What are we? Ah, there's an ageless question. Matter? Energy? Mind? Spirit? Soul? A combination?
As noted in a post from a few years back, "Feeling the spirit... via body or soul?," I used to believe that our true nature was non-material soul-consciousness. After I died, or maybe before if my meditation bore fruit, I'd soar into a spiritual realm of existence and enjoy a soulful (literally) existence.
Yet where is the evidence for this? Nowhere. Except in the minds of people who believe this sort of stuff -- which seemingly includes the majority of the world's population, given how popular supernatural religiosity is.
(Though traditional Christianity taught that resurrection of the faithful was a bodily affair, I've seen surveys that indicate most Christians today think their soul will go to heaven after death and spend quality time with God, Jesus, departed relatives, and other souls who won the Salvation Lottery.)
One reason I've switched to embracing my bodily nature a lot more enthusiastically than I did in my churched days is this:
For me, living in my head, surrounded by abstract conceptions, isn't anywhere near as satisfying as dwelling in the physical world -- immersed in real live sensations and perceptions. This was the theme of a recent post, "To be 'spiritual,' get physical."
In other words, all our notions about divinity, spirituality, the supernatural, soul, spirit, angels, and such derive from our experience as physical beings in a physical world.
If someone has a vision of God, that vision was processed through a physical brain and body. If someone writes a holy book, that writing was produced by a physical brain and body. If someone speaks about what lies beyond the material world, their speaking came from a physical brain and body.
Religious people are physical beings pretending to have a spiritual experience. Wisdom lies in seeing through this pretension. Genuine "spirituality" is achieved by being honestly physical.
Strangely, though, fairly often I'm accused by blog post commenters of being an intellectual who spends his days thinking about what life is all about instead of directly living it like god-seeking religious people supposedly do.
Actually, the neuroscientific truth is that anyone who says this has got the situation backwards.
Most of us have heard about the differences between the left and right portions of the human brain. Iain McGilchrist discusses this at length in his fascinating book, "The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World."
Here's some passages from a section called The Body that makes clear how left-brained a disdain for the body is. People who downplay the body are the ones living in a mental, logical, conceptual, abstracted world that's divorced from here-and-now reality.
The body has become a thing, a thing we possess, a mechanism, even if a mechanism for fun, a bit like a sports car with a smart sound system... The body has become an object in the world like objects, as Merleau-Ponty feared.
The left hemisphere's world is ultimately narcissistic, in the sense that it sees the world 'out there' as no more than a reflection of itself: the body becomes just the first thing we see out there, and we feel impelled to shape it to our sense of how it 'should' be.
...Everything about the body, which in neuropsychological terms is more closely related to and mediated by the right hemisphere than the left, makes it a natural enemy of the left hemisphere, the hemisphere of ideal re-presentation rather than embodied fact, of rationalism rather than intuition, of explicitness rather than the implicit, of what is static rather than what is moving, of what is fixed rather than what is changing.
The left hemisphere prefers what it has itself made, and the ultimate rebuff to that is the body. It is the ultimate demonstration of the recalcitrance of reality, of its not being subject to our control. The left hemisphere's optimism is at odds with recognising the inevitable transience of the body, and its message that we are mortal.
The body is messy, imprecise, limited -- an object of scorn, therefore, to the fastidiously abstracted left hemisphere, with its fantasies of human omnipotence.
Nicely said, Iain McGilchrist.
At my age, 64, or for that matter any age, we should be living our lives in as lively a manner as possible. Not abstracted from the world, which naturally includes human bodies. Fully engaged with the world.
We are the world. We are body. Some believe we also are more than that.
Fine, be body. And more, if such is possible. Don't shun what is indisputably real in a vain attempt to grasp a hypothesized abstract supernatural reality.