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The Body as a Language of Awareness


When we speak of someone ‘losing heart’, feeling ‘disheartened’ or ‘heart-broken’ we are not just using the language of a biological ‘organ’ – in this case the heart - as a metaphor for a psychological state of ‘dis-ease’. It is the other way round. Heart disease is itself a living biological metaphor of psychic states of dis-ease such as feeling ‘heart-broken’, ‘heartless’ or ‘cold-hearted’. Similarly, respiratory disorders such as asthma arise from feeling ‘stifled’ or ‘having no room to breathe’, and digestive disorders from aspects of our lives we do not feel able to ‘stomach’ or ‘digest’ in our awareness. The ‘body language’ used in phrases such as ‘hard to stomach’ in other words, are not ‘mere’ mental metaphors. Instead they point in a quite literal way to incapacities or states of dis-ease belonging to our subjectively felt body or psychical body – and how these in turn can find metaphorical expression in organic diseases and dysfunctions of our physical body.

The Medical Principle seeks ‘organic’ causes for illness in dysfunctions of our biological organs, and sees even psychical states and disorders as the result of such organic dysfunctions. As a result, medicine is blind to the deeper meaning and truth of the bodily ‘metaphors’ we use to describe psychical feelings and states – which are a way of recognising that the physical body and its biological organs are themselves a living metaphorical language of the soul or psyche – of awareness. In contrast to The Medical Principle, The Awareness Principle recognises all physical body organs and their functions as biological embodiments of our psychic body and psychical capacities. The human psychical body or ‘soul body’ is our awareness body - that body with which we breathe, stomach, digest, absorb and let circulate and give physical expression to our awareness of all we experience.

Biological organs such as lungs, stomach and heart and their corresponding physiological functions are localised biological expressions of these psychical capacities, which are essentially capacities of awareness. It is the absence or dysfunctioning of these capacities of awareness – for example our capacity to breathe, digest, metabolise, absorb, let circulate and give expression to awareness in muscular activity – that finds metaphorical expression in ‘organic’, biological dysfunctions, not the other way round. It is these psychic capacities of awareness that find living biological expression in our physical body organs and organic ‘functions’ such as respiration, digestion and circulation, just as it is psychic incapacities that find expression in organic, biological dysfunctions or disorders. In other words, it is not illness that incapacitates us. Instead it is failure to fully or properly exercise our psychical capacities – awareness - that results in incapacitating illness.

Our biology has its basis in our biography, and in that larger body of awareness that is our life world as a whole. For it is always within the specific contexts of our life world that we experience ‘dis-ease’, just as it is capacities of awareness that allow us to relate to and respond to our life world in a healthy way - with awareness.

Illness can and has been understood in many ways: in a purely objective and biomedical way, as a mechanical neuro-physiological ‘effect’ of psychical stress or trauma, as a relation to our life world and other people in it, as a form of silent bodily communication or even protest, as blocked action or communication, and/or as a metaphorical language through which we give silent bodily expression to any subjectively felt ‘dis-ease’. Understanding illness as a metaphorical language of awareness embraces all other understandings of it. More importantly it provides us with an understanding of illness that affirms its innate meaningfulness in the life of the individual – as an expression and embodiment of their lived experience of themselves and of their life world as a whole, as an expression and embodiment of the degree of awareness they bring to their experience, and as an expression and embodiment too, of the specific capacities or ‘organs’ of awareness that they do or do not exercise in relating and responding to their experienced self and world – for it is these specific capacities that offer new keys to diagnosing illness as a ‘language of awareness’.