There has been a long, long battle of mind over matter and while there have been some startling victories, overall the war against matter is being lost and the sooner we surrender our minds, the better.
‘Mind over matter’ is a saying that carries a significant amount of stock in society. We are told by teachers, sporting coaches, motivational speakers and families that “if you can dream it, you can achieve it”, that “we can achieve anything we set our minds to”, or that if your body is sore, tired or screaming at you to stop the secret is to “become mentally tougher to just push through”.
Scientists and engineers like to play with physical elements and minerals, but when these same elements and minerals combine to form our bodies, our relationship to them needs to change. Flesh and bone are made of the same stuff as the rest of the earth but configured in a unique way that gives us not only functional movement, but sentient consciousness. We know when it’s hot or cold outside, but we are also capable of feeling when a friend is ‘out of sorts’, when a situation ‘feels’ unsafe or when there is a conflict between what we feel and what we want. We feel life more deeply than the rudimentary information our senses provide.
For example, feeling hurt by someone can be a good thing because it either tells you that certain behaviours are not supportive or loving or that you are holding onto an expectation of yourself or others. Either way, in that moment it confirms that deep down you know what is supportive and loving.
This feeling/awareness comes from the physicality of our matter and we then use the mind to interpret what is felt. This means that there is a wisdom that comes from the body.
When you consider it, our bodies are talking to us all of the time. What we don’t appreciate enough about this fact is that even if this communication is uncomfortable to feel, it is rare for our body to feed us information that is harmful, unless it has been pushed by the mind to do this.
Feeling hurt is not good or bad, it is an awareness that the mind makes a choice about how it will respond. Some withdraw, some cry, some go to rage, the permutations are endless. However, these permutations are emotional responses that come from a mental interpretation of what we are feeling, which is fed by any number of beliefs about ourselves, others and/or the world.
The information the body was sending i.e. the feeling (hurt in this example), was at best confirming that we know what is loving or supportive and what it not. At worst the information provided was neutral and was just relaying to you what was happening. The feeling doesn’t come laced with an implied meaning. It is the mind that turns the feeling into evidence that the other person is bad, mean, wrong etc.
It seems this continual communication from our body has a sole purpose, which is to help the being that inhabits it. This ‘matter’ called our body has no hidden agenda, no desire to manipulate. If listened to, it can guide us to feel with a deep level of accuracy what is happening in both our inner and outer world.
Yet for some reason we bring in the mind and all that golden insight gets twisted to fit a series of conditions or beliefs that we have about the world. In essence, we convert what we actually feel to what we THINK we should feel or need to feel.
For example, if you think being offended by other people’s actions is important, your response to their behaviour is different than if we think being curious about their choices is more useful. The base feeling does not change but what we THINK we feel will be very different. But our feelings tend to be converted to emotion when they have been run through the filters of the mind. The body, ever dutiful and without an agenda, follows this lead.
Sometimes our mental filters and chosen priorities are supportive (we stop stressful behaviours, communicate more openly, show care and respect) and sometimes they lead us over a cliff metaphorically and at times, literally. Our mental filters can incite emotional turmoil, addictive behaviour, abusive behaviour, manipulative behaviour etc. Our minds can push our bodies beyond what they are physically capable of.
We champion and applaud the person who has defeated their body and celebrate our ability to prevail over matter once again. But it makes little sense, when looked at from the body’s point of view.
Have you ever wondered why we call people who honour what they feel, weak and sensitive?
Have you ever wondered why we celebrate people who push their bodies to the point of harming them? E.g., one study showed that 82% of marathon runners showed acute kidney injury after a race.
With ‘mind over matter’ we feel powerful, we feel in control, we become the creators of our future and think that we are then inspiring others to realise their own dreams. This is an alluring offer, until we consider the vast wake of bodies that are left behind in pursuit of what our minds think is important.
The rates of lifestyle disease are going through the roof, driven by mental pictures of what a good life looks like. Examples are: sports people ending up with permanent brain damage through cumulative small scale concussions, or with arthritis and other joint problems in retirement through driving their bodies with ‘mental toughness’ and resolve. *We can end up setting societal norms that belittle, discriminate, marginalise or even murder certain sections of the community based on certain beliefs about who is superior to whom.
There is no doubt that our mind is a powerful tool, but at times it is not our best friend. One of the mind’s most insidious tricks is that it delivers what we have already chosen we THINK we need. It is a self-fulfilling loop that leads us to passionately defend our choices and our right to choose. At times this defence of what we THINK our lives should be becomes aggressive. In fact, at times delivering what we think we need is pursued with such cold calculation that the collateral damage appears to be irrelevant.
Then there is the body, consistently feeding us simple accurate information about our lives. We can be awake or asleep – it reminds us we are fragile, sensitive and that we cannot pour garbage into it and expect it to function well. Whether that garbage is food, stress, emotionality or over-exhaustion, our body shows us what it means to be caring, supportive and respectful, not just to others but to ourselves first.
Whether it be sleepless nights, headaches, stiff muscles, colds, or even variation in bowel function, the body shows us when the mind is driving the matter too hard. Yet the ‘mind over matter’ way of life treats these signals as an annoyance, even a sign of weakness. Our bodies are seen as a barrier to achieving what we want and our job is to force it to comply to our will.
Of course the body always wins; if needs be its message become so loud that we cannot but become more mentally humble. The workaholic reflects on how they have ignored their family, the retired sports person reflects on yet another surgery or medication for their arthritis. One option is to continue with the arrogance and say, “At least I have lived”. The other is rather than fight these signals, we might welcome the insights they offer and be guided by them… indeed we might be brave enough to allow our mind to follow our body’s lead. We could even learn to listen to the body’s whispers, rather than waiting for it to scream.
When we do this, we find another form of intelligence residing within. One might call it whole body intelligenceand it is there to support and evolve us in a way that can be at times surprising, but always loving.
Let’s face it – the battle of mind over matter has been lost by the mind. We cannot escape the reality that our body is matter and our body does matter. Our body is not an enemy to be defeated, it is a source of wisdom that is 100% on our side: we can drive it by ideals that keep us at war with other bodies, or we can listen to messages that remind us we are all the same.