Mind over matter
By Sharmista Sen Gupta
Since childhood, we are taught the functioning of the human body in biology. While the discipline concerns itself with basic concepts at the outset of our education such as the number of bones in our bodies, it moves on to the operation of hormones, the respiratory system, how the heart pumps blood, etc. with the help of dexterous diagrams, of course. In a nutshell, we deduce that the human body is a system which is governed by the entanglement of nerves emanating from the spinal cord and the brain, constituting the nervous system. The idea that the brain is an organ which is integral to the state of being human, the ‘axis mundi’ of our body, is not unique to biology. The social sciences too pedestalize the paramountcy of the brain, albeit delving into the concepts of the ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness.’
There is a fundamental difference between the brain and the mind: while the former is concerned with physical aspects of our body, such as its control of motor abilities, the mind is associated with esoteric aspects and the primary ‘thinking’ capabilities of human beings. Another major difference cited by many is the tangibility of the brain versus the incorporeal nature of the mind. But we need to consider that while the mind is not a physical entity, it most certainly possesses the means to regulate the way in which the body is viewed – be it our own or that of others. The mind enables us to perceive and feel. Our perceptions are contoured by the socio-cultural environment we find ourselves in. The study of psychology gives great precedence the ‘nature and nurture’ aspect, that is, how our upbringing and our environment affect the way we think, feel, and perceive things. Each society has certain ‘archetypes’ which the Neo-Freudian scholar, Carl Jung, explained as “inborn” and unconscious models of people, their behaviours and actions. It is imminent that human society views a particular body as the ‘ideal’, and in the process, concretizing the conception of attractiveness within particular socio-cultural context.
Numerous terms such as ‘body type’ or ‘size’ have gained traction in today’s world. A slim body is considered desirable, as is evident from representation in the glamour industry. The body of a disabled person using a wheelchair would be either viewed with pity or seen as abominable. But where does the human mind set into this? To begin, we must pay heed to how we view our own body. Through societal archetypes and opinions and comments we hear from others, the mind crystallizes its own image of the body it calls its abode. Each one of us, influenced by pre-conceived notions, compares our body, and figure, to be specific, to these societal archetypes. The saddest part of this is that most people consider slimness or the ‘normal’ such as bipedal locomotion, as the important parameters for viewing oneself. Instead of injecting into our cognizance that we have healthy bodies, and the fact that the organs in our body are working perfectly fine, we tend to focus on superficial aspects such as being thin. Our minds tend to toy with our insecurities, and if they happen to align with societal expectations and conventions, they are reinforced or manifested in a negative manner.
In his essay, “Of a Monstrous Child”, the French philosopher Montaigne writes, “We call contrary to nature what happens contrary to custom; nothing is anything but according to nature, whatever it may be.” This basically implies that nature is what we try to make of it. In that case, a body labelled as ‘monstrous’ is as natural as the one perceived to be ‘perfect’. Oftentimes, we overlook the fact that as human beings, we too are a part of what we call ‘nature.’ The term does not merely imply the lush greenness of trees and plants or the sublime quality of seas and mountains. As living beings, we become one with nature which too comprises of living and breathing physical features on this planet. How is it that we learn to accept ourselves, and come to terms with our body?
This brings me to the very title of this article. The phrase ‘mind over matter’ denotes will power and the need to condition our minds. We need to encourage our minds to consider the ‘matter’, that is, our body as precious, as our very own sanctum sanctorum. Just as we harbour a sense of respect towards the outdoor, physical nature, it is necessary to embrace our very own ‘nature’ – our body and the principles we stand for. Once we learn to venerate our physical nature, could we learn to revere that of others.
Sharmista Sen Gupta is a student of English Literature at Kirori Mal College. University of Delhi. Her research papers and poetry have been published in Youth Ki Awaaz and Yugen Quest.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.