Monthly Archives: October 2015

Mind-Body Metaphor

As a professional with specialization in mind-body integration, I’ve come to believe that even the phrase “mind-body” can be misleading and can reinforce a split between the content of the mind and the experience of the physical body. The late Candace Pert, a well-known contributor to the scientific foundation of mind-body medicine and the fields of psychoneuroimmunology/ psychoneuroendocrinology, was fond of saying “bodymind” as one word and teaching that emotional biology is running (shared) with every organ system and cellular process in the body. Candace went on to teach, “Your body is your subconscious mind”. This suggests that everything that we call “mind” is found equally in various manifestations of the body. This might be considered a two-way street but that also causes a division in our thinking. A barrier to fully understanding and realizing this in ourselves lies in the fact that a large portion of this “bodymind” process is below conscious awareness, what psychology has dubbed the unconscious, and what others such as Dr. John Upledger chose to call the “nonconscious”. Others in the field of psychophysiologic research might call this the “adaptive unconscious” which is often more acceptable for those with a distaste for all things “psychological” (and/or for those who lack an understanding of the science that supports that our psychology is biological and not different from the biology that informs medicine and disease). There is a complex, endless and inseparable dynamic occurring here. In a simple understanding, when emotional energy, mental tension or situations beyond our control are experienced, the subconscious (the body) will express it for us, and there is a biological/physiological basis to this.  One might then say that the emotional energy or content may be happening outside awareness of the conscious mind but is still present and happening in the body’s physiology. If this is hard to follow, there is another way of looking at it. When one considers the word “feeling” we see that it is equally used for physical sensation as it is for emotion, for good reason… these two things are inseparably connected. Body awareness is inseparable from emotional awareness. Sensations alert us to the presence of emotions – what we are feeling. One can debate the chicken-egg theory with this, and historical figures such as Charles Darwin and William James had early opinions on the topic. Contemporary psychologists and mind-body specialists continue the debate. For myself, this also can easily get into debates on the definition of mind as well as debates in neuro-philosophy, particularly theories and beliefs on the origins of consciousness and the stark contrast that exists between pure materialists and pure dualists. I know of some very respectful and intelligent clinicians who scream bloody murder any time the mind is implicated in health and disease, and whom I’ve come to call the “dualist police”, and I can understand why (see the next paragraph). Having said that, and with respect for their valid concerns, I feel that approach is not accurate to the reality of human experience and the content of both the conscious and unconscious “mind” is physiologically and inextricably linked into all bodily processes and functions. For all things mind, regardless of its linear or non-linear origin, there is (or will be found) a neurophysiological correlate. Stress physiology is implicated in nearly all illness in one way or another. Stress is neither a weakness nor a flaw. It is normal. Normalizing the mind and our psychology is paramount in bridging this gap. Having compassion is critical. It is also important to remember that this is not the only factor… we must look at interactions – environmental, social, physical, chemical, nutritional, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc. Illness cannot be pinned on just one factor and it is generally not helpful to pin it just onto the label of “mind” or onto any other one causal factor. Exploring the mind is not an either/or question. It is both/and, alongside other factors that must be addressed such as Food as Medicine ( see www.cmbm.org ), epigenetics (environment) and so on. As for the neurophilosophical debate on the origins of consciousness, perhaps I will save that for another discussion!

So, to the point of this post: It has struck me from very early on in my career how often phrases are heard that point directly to the inseparability of mind from body, yet how little conscious attention is given to this. It might even be considered an elephant in the room much like the phrase, “Oh, it’s probably just placebo” (I’ll save that one for another post too!) It can actually be quite insightful to explore our bodily issues and symptoms from this perspective, but with one word of caution – to be careful of what I’ve come to call mind-body fundamentalism – which can bring a black/white approach as just mentioned (the antithesis of living systems theory, something I feel is critical in exploring the human experience of health and disease) as well as can destructively move into a blame/shame dynamic. I have seen time and time again individuals gain deep insight (that changes physiological processes and contributes to healing) in using this approach. With that said, here is a working list of phrases I have encountered in my work, and I invite you to add your own to the list:

What is so hard to swallow?

What or who is getting under your skin?

Can’t you stand on your own two feet?

I’m not sure where I stand (on this issue/situation).

I’m standing on uneven ground.

Can’t you stand up for yourself?

Get that monkey off your back…

Who or what is rubbing you the wrong way?

He/she is hot-headed…

Has the cat got your tongue?

What are you itching to say or do?

I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders…

Chew on that for a while…

It’s breaking my heart.

What is erupting to the surface that you cannot speak of?

My heart is aching.

I’m not digesting this situation very well.

Shake it off…

That warms my heart.

Jump with joy.

This is a pain in the ass.

He’s a tight ass.

You are a pain in the neck.

What do you need to get off your chest?

Break a leg…

What are you not stomaching?

I can’t stomach this…

I’ve got a gut feeling about this…

Let’s sniff it out…

I smell trouble.

Vote with your feet.

It feels like pulling teeth.

I’m going to pull my hair out.

What are you not hearing?

I was blindsided by it…

What can’t you see?

I’m a step behind you…

Jumping in with both feet…

What are your eyes itching to see?

He lost face…

White-knuckling it…

I am not holding my breath on this situation…

The news knocked the wind right out of me…

You make me sick…

It made my skin crawl…

I was all choked up…

My heart sank at the news…

She makes me bristle…

He lost his shit…

She regained her balance…

I had to bite my tongue…

She jumped in with both feet…

He was hot under the collar…

He’s throwing his weight around…