There Is No Mind-Body Connection. We Are Mind-Body Organisms.
The artificial separation of mind and body often does more harm than good.
I’ve written a lot about the mind-body connection. So it may be a bit surprising to hear that I no longer think such a connection exists.
Connection implies two separate entities: A mind, which most people think inhabits the head, or even more specifically, the brain. And a body; or everything else that “you” consider yourself to be.
But there is no “connection” between the mind and the body. They are one and the same. Everything that affects the mind also affects the body and everything that affects the body also affects the mind. Because the body lives in the mind and the mind lives in the body. Better than thinking in terms of a mind-body connection is to think in terms of an integrated mind-body organism.
Sure, this may sound esoteric, the stuff of philosophy and consciousness research, but I’d argue it’s actually a practical, advantageous, and truer way to think about, well, everything.
A few examples:
Education: Imagine if the system wasn’t so focused on the illusion of a separate mind, but instead on a mind-body. Students would probably exercise and sleep more, and also eat more healthfully. This, of course, would lead to a better functioning body. But it’d also lead to a better functioning mind. Because a better functioning body is a better functioning mind, at least according to loads of research. It is a better functioning mind-body.
But there is no “connection” between the mind and the body. They are one and the same. Everything that affects the mind also affects the body and everything that affects the body also affects the mind.
Health care: So many of what we consider “bodily” ailments have roots in the mind. So many of what we consider “mental health” conditions can be caused and remedied by changes in the body. And, even the ailments that we consider to be purely “bodily,” like cancer, certainly affect the mind too. Same goes in the opposite direction: diseases that are considered solely the domain of the mind, like schizophrenia, always affect the body as well. It’s a false dichotomy. A change in the body is a change in the mind and a change in the mind is a change in the body. It’s a change in the mind-body.
Workplace: Pain, fatigue, restlessness — pretty much anything in the “body” that enters one’s field of awareness — impacts what many falsely think of as “mind” or “cerebral” work. Fix someone’s back pain and their problem-solving improves. Make someone more mobile and their creativity sky-rockets. Everything, even writing this very newsletter, is mind-body work!
Athletics: There is no training the mind as if it is this thing that is separate from the body. How you train the body 100 percent impacts what happens in the mind. And how you train the mind 100 percent impacts what happens in the body. Is a distracted athlete going to optimally learn a new skill, or exert an appropriate effort? No. Is an overtrained athlete going to think straight or thrive under pressure? Of course not. The entire mind-body has to be accounted for.
It occured to me on a hike that I could go on with these examples forever. Because there isn’t anything in the human experience that isn’t mind-body. Perhaps the most basic definition of the human experience is the mind-body experience. We are the mind-body experience.
Now don’t get me wrong: it can be helpful to separate the mind and body in certain circumstances. The type of physician who treats a broken arm needs a different skill-set than the one who treats bipolar disorder. But we should realize that the separation is an artificial one. It’s a heuristic to help us navigate the world. The deeper, more fundamental truth is that it’s all one. Not mind and body. Not mind or body. But mind-body.
Perhaps the most basic definition of the human experience is the mind-body experience. We are the mind-body experience.
The implication is that the physician who treats the broken arm should at least consider the patient’s mind and the physician who treats the bipolar disorder should at least consider the patient’s body. Because, in reality, any time they treat a human being they are treating an entire mind-body system.
The gym teacher should understand how her class will impact a student’s math and the math teacher ought to understand how the homework he assigns will impact a student’s sleep. And the superintendent who sets the curriculum ought to understand both. Not because the mind and body are separate resulting in the need for prioritization and tradeoffs. But because they are so intimately tied together.
The corporate executive should realize that those who are physically well produce better work. And, equally important, that those whose work is tiresome and dull tend to become physically unwell.
Coaches should coach the whole athlete. Pre-race nerves and muscular preparedness aren’t just connected. They are entirely interwoven.
If we considered ourselves as integrated mind-bodies we’d be better off.
Again, it’s worth reiterating that an artificial separation of the mind and body can be useful. But it can also be dangerous, especially if we don’t remember that everything ladders up to an integrated mind-body. And I worry that we’ve spent so much time thinking so hard about how to artificially separate the mind and body that we are forgetting that, in reality, they are one in the same.
It is my hunch that if we considered ourselves as integrated mind-bodies we’d be better off. Better off in how we think about and care for ourselves. And better off in how we think about and care for others.