FIELD NOTES blog » Does the body get in the way of mindfulness?

Does the body get in the way of mindfulness?

Back in 2009 when I was a phd student, and exploring the science of consciousness, I put myself forth as a guinea pig for several experiments conducted by other students at the Institution I attended.
Electrodes on the head while staring at computer screens, that kind of thing.

One particularly memorable experiment involved a study into mindfulness.

It all began on a dark night in fluorescent lit, windowless room deep in the bowels of the Psychology department.

We (me and a dozen others) hooked ourselves up to some computers. It struck me that there was nothing natural in this room except human flesh (by which I mean, nothing that is self-creating or self-regenerating – just steel and polymers and glass, a cacophony of cables, and melamine tables, plastic moulded chairs, etc).
And there I was squeezed in front of a computer screen, while the bulbous back of another old-fashioned behemoth beamed its photons into my spine.
Even the air was fake.

I was at that particularly sensitive stage we women enter, just prior to our metaphorical new moon, the onset of our menses. A stage that has, as we know, been much maligned and feared as a time of dark and threatening feminine irrationality! In truth it’s just a time of deepened sensitivity that, when not acknowledged, turns into monsters.

There, in a plastic land vitalised by a cacophony of EM fields, windowless, fresh-airless, I was already feeling pretty weird.

Add to that an hour of staring at the screen doing all kinds of boring tests measuring my attention and awareness, and I was properly screwy.

To complete the exercise, the coordinator took me into another room, sat me in front of a video camera and asked me to unscramble a bunch of letters to make words. While being recorded for observational purposes.

I looked at the gibberish of letters and burst into tears. Flustered, she informed me, that the camera was just pretending. And the words were too – they didn’t spell anything! Basically it was to measure my calmness under pressure. (Giant Fail!)
She didn’t know what else to do with me. Essentially I had wasted her time.

I was the glitch in the stats. Later when I spoke to a psychology professor about it he explained that aberrations like myself are averaged out by the sheer volume of people included in the study. That’s how the making of stats works.

This is what happens when an idea (or experience) must become a theory to be proved through factual ‘observations’. In order to be accepted as medically viable.

An averaging out. A negation of the influence of hormones, and plastic, and EM fields, on the mind.

In this way mindfulness can be quantified, when it is in fact a quality.

Is mindfulness the ignoring of external stimuli, or internal stimuli complaining quite clearly that something is bad for us?
Seemed to me this giant experiment, in it’s search for proof, had missed the point.

I was left with the feeling that all of these studies on mindfulness were fundamentally flawed. They pretended the body had nothing to do with it. Its role in the story could be ‘averaged out’.

Does anyone else smell a decoy here?

This is the problem of the ‘universal body’ we find in medicine. This is the challenge of every family doctor who must balance their collated medical facts with the panopoly of life that comes through their doors.

Perhaps I felt slighted because ultimately my contribution to the study of mindfulness (which I was all in favour of, from the outset) was reduced to naught.

And, being in the control group, I didn’t even get to experience its benefits.

Although, something did come through to me very clearly.
In the measure of mindfulness, my body was an interference.

But does my body get in the way of mindfulness? I wondered.

And I felt resistance. I didn’t believe it.
You know that expression ‘ever fibre of my being screamed “no”’?
Well that’s how I felt.
My fibrous, material, body-self refused to accept that picture of the world.
That tired old paradigm where our body is an impediment to mind, to wisdom, and to spirit.

Ever since then I’ve been on a mission to champion bodyfulness.
And to expose mindfulness as simply a rather misguided remnant of a frayed and decaying worldview that has reached its use-by-date.

Curious? Consider that them thar’s fightin’ words?
Stick around I’ll tell you more about what I’ve uncovered…

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