A fragmented view of the world, and implicitly of the human being, regards intelligence, reason, wisdom, the mind and the body as different and separate compartments of existence. In fact, medical science looks at the body as an ‘it’, an object to measure, dissect and quantify, while the mind is addressed as something floating in space from the neck up. Psychotherapists traditionally are allowed to talk but not touch, whereas physiotherapists and massage therapists are allowed to talk but not touch.
An integral view of the world, and of the human being, looks at the body as a manifestation of thoughts, and thought as an emanation of spirit, or the void, ground of being, or realms of all possibilities. The human is body, mind and spirit - three different words to describe aspects of the same self. A reductionist view explains all of the human experienced as being located in the brain - “it’s all in your head” - but which brain? Both the heart and the gut are brimming with neurons, and in fact, the nervous system, which is how information circulates, reaches all the parts of the body, from the central location to periphery. Information goes back and forth between thought, wherever thought is generated, and the body. Try this: lift your right arm to your side, palm facing down. Did your arm move? Why? What made the arm move? It started with a thought, right? So thought can move the body. What about the other way round, does the body influence our thinking? Let’s see. Try this exercise:
Leading with your head, curl your body forward and raise your shoulders to bury your head between them. Lower your head, looking down, bring your eyebrows together in a frown, and press your tongue against the palate. Now say out loud: “I am peaceful and cheerful”. Do you believe the statement?
I did’t think so. It feels like a blatant lie, doesn’t it. Now shake your hands a bit, as if you’re shaking that state of being off, and try something else:
Sit straight in your chair, and reach out with the top of your head high up towards the ceiling. Soften your tongue, and iron out the space between your eyebrows. Let your shoulders be heavy and drop down away from your ears and behind your back. Soften your gaze, expand your peripheral view, let your eyes go out of focus (after you read these instructions). Lift the corners of your mouth upward and take an audible sigh, saying the sound “aah” out loud, on the exhale. Now say out loud: “I am peaceful and cheerful”. Is it any easier to believe the statement than in the previous body state?
What have you learned from these exercises?
Did you just shift the state of your body, or the state of your mind? Is there even a difference between the two? Or is there a state of being, which is a body-mind state?
How does the information travel from thought to body and from body to thought? What if there only is one intelligence, one wisdom, with different channels and expressions? I would like to propose that the human being processes information in one integrated way, with different levels of sophistication and specialization.
Sensations are the basic signals in the body which inform us which input in our environment is life affirming and which is harmful. This is our basic instinct, the “gut feeling” which we share with all animals. Sweet, fragrant food spells “safe to eat and nourishing”, such as ripe fruit; bitter or foul smell or taste spells: “poison, harmful”. Dry mouth spells dehydration, and is the sensation feeling which inform us that we are overdue for a drink of water. Heavy eyelids spell fatigue and prompts us to take a nap (not to drink another cup of coffee). Our basic embodied instincts have programmed us to navigate a complex environment brimming with both threats and treats long before we could read food labels. When learning to listen to our gut feeling, we can spare ourselves of a lot of danger, and follow our nose so to speak to a more vibrant health.
Emotions are “energy in motion”, information that is more complex than sensations, which is geared towards both safety and satisfaction. Emotions are for sensations what molecules are for atoms. Just like sensations, emotions are also felt through the body - and contrary to what much of the talk psychotherapy is making us think, they happen also below our neck, not “all in our head”.
Emotions are specialized pieces of information which point towards aspects of life worth noticing and acting upon. In their primal, raw form (to distinguish from a habitual pattern of an emotional state one may be stuck in for a length of time sometime as long as years of life) emotions prompt us to take action. Emotional intelligence is the cultivated ability to differentiate and distinguish among a spectrum of emotions, identify them in oneself and - with the help of empathy, another useful trait, in others. Here are a few examples of the role of emotions:
Fear - Fear points towards something that threatens our biology. To keep our body intact, fear places us in a fight, flight, freeze or collapse state. We run away from the threat, wrestle with it and hope to win, play dead, or keep a low profile.
Anger - This is the emotion arising when there is a threat to our sense of self and personal boundaries. Our biology is not threatened, but perhaps our reputation, or our property is. If someone insults you, judges something that you are passionate about, or steals your favourite toy, you will feel angry, and fuelled by anger you will have the stamina to go do yourself some justice.
Sadness - This is the finger pointing towards dysfunction. Whether your electronic device doesn’t work, or your marriage, you will feel sad. Sadness prompts towards the need to repair or replace something that’s out of order.
Grief - Grief arises with loss. It can be loss of a loved one, loss of opportunity, loss of property, loss of a dream, a plan, a hope, or a relationship.
There are, of course, the so-called positive emotions, which point towards that which is nourishing, such as the delight that you feel when listening to a piece of exquisitely beautiful music; peacefulness, which emerges when you act in accordance with your own values; joy, which points towards the expression of one’s essence and deep fulfillment; and love, which indicates connection and more.
Sensation tells you that a berry you found in a bush is poisonous. Fear arises when a mean person urges you to eat that berry. Language is how your best friend warns you to not eat that berry, and how your self-defence teacher instructs you to defend yourself against the bully. Language is for emotions what cells are for molecules - yet a more complex way to process information, specialized to an even greater complexity of human needs and purposes.
Language is how you inform yourself about the greater areas of your interests, including how to bake a fail-proof soufflé, market your business effectively, communicate with clarity your ideas, and make sense of life’s curbs and turns.
Intelligence is the quality needed to acquire and process increasingly complex information. Wisdom is the quality needed to make the most of the acquired information, and act timely, harmoniously in life affirming, self affirming ways which are good for your long term benefit and for everyone in your circle of care. Intelligence tells you that something is there - how interesting! Wisdom has both a utilitary component - how is this useful? - and a compassion component - how is this kind?, and it relies on the harmonious integration of sensation feelings, emotional feelings, and intellect - both verbal language and mental images.
Why this mapping?
When you understand how you process information from basics to complexity, it is easier for you to use the right channels of inquiry for the right purposes. For example: you can effectively check with your body’s sensations the safety or lack hereof food, drink or medicine. But sensations alone may not be enough to decide whom to marry or which meditation retreat to go to, and for how long. Intellect and language will do a research to find the right teacher for your personality, values, personal and cultural preferences and budget of money and time, and when you come across someone reputable and you’ve looked them up on Google and YouTube, both your emotions and your gut feelings will tell you “yay” or “nay”. Complex choices must be run by complex information processing. Body sensations can help, and sometimes they can hinder. Here’s why.
There’s a lot of you in there
Have you ever been scared of something? Yes, me too. Have you ever acted courageously? Same here. So who are you, a scared, or a courageous person? Do you remember Meredith Brooks’ song:
“I'm a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell, I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way”
You may think of yourself as being one personality, with clearly defined traits, but inside your psyche there are many voices, also referred to as sub-personalities, each with their own agenda, sometimes in agreement with each other, and sometimes in tension or even conflict with each other. If you have ever had a dilemma, you know what I am talking about. The practice of Voice Dialogue, founded by two psychotherapists, Hal and Sidra Stone, aims at contacting each of these voices, interviewing them, learning their purpose and naming them. We all have an Inner Critic, a Controller, a Protector, a Victim, a Hero and such other archetypal perspectives, alongside with a number of Inner Children, young voices in our psyche that haven’t caught up yet to the fact that we are now grown ups and can’t just play and eat ice-cream all day long.
If you use the wisdom of your body through muscle testing or direct observation of your body sensations or direction of body movement to ask questions pertaining to decision making, you must ask yourself who is showing up to give you an answer. “Shall I eat ice-cream at midnight?” This question will be answered with a wholehearted “yes” if a young part answers it, or a definite “no way” if the Controller replies. So you want to be clear of both the purpose of your choice - what are you seeking to accomplish (for example, soothing an intense present emotion, so eating sweet might be a good band-aid strategy, or long-term health building, so eating sweet may not be useful); and make sure to address the question to the right voice. I like to ask my Higher Self the questions - and what I mean by Higher Self is that part of me that is the kindest, wisest, most evolved and most developed. Other aspects to pay attention to is your own clarity, present state of body-mind (are you well-rested, centred, did you drink enough water?); and be aware of any interference from Shadow elements - those parts of your psyche that you have disconnected from, are unaware of, and therefore they act under the radar of your awareness and outside of your volition. That’s a lot to pay attention to, I know, and still, even with the questioning of the accuracy of your embodied wisdom, it is still preferable to have access to it than to not use it. Intuition is the native and cultivated ability to access and use your embodied wisdom. This statement is so smart, I’ll say it again:
Intuition is the native and cultivated ability to access and use your embodied wisdom.
What’s God have to do with it?
That depends on what you mean by “God”. What I mean by “God” is the ultimate mystery, that which is unchangeable, infinite and eternal, and so great and awesome that anything you say about it or him or her or they is not it. I like the practice of calling “God” by evoking nicknames, such as “Always-Already”, “All-That-Is” and the “Unqualifiable”. Who are we, human beings, in relationship with God? Let’s explore. Go grab yourself a fresh cup of tea and read on.
Ken Wilber is my favourite map maker for the evolution of consciousness, founder of the Integral Model and author of more books than rabbits make babies, maps the evolution of consciousness in body-mind-spirit in self, culture and nature. And Shadow. So he covers all the bases of the manifest world, that which we can talk about. No map for God, for it is unqualifiable, but map for everything else. I found the Integral Model useful as a framework for my own life and work, and since it is informed by perennial wisdom, psychology, philosophy, and everything Ken Wilber read, it’s my one-stop shop for making sense of things, the world, myself, and my place in it. Here’s what I got:
You have three bodies, which represent three states of being: the gross body, also known as “the body”, which is the vehicle for the awake state of being. You know you have this body, you can feel it, you can feel the touch of your feet on the floor and your chest moving with your breath. The subtle body, which we refer to as “the mind” is the vehicle for the sleep state, and also the realm of our soul. The third is the causal body, what we call “spirit” or the “ground of being”, which is transpersonal and the realm of all possibility. Spiritual awakening occurs in state-stages (a state of being is temporary while a stage is a permanent trait), and unfolds from identification with the gross body - “I am the body”, to transcending and including the body to identify with the subtle realm “I am more than the body, I am the mind too, and all these subtle energies”. The soul is said to outlive the gross body after its death and as it goes in and out of the body at night during sleep, it leaves the body at its death and joins a new body in a different incarnation. Just as the gross body is a finite entity, separate from other gross bodies, so is the soul: the subtle realm still supports the identification with a separate self. My soul and your soul are two different things, as much as we love each other.
Further awakening occurs with the transcendence of the gross and subtle bodies into the ground of being, which comes with the relinquishing of identity into “no-self”. This is the realm where all suffering ceases, and all the world of finite form appears as an illusion, reality only being this formless void, of spirit.
The next step after relinquishing a separate identity is the return to the world while informed with this expansive sense of being at one with all beings, to regain identity with the finite self as a separate identity with the realization that form and formless are not two, in a non-dualistic paradoxical grasping that “I am both finite and infinite”, and the finite self is merely one perspective of the many that the infinite eternal being can assume.
The awakening to higher states occurs through insightful spiritual practice as illuminating “aha” realizations. Meditation and self inquiry can and will lead to spiritual awakening and the nature of God in a direct experience which cannot be communicated in words, but we do anyway because we must say something to share the love and good news.
What meditation and self inquiry does not lead to is a mapping of the manifest territory. You can’t meditate your way through medical school, driving lessons or the developmental stages of the human mind. For those ones you need to read books and attend classes, because these maps are drawn by people who’ve done years of research to draw those maps. The mapping of human development is high in complexity, and so it can only be accessed with the help of the highly complex cognitive function of the intellect. You can’t use instinct or intuition to access - it’s a scholastic endeavour.
All this is to say that:
- Accessing and processing information is a highly specialized activity
- Wisdom is embodied, and uses sensation, emotions and language to benefit you and your loved ones
- Intuition is the ability to access and utilize wisdom
- Instinct is our basic information processing which we need to survive, reproduce and be well
- Insight awakens us to the deep nature of our being
- Research helps us develop and read maps for navigating life’s complexities
To further your intellectual studies of the best mapping of human consciousness of our times, read Ken Wilber’s books, from Integral Vision and A Brief History of Everything to his more complex writings.
To awaken to the deeper nature of who you are, practice meditation with a reputable teacher / teachers that you like.
To learn how to cultivate body-centred awareness, contact Tana Saler on Facebook, Messenger or email at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange individual or group classes. Tana currently leads the Gut Va’Nefesh Body-Mind-Spirit Integration monthly classes through the Or Haneshamah Jewish community in Ottawa, Ontario, and virtual classes online.