This is a reflection piece not meant to represent the view of any individual or organisation. We have many distractions in our lives from climbing the corporate ladder, finding time for our hobbies, meeting friends to spending time with family. Through this flurry of activities, we pay attention to the body by cleaning it, putting on makeup and/or nice clothes. Other than that, we do not pay much attention to the body – unless it helps prolong our life or to shape it in a way that pleases us. There was also an article on BBC reporting that if we could find out why some of our organs age slower than our biological age, it could give us an insight to prolonging our lives. In contrast, little time is spent on questioning the thoughts that run in our minds. Should we pay attention to the body or the mind?
Attention on the Body
We pay attention on our body in various ways. Such as our focus on the wrinkles on our faces, our hair style or hair loss to the smell that emits from our body. We care a lot about keeping fit (for some of us) and eating right. All of these are aimed at feeling good, such as releasing endorphins and dopamine through exercise and to appear attractive to others with a washboard well-groomed body. I do these activities myself – such as going for a good stretch or to swim in order to release the tension in my shoulders and back. I am concerned too if someone were to tell me I have body odour.
However, whenever I start paying attention to my looks or figure, I start becoming concerned. Concerned because I am already middle-aged, and I am well-aware this body is having more aches and pains than before, yet my mind is absorbed by the vanity of how this body appears to myself and to others. When I start feeling more discomfort and worry about how long this body might last, I begin to wonder if I am wasting too much time on my physique and shape and not enough on examining the mind.
Attention on the Mind
We generally accept all kinds of thoughts that run through our brain without questioning it. It may sound strange to question our thoughts, but we do sometimes, especially during reflections. If you manage to quiet your mind, and just watch the content of your thoughts, you might be in for a surprise. To some of us who think that we are rational thinkers, we aren’t at all. The brain conjures up so much chitchat that have nothing to do with the present moment. In fact, all the thoughts are about things that have already happened, or not yet happened and we live in them.
Why do I say we live in our thoughts? Just sit at a café and watch people pass by. How many of them are not actually absorbed in some kind of thought? We are always thinking about arriving somewhere and getting something done. No one is truly present in their walking. In fact, the brain is also capable of coming up with really mean thoughts, which either bypass our attention or we end up believing in them.
The Important Question
We mostly accept what is taught and shared with us by our parents and those around us. However, we seldom ask one important question which is, “Who Am I?” I do not mean our given identity by the country we are born and the name given by our parents. I also do not mean the colour of the skin as we already know skin pigmentation and colour evolved in accordance with the sunlight we receive dependent on location. It still befuddles me our childish behaviour on race.
But really, “Who Am I?” Am I my thoughts? Am I my body or my feelings? None of these lasts. Thoughts, body and feelings are all fleeting, they do not leave us with any sense of security. Some would say we are the creation the God. It is not a wrong answer but not entirely true as well. As we examine our thoughts, it should not escape us if God is an idea conveniently created by the brain to solve problems we have no answers for and to give the mind itself a sense of security.
Paying Attention on the Body and Mind
Is the body separated from the mind? How can the mind be separated from the body since it depends on the breath in the body for tactile experiences? We can also see how stressful thoughts, accepted by the mind increases the heart rate and breath in the body. If you can look even more closely when your eyes are closed, how do you experience your body? You may find that the body is experienced through sensations made by the breath. Even with your eyes are opened, if you are not distracted by other things, you may realise that you are still experiencing your body via sensations. Sensations such as the touch of your feet with the ground, wind touching your skin to sound vibrations.
Body and Mind Are Not Separated
The body and mind are not separated. Indeed, we experience sensations in our body which reach our brain. The brain then interprets these sensations by dividing and separating into likes, neutral, or dislikes. It may explain the divisive issues in our society due to the tendencies by our brain to separate things into good and bad, white or black.
We cannot hold onto fleeting thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that come and go rapidly. However, there is something that does not come and go with these things. The uninvolved awareness to these fleeting phenomena never changes, unless our mindfulness slips and attention is absorbed by the tumultuous sea of impermanence in our thoughts, body sensations, and feelings. Only by paying attention to the body and the mind with mindfulness can we discover the hidden gem of security within.