YOU MAY BE quietly sipping coffee at a terrace cafe in Baguio, reading about safe spaces in the workplace on your phone when something distracts you. A female in her twenties passes by wearing a bare midriff outfit under her open jacket. Why is she trying to keep warm with an exposed navel? Not exactly a question Marcus Aurelius grappled with. But there it is.
Do males also wear bare mid-riff attire outdoors? Yes. Usually outside vulcanizing shops and cockpits, using sleeveless T-shirts with the bottom rolled up to just below the chest (or man-boobs). The exposed middle consists of a bulging stomach, with the navel hardly visible, like Winnie the Pooh, but with shorts. This bare-stomach version of male accoutrement is intended to balance the rather short item on the female counterpart. The latter is definitely more charming.
Why does the bellybutton deserve serious attention?
Considering that the navel marks the spot where the umbilical cord, the link to the start of life in the mother’s womb, has been cut, it is curious to note how navels as metaphors for life forces are largely ignored in favor of other anatomical parts.
Here are some examples where navels don’t make the grade in ordinary conversations.
When an idea or fleeting memory is momentarily unavailable prior to its expression, it’s considered to be “at the tip of the tongue,” not itching to get out of the navel.
Nobody says — I’m up to my “navel” in problems. It’s the “neck” that takes that spot. Presumably, the imagery is of a person drowning in a crisis with the head barely above water.
What about mixing with the right crowd? It’s not about rubbing “navels” but “elbows.” The former expression may connote a different kind of relationship, a rather awkward violation of social distancing. So, in this form of social bonding, the navels get elbowed out.
In describing constant partners showing up together on every occasion, the middle region of the body just misses the navel. The pair is described as “joined at the hip.” Close enough, but not quite there.
However, our own literary giant, Nick Joaquin, featured the knotted cavity in the middle of our bodies in the title of his novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels. This was mainly symbolic and referred to one character’s attachment to two cultures, a metaphor for our country and its confused sets of values.
In business expressions, there is a hint of some navel exercises. For the due diligence required in evaluating a company for a merger or acquisition, the target is required to provide full disclosure, and “open its kimono.” Clearly, the baring of facts and figures here includes the financial navel, though not specified in the phraseology. This opening up also implies a rule of looking but not touching. And once the kimono is opened, there is an explicit intention to buy, as Elon Musk was to find out after opening that social media kimono and having second thoughts.
More to the umbilical point, a business term of disdain refers to “navel gazing.” (This has nothing to do with a beach activity.) The phrase is defined in the business dictionary as “self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself at the expense of a wider business view.” More than an equivalent of “seeing the trees and missing the forest,” the navel gazer adds a bit of self-regard — I enjoy the perks of this office. So, someone who is absent in a crisis or loves to use the company plane even in personal trips would be classified as a navel-gazer.
There is another philosophical side to the navel as the object of attention.
Navel-gazing does have a more positive significance. It is a form of meditation, where the world stops and one contemplates life in solitude, gazing at his own navel. Before this was a Zen practice, it was attributed to the philosophical Greeks. Navel-gazing (or omphaloskepsis) refers to contemplation of this umbilical port to shut out the outside world and meditate. No details are given on the proper attire for this activity, except perhaps that it needs to expose the object of attention.
You get ready to meditate and shut out distractions. You take the lotus position, bow your head, and focus on the navel. It’s there… even if you don’t see it.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda