The body bares (and bears) its soul
This is a difficult book to categorise. It has a much much wider market than those who suffer from ‘problems with the waterworks’, BPH, irritable bladder etc. It is a fascinating and deeply reflective account of the meaning of illness and wellness. Parks, an acknowledged atheist and sceptic about all things remotely New Age or alternative in the health field, developed an increasingly disruptive and painful urogenital condition. Exhaustive tests yielded little information, other than to show an absence of anything ‘sinister’. Conventional pharmacological management proving largely ineffective for him, the standard option was for surgery. Something which he had ‘a gut instinct’ was wrong for him. Parks’ exhaustive research on his condition and the surgical procedure via the internet showed the procedure offered could not be guaranteed to be successful, or indeed problem free.
Author Parks began to look at other options, specifically to consider not just ‘the condition’ but himself as experiencing the condition. Discovering a book which discussed his condition as a muscular/neurological reaction to hyperpresent tension – an attribute of his own nature – almost against his intellect he began to explore embodiment, grappling with his own inability to be present in the here and now of his body, rather than the constant backwards and forwards cerebral activity of the mind. His desire to understand his own story and narrative, what his body was saying, led him, initially sceptically and unwillingly, to a gifted Shiatsu practitioner, and, later to a deeper experience of meditation. The initial debilitating nature of his condition had been much helped by the specific techniques of `paradoxical relaxation’ described in the book, but the alleviation of pain and nocturia were no longer seen as the end of the journey.
Parks’ ability to be open to challenge his own perceived notions of reality, and to accept experience completely outside his belief systems is rather wonderful.
I particularly appreciate the fact that he doesn’t fall into the convert’s trap of saying `THIS is the way’, exhorting everyone to follow suit. This was HIS way, his story, his meaning.
There is also much which is fascinating about the possible effect of various illnesses on both the choice of subject matter and the modes of expression used by other writers and artists with chronic conditions
There is so much within this book, not least, an understory about language and translation. As well as writing novels, he also teaches Italian/English translation skills to students in Italy. There is a parallel here to `what is lost in translation’ between the experience (any experience) and the description of it. Our species’ amazing faculty for language and complex expression both illuminates and obfuscates our experiences, at one and the same moment. Language itself defines and therefore limits what it describes. His analysis of various texts and what will be `lost in translation’ from a too literal juxtaposition of one language into another, missing the inner meaning of a thing, is directly mirrored in his attempt to describe `the ineffable’, the felt sense of the present which arises when the mind is stilled from its endless narrative. As he notes, in the moment the narrating mind tries to verbalise the experience, we are no longer WITHIN what we are experiencing.
Another book which incorporates the autobiography of illness is Hilary Mantel’s equally wonderful Giving up the Ghost: A memoir