35. The Self as One

Good morning and welcome to your thirty-fifth meditation. We often hear that we are comprised of three distinct elements: mind, body, and soul. The mind does the reasoning, the body is our physical incarnation, and the soul is our essence and what connects us to that which is beyond ourselves. And that all makes good sense, right? These are the respective functions of the self, so it would seem natural enough to have a name for each one. But let’s consider for a moment the possibility that we only view these parts of the self separately because we call them by different names and ascribe different roles to each part. No doubt, French rationalist thinker Rene Descartes had a lot to do with this. Descartes revolutionized the way we view the self back in the 17th century with his famous dictum “I think therefore I am”. By doubting the existence of everything, Descartes arrived at the conclusion that the only thing he could be sure of was the fact that he doubted. The theory goes that in order to doubt, one must have thought. And in order to think there must be a subject doing the thinking. The mind was thus separated out from the body and the soul, of whose reality Descartes could not be certain. Implicit in this separating out of the mind was a hierarchy of the self with mind at the top. But just think, isn’t it a little arbitrary that, for Descartes, rational doubt was somehow more real than, say, touch? And isn’t it a little artificial to imagine a doubting mind that isn’t connected to a living, breathing body? And yet, this Cartesian view of the self, with its authoritative, parceled out mind, persists in our thinking about the self today. 

But why do we insist on separating ourselves? Why are we so obsessed with categorization? We draw a line between ourselves and others, between ourselves and the world around us, and we even divide ourselves up into parts. And to what end? Does it get us any closer to “reality”? Could it be possible that in fact the mind is indistinguishable from the body? If our bodies lack food or sleep our minds’ functioning will be hindered. On the flip side, if we obsess about pain or sickness our bodies tend to manifest those symptoms. Indeed, these two supposedly distinct elements of the self are so connected, that it can be difficult or even impossible to discern which one initiates a given process.

So what are the implications of this idea that mind and body are one? It means if we want either part to be healthy we have to take care of both. In order to stave off so-called mental afflictions like depression and anxiety we need to eat well, exercise, and respect our five senses. Likewise, in order to avoid ostensibly physical ailments like high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease we need to reduce our levels of stress and anxiety. And the way both mind and body interact with our environment is integral to the health of all three. So next time you are considering how to lead a healthier life, try taking a more comprehensive approach; one that acknowledges the interconnectedness and inseparability of all the elements that make up who you are. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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