I shouldn’t think when I’m in the shower. I really shouldn’t.
But I do.
And I got to thinking about soap.
First, something you need to know, I lost the use of my hands for over a decade thanks to incompetent doctors who were unable to diagnose what turned out to be a dermatological allergy to glycerin (and other simple surfactants). Those were years of cracking and peeling skin; thousands of tiny scars now criss-cross my palms. When I finally twigged what was happening, 15 years after the condition first showed up, I switched to using very plain soap and my hands healed within a month – this was also the time of our relocation to New York and my somatic learning isn’t blind to that coincidence; leaving the disability and pain on the other side of the Atlantic.
But that’s not the story here. The story is soap. I’ve got to know soap very well over the years. And when you’ve worn a soap bar down to that little piece that’s almost about to disintegrate, it doesn’t foam as well. So I don’t like using it.
Last week, I noticed that there were two or three of these mini-bars in the soap-dish in the shower so I chucked them out and replaced with a new, latherly bar
[latherly is a made-up word, which are always cool]
This morning I was soaping up in the shower and I found myself thinking, with some small piece of guilt, that my actions were just another example of how we coddled westerners throw away stuff that is still usable.
Hmmmm… soap and guilt.
That got me thinking of washing rituals, which are prevalent in many religions and, as I often do, I tried to walk back down the ladder of inference to answer the question of why washing features so heavily in our cultural stories.
My first thought was that it would be rational, that somewhere in our long-forgotten past, people put 2 and 2 together to realize that when they didn’t wash their hands they’d get sick. But, truth is, the world has been sanitary for only a short while. For example
[if I recall correctly]
systematic hand-washing in surgical theatres didn’t become a reality until the mid-late Victorian days. Historic data on infant mortality rates and life expectancy suggests that we haven’t been long-standing deployers of hygienic thinking.
So, if it wasn’t from rationality, then it must come from a more irrational/emotional source.
Religions speak of washing away sin.
Sin comes from experience.
And so, washing is the washing away of experience. Right?
And that got me thinking about Facebook.
[stay with me]
We used to gather in pubs, in markets, on village greens and in churches. Some still do. We used to gather in workplaces, where we did an honest day’s work with friends and colleagues. Some still do.
But many more of us are living lives of dislocated, virtual experience. Our interaction is now via telephone, email, online updates. We are experience in 140-characters or less.
And, as our experience has stretched, so has the obsession with washing.
Hand sanitizing lotion. Pump dispensers.
And, the supreme irony, automated pump dispensers to dispense the antibacterial soap that will clean your hands of the germs you would have picked up from a non-automated dispenser.
Of course, these products are sold by people who want to make money off our wants and needs. But they are also feeding on that innate desire to view experience as something to be washed off.
Which leaves me perplexed.
Because soap isn’t selective
[although, technically, surfactants can be]
it washes away everything.
Would we choose to remove all experience for the sake of the ones which have done us harm? Would we choose never to live for sake of not upsetting others by living? By removing ourselves from immediate experience, and entering the virtual realm, are we really freeing ourselves to experience without the weight of first-hand guilt (and it’s flip-side, downside risk?)
Like lines on the face, the marks of experience make us who we are, yet we live in cultures that exhibit such mortal dread of old age and death that we’d rather inject our faces with poison than be seen to have lived.
We’d rather wash ourselves clean than revel in the reality of our lives.
Which is a pity, because until you’re willing to get a little dirty, life is kind of sterile.
Like I said, I really shouldn’t get thinking when I’m in the shower.