I’m going through what is surely a very mild case of COVID, but I haven’t been this sick for so long that it feels grueling. It’s the first time I get it, and to me it feels like a bad flu. Surely my two work log readers will have already have gone through it in much worse conditions (newer variants are mild, and I have a vaccine and a booster), so it is not my intention to write about this seeking pity or to complain about it—I already did that on my exploration work log—I want to write about this here because I wish to explore the space between sickness and work.
Coinciding with the start of the pandemic, three years ago I begun exercising like a madman. It begun with one yoga session per day, a visit to the gym, and a short bike ride. Since I was on an unlimited plan in yoga and I had a lot of free time, I started attending two times per day. Then my yoga studio closed because of the pandemic, and I found a speakeasy one which was far away from home, 50 minutes biking each way. So, gradually I increased my exercise fix and soon enough I was pulling in four to six hours of exercise per day.
For most people, exercise is something you do outside your working hours. Even if you are a freelance professional, you set a chunk of the day for work, and exercise happens around this. In my case it was the opposite: I would attend the gym when there were less people (and more inspiring beauty) and attend the most intense yoga classes, no matter the time of the day. Work would happen around this. With the exception of my stay in Montreal and some brief spells of focused professional work, my work has been exploring my body and its relationship to mind and spirit.
When the body breaks down and is forced to rest, the mind takes over and I feel myself much more mental than before, as I was before embarking on this somatic exploration. I feel a recession of my spirit from the body and into the realms of mind. I am unconcerned about this phenomena, ideally the spirit should be able to inhabit whatever mode of existence the present moment demands. While working you should be in your mind, while interacting with the material world you should be in your body, and with other people you should be in your heart.
This illness has had me tethered home for the last three days, and while they haven’t been all that productive in terms of output vs hours sitting at the computer, I have had more work done than I have in a long time. I wish I could say these have been joyful hours of focused work, but in truth I’m working out of an avoidance of remaining in my body. If I look inside I notice my throat dry and painful, my joints aching, and a general sense of malaise. I come back to what I’m writing, I inhabit my mind and the body fades away, only occasionally claiming for attention in the form of a sneeze or a sitting posture discomfort that needs to be corrected.
I recall that Charles Darwin had an undiagnosed illness (probably Chagas disease) which made him a recluse the last decades of his life. The younger Darwin was an adventurer and an explorer, a romantic that loved music and poetry. In his autobiography, he complains about the loss of his romantic side, and then writes:
My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine, would not, I suppose, have thus suffered; and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.
My theory is that Darwin lost his embodiment through illness, which was in the benefit of humanity in the form of The Origin of Species, but came at a great loss for his soul (which I define the sum of all modes of existence). It is impossible to know if Darwin would have written his masterpiece had he indulged in some social and artistic pleasure, but I do know—like Descartes before him—his denial of the flesh and the heart caused existential malaise, and following their teachings as exclusive to other realities—that is, the primacy of reason and mind—will cause malaise to the follower too.
One should appreciate inhabiting the mind, inhabiting the heart, and inhabiting the body, as they all bring a necessary piece for meaningful existence.