Our Corporeal Life


Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,

Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,

Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,

Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,

Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,

Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest,

Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,

Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails,

Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,

Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone,

Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,

Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,

Leg fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg,

Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;

All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one’s body, male or female,

The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,

The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,

Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,

Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,

The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,

The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,

Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,

Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,

The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,

The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,

The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,

The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,

The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,

The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,

The exquisite realization of health;

O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,

O I say now these are the soul!


Walt Whitman from I Sing the Body Electric   1855


As many of us did, I first encountered this poem in high school. It made an indelible impression on me.

The attention Whitman pays to every body part and his honoring of its beauty and functionality catches me again and again. What a celebration!

He captures the wonder of humans being, first identifying the body parts as nouns and then shifting to the actions afforded by these parts.

And he keeps the action in gerund form-this present moment!

Leaping, reclining, embracing, curving, tightening, weeping, breathing in and out.

So much of what we attend to are thoughts of past or future. Whitman keeps it NOW. And that’s one of the opportunities a body scan can give us-an entry into the present moment as it is. Without judgment, just observing the sensations that arise as we place our bare attention on a body part.  What do we notice? What can we physically feel?

 After a body scan I often come away with a sense of gratitude for the interplay of so many processes taking place away from my conscious mind. Heart beating, air flowing in and out of lungs -CO2 out and oxygen in- giving energy to blood cells. A 24 hour a day life sustaining dance!

And it all starts with paying attention.