Numbskull: The Brain/Body Paradigm

“I am my head, but I own my body. ” Ken Wilbur, No Boundary

Recently I was shocked when a yoga teacher I admired referred to her body as a  ‘meatsuit’. While her meaning was that her true self or being resided in spirit, her stark metaphor brought into high relief how great the mind/body schism still is, even in such a ‘body friendly’ culture as yoga.

While yoga is supposed to be about ‘union’, phrases like “feel your body” or “listen to your body” or “get in touch with your body” reveal a view of the body and mind as separate. They betray our deeply entrenched belief that the body is something the mind/brain operates .We present our bodies with a variety of postures to breathe through. We practice yoga to energize, detox, stretch and strengthen the body, but the underlying belief is that the mind directs, it is where our “true self” – the driver resides.

According to author Philip Shepherd’s book New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the 21st Century we are under the sway of a paradigm that has ”organized our awareness of the body and the world according to metaphors borrowed from machinery. He writes “we may talk about how good it feels to be ‘in the body’ but we speak about in the same way that we might remarked on the sensuality of driving a well-appointed luxury sedan”. And one that needs maintenance to keep it in tip-top shape. The flaw with this approach, is the body is obviously not, a lifeless compendium of gears and gadgetry.

So why have we accepted a way of viewing our bodies as quite literally ‘dead meat’? In fact, if popular imagination is any yardstick, we seem to believe if we can just keep the brain alive in the proverbial ‘vat’ we don’t even need a body at all. According to Shepherd, we have become, in a literal sense, all “numbskulls”. We have withdrawn our awareness of ourselves to the one organ in the body that is numb to sensation, that surgeons can cut into without need of anesthetic; the brain.

The brain may analyze, rationalize, plan and obsess but it cannot feel. It is the body, the heart, the gut, the skin, the fingers, that feel. And as our culture constantly reminds us – the sensations of the body are not to be trusted. So we isolate ourselves in our minds. “Our thoughts buzz and bounce in our cranium;we can see the world and hear it and think about it as our ideas go around and around in circles, but we have forgotten how to ‘be’ in it.”

Thus the cranium has become quite literally our headquarters – and Shepherd makes the point that it serves as the model for all corporate, governmental and organizational headquarters that exist. “The head sits apart from the ordinary world, secluding itself with the equivalent of high walls and closed doors, safely distanced from the uncontrollable sensations of Being.”

For Shepherd this hierarchy of head over body is the prototype for all the hierarchies we project in the world; male over female , man over nature, mind over matter, doing over being etc. And within this hierarchy, the body and the world become mechanisms for exploitation, control of acquisitions of goods, money, property, status etc. become stand-ins for a full experience of the present. But the problem of course, is that substitutions never quite satisfy.

This is why the body is so much more than a meatsuit. It is the basis for everything we believe and act out in the world. It’s why we must call into question the descriptions, that as Shepherd writes, “we have literally taken in our bodies, dividing up self and world in the process.”

Because while we see the brain as the man in charge, science increasingly suggests that it may be other way around. Research recently published in Cognitive Affective and Behavioural Neuroscience, adds to growing evidence that our bodies intelligence governs how we think. In fact studies suggests that our body may be the realm from which all decisions and action originate – and they occur well below and well before the thresh-hold of conscious awareness. Your body, your gut, your skin, your heart, knows things before “you” do. (for more click here)

We can’t access this intelligence through thinking. It is only through feeling, the agency of sensation ( a word which derives from the Latin word sentire, which means both “to feel’ and ‘to think’) that we connect with this ‘knowing’. This thinking/feeling is what Shepherd calls – the logos mind – “the mind that conceives – and receives.”

“The logos mind is the thinking of the felt self. It enters the experience of the felt present just as you might ease into a hot bath”…” Sensational thinking guides the aerialist aloft on his tightrope, and the mothers love for her child, and the limitless understanding that love bestows. It guides our understanding of Bach or Rembrandt.”

The intelligence of the body is our primary reality and despite popular thinking, it is not separate from anything. It is already connected to “the unbroken wholeness of the world to which we belong – which happens to be our primary reality.” We forget that beneath the subatomic ground of being, our fingers and toes and thoughts and emotions are one. They are vibrations, waveforms of energy which merge with everything else that exists (and doesn’t exist) in an interconnected energy field that Einstein called “the only reality.” In other words, there is no division between spirit and flesh. Our meat is us.

Yet it seems the dominant paradigm is reflected by what yogini and blogger, Erica Mather wrote last January for Elephant Journal, “I think the content of your character is far more important than the rotting meat suit it’s housed in.Yes, yes, your body is your temple, but you are not your body.”

Shepherd believes the division of body and mind is the primary wound of our culture because it denies us the freedom “To feel the world as a whole, and see the self as a whole within it, and, in feeling that wholeness, to live it”. But the catch 22 we are caught in is that “until we can experience the body’s intelligence we wont be able to identify with the body; but until we can identify with body we won’t be able to feel its intelligence”.

So can we begin by asking, as Buddhist Mike Hoolboom and Simone Moir, Gestalt psychotherapist, did in a recent article, why we say “I move my arm” but not “I beat my heart’? Why we say “ I close my eyes” but not “I grow my hair” or” I wriggle my toes” but not “I circulate my blood? “All those actions that are voluntary and controllable the ego will identify with. Actions that are spontaneous and involuntary are untrusted, not-self or objectified. If I can’t control it, it’s not me. If the actions are spontaneous, it’s not me. Then who is it? Who is this body?”

In order to find the answer, Shepherd tells us we must give up thinking to feel. The vibrations of being are “the energy of the world felt within the body’s stillness”. Shepherd wants us to understand “that by opening to the consciousness of our bodies we can awaken our full intelligence and come home to our wholeness, bit by bit.”

So as yogi’s and yoginis, can we find a body language that reflects ‘union’ instead of separation? One that rejects the metaphors of mechanics, of the mind as the true ‘boss’ of the self, of the body as dross, gross mindless matter? To believe the true self lies in some bodiless realm of spirit is to negate the obvious truth that it is through the meatsuit, not the mind, that we find “Being”.

 

5 thoughts on “Numbskull: The Brain/Body Paradigm

  1. Everything our mind perceives comes to us through our body/senses. The true purpose of the mind is to process the perceptions it receives (not to direct them).

  2. Wonderful post! Our souls reside in our bodies, the body might be made of bones and meat but only through it we can experience human life; it also works vice versa listening to our bodies we can tell a lot of what is going on in our subconscious mind and emotional state. I love the vision of the body and brain as a miniature universe; neurons, nerves, organs… a magnificent, ultimate nature’s creation-gift and home to our souls. My body (including the brain and genes) and it’s abilities determine who I am, and I’m not a piece of meat… For me yoga is a practice that brings balance into my life either to calm me down or to energize, thought contemplation I understand what I really need at a specific moment and without my body I can do nothing above…

  3. I believe we are each a relationship between divine and human, neither more important than the other. It is the paradox of being both unlimited and delightful limit-exploring creatures. We may have out-of-body experiences, but it is no more than how each participant in a relationship needs to have exploits and self-development outside of the relationship to bring newness back into it. Those who hold they ‘are’ only their soul will never be truly grounded, while those who never embrace their spirit will find it difficult to find meaning in their life.

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