Principle 8: The Mind and the Body are One (The Embodiment Principle)
My undergraduate major was in Cognitive Science, the interdisciplinary study of the mind. We had a student led discussion group one semester, and one of the major themes from the group was that you couldn’t study the mind without studying the body.
I felt this to be especially true because of my experiences with cancer. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer the summer after I graduated from high school. Since then (and perhaps before then), I have not been able to produce my own testosterone. Back in college I had to have it injected every three weeks. The thing is, a normal guy produces testosterone on a daily cycle that peaks in the morning. I had a huge peak every three weeks that tapered off to a low right before the next shot. My whole perspective changed when I got that shot. It totally changed how I responded to things.
You don’t need to have hormone problems to see this. Just compare how you think after a hard days work, a quick physical exertion, a huge meal, or a lazy afternoon. Changes to your body change how you think.
Derivative 13: A Healthy Mind Needs a Healthy Body (The Health Derivative)
Being here and now helps us relieve suffering (D12, The Now Derivative). As we discussed in the last post, this is a mental effort. According to the Embodiment Principle (P10) if our mind isn’t working well, our body won’t be working well, and it will be harder for us to make the mental effort necessary to be here and now.
To this end we should eat reasonably well and exercise. I’m not suggesting that we all become organic vegans and run marathons every weekend. I’m saying that not doing these things makes it harder for us to deal with the suffering in our lives. Certainly there are many things in our lives that make it harder to be here and now, but I think the physical aspect is often overlooked. If you are really out of shape, you need to seriously consider getting in shape. It may not be just a cause of suffering, but an impediment to relieving suffering.
The Buddha grew up a prince, with every possible pleasure immediately gratified. One day he snuck out of the palace and was confronted with the realities of life, and he chose to become an ascetic priest. He denied himself everything, starving himself and meditating all day long. But neither his revelry nor his asceticism brought him relief from suffering. He instead chose the middle way between extremes. So it is with exercise and nutrition. Don’t be a slug who just sits around all day, but neither be a maniac who runs themselves ragged.
I’m not the best example of this. I just sit around all day working on my computer, blogging, programming, and playing chess. But I try to exercise, and I am making an effort as part of my habit formation to bring more exercise into my life.