrived with charcoal, matches, a tea kettle, water, cups, and began to prepare the tea. The Samurai watched in awe. Finally, when the tea was ready, the Tea Ceremony master handed a cup to the Samurai.

The Samurai sipped the tea properly. When he finished, he said to the Tea Ceremony master: "I am defeated. You have united body and soul so perfectly, you defeated me."

When I studied philosophy, the great question was whether the soul exists, and whether it is distinct from the body. The greatest things in Asian bioethics -- Martial Arts (which are now being turned to peace), Tea Ceremony, Yoga, Zen, etc. -- are teaching us that the soul and the body are separate, but our great task is to learn how to reunite them. I hope the Eubios family will read Manoj's important paper carefully.

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