I was pondering the wonders and stories of our anatomy the other day, and realized I could probably write a post about every part of myself. Who knows how long this inspiration will last, this could be a very long series!
That led me to reflecting on my hands. When was the last time someone wrote a love letter to the thumb? While recently walking down my street, I was stopped by a tiny little skeleton of a hand, maybe two inches long. It was probably a possum or possibly a raccoon who had found himself on the wrong end of a car. I marveled at the delicate bones, so much like our own, that had grabbed and released, groomed and smoothed, without ever thinking of the thumb as anything more than a tool. We think we are human because of the opposable thumb, but it’s clear that our primate forbears all knew how to use the thumb. It’s what humans do with it that changes the game. I have yet to see a raccoon hitchhiking or thumbing its nose at me,
The hand occupies a huge portion of your sensory cortex. So your hand and brain are in constant communication. If you’ve ever smacked yourself in the head and said, “I coulda had a V8!” your hand directly communicated to your brain. (And if you are too young to understand this reference, here you go!) And the thumb has been an intrinsic part of human body language for thousands of years. Without the benefit of evidence based research, humans have somehow figured out that the thumb has something to do with your self-image. When you say “I” and point to your chest, do you do it with your thumb or your pinky? (It’s true, you also use your index finger sometimes – it’s interesting to note when you make which choice, and if it feels different). In yogic traditions, the thumb is the “I” – thumb and forefinger touching create a mudra that can mean different things depending on how you use it: knowledge, wisdom, connection. The thumb is the self, the forefinger consciousness. When Westerners put thumb and forefinger together, we’re saying “Got it or OK – I’ve got the knowledge, we are connected. The 19th century oratory teacher Delsarte intuited that the thumb indicates the life force and the index finger, intelligence. I find it endlessly interesting that cultures throughout history find similar meanings for their fingers. Did you know that our “thumbs up” gesture came from ancient Rome? Thumbs up meant the gladiator could live. Thumbs down….
When our hands are injured, whether through repetitive use, inflammation or just clumsiness (should I tell you about the time I squashed my thumb while closing my Feldenkrais table?) we are reminded of how each little part of us affects the whole. In Tales of Power and other books, Carlos Castaneda’s sorcerer teacher, Don Juan, told Castaneda he could develop power by learning “see” his hands while dreaming. Here’s a lesson to help you “see” your hands in a new way.