As we more thoroughly understand the inseparability of mind-body we will cease to question “if” our thoughts and feelings affect our physical health. We will come to recognize our thoughts and feelings and physical sensations, movements and functions as different expressions of our whole self. Never is any action performed just by an isolated “body” or “mind.” Rather our whole self participates entirely in every action. Our physical body is shaped and controlled by our thoughts and feelings and vice versa. These different aspects of our self are factually inseparable. Only in our minds are we capable of imagining that body and mind are separate “things.”
Once we recognize that all aspects of our self participate seamlessly in every action we perform, we will find evidence of this wholeness everywhere. This is common sense that we rely on constantly, even though it is largely denied in our conventional fields of medicine and “science.” The following are some examples of how our psychology is expressed in and inseparable from our physiology.
· Watch a mime, an actor, or read the Sunday comics to see how naturally we rely on people’s faces, postures, gestures and tone to inform us of what they are thinking and feeling.
· Observe what happens when we eat sugar, coffee or alcohol. These physical substances all affect our moods and concentration to varying degrees.
· How unmistakable are the flushing, facial expression and postures of embarrassment?
· Observe the changes in our mental and emotional state before and after vigorous exercise; or after gently stretching our body and breathing fully and gently for five minutes; or after an unusually large and heavy meal.
· When we read a sad story, the words stimulate thoughts, which create feelings and facial expressions of sadness and sometimes the physical action of crying.
· When we read or think of something that arouses us sexually, tell me our body doesn’t change. Conversely the slightest erotic touch can set off inner thoughts and feelings of passion and lust that we all know and enjoy.
· When we are frightened or angry doesn’t our facial expression change? What about our posture, voice and gestures? Closer observation would reveal that our perspiration, dilation of our pupils, skin color, digestion, odor, in fact , every structure and function of our body responds as “angry” or “frightened.” The same is true of joy, envy, humor, anxiety, pride and love. The subtlest change in our mental state is mediated instantaneously throughout our entire body. This is common sense. We don’t need a scientist to tell us this.
Every action we perform is always an expression of our entire mind-body and never of only our “mind” or only our “body.” What goes on in our mind always goes on simultaneously in our body. There is a physical expression to every thought and a mental-emotional expression to every movement and sensation. Thoughts are things. Mental-emotional “dis-ease” creates physical “disease.”
Therefore if we are experiencing “physical problems,” doesn’t it make perfect sense to look at our mental-emotional experience for any contributing reasons? Conversely for “psychological problems” isn’t it is wise to evaluate our physical skills such as diet, exercise, breathing and relaxation? Further there is no such thing as an illness that is “just physical.” Conversely, there is no “mental illness,” be it depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s or ADHD, that takes place “only in our head.”
Chronic anxiety, depression or other mental-emotional misery is reflected in overly tense or relaxed physical postures, facial expressions and breathing patterns. It is beneficial to learn to balance these and to practice moving our body in ways completely different than we habitually move. If our physical immune (defense) system is failing, perhaps we could ask others if we seem to over-defend our own actions and beliefs or compulsively need to “be right.” Or perhaps our body-mind has grown weary of defending itself against our frequently rehearsing threatening mental scenarios such as sickness, failure, rejection, embarrassment or violence.
Every physical and mental action can be performed skillfully or unskillfully. In our culture we have received practically no training in the skillful use of our body-mind. Most of us are unable to even distinguish between skillful and non-skillful eating, exercise, breathing and posture. Likewise few have been trained in passionately desiring what is good for us and cultivating genuine fear of what is harmful. Few have learned to discriminate accurately between what is truly beneficial and what is merely short-term pleasure. Who mentored us in the use our reason, will, imagination, emotions and beliefs? Without these essential skills how can we possibly expect health and happiness? Where would it come from? Doctors? Medicines? Surgery? “Scientific advances”? We look outside ourselves for healing precisely to the degree we have not looked inside ourselves.
If we want health and happiness, we must perform both our mental and physical actions intelligently and caringly. Who else can eat or think for us? Each of us must carry out these actions ourselves. Neither our responsibility nor our rewards can be given to another. These unavoidable actions constitute our dharma, our sacred duty. They are also the most meaningful and rewarding of all life’s endeavors. How wise and kind is our creator to have made the most essential acts of life also the most fulfilling and joyous? Our physical and mental actions are living portals through which love and wisdom flow from us to us.