In every healthy baby we see the potential renewal of the essential. There is an essential body. Yoga is the age-old Asian discipline in which the body is regarded as the incarnation and primordial temple of gnosis and is cultivated through care and practice as the vehicle for its realization.
Our bodily manifestation is an essential whole with its own integrity, which we sometimes describe as “psychosomatic” and also “spiritual”. These words, however, come from our fragmented view of essential truth. The integral nature of this bodily whole is prior to any division. This essential integrity has to be understood before there can be any divisions.
Body, emotions, mind and spirit — all of these together constitute the whole, which is yet more than these four. Health is the essential state of this integrated whole. Probably without exception, every indigenous culture has an understanding of essential health as wholeness.
This psychophysical essence is the functioning whole that we intuitively understand as health. The healing arts of indigenous cultures are fundamentally about maintaining or returning this whole to its essential integrity. The healing works through the integrity. Its methods strengthen the integrity of the whole, which restores parts into their essential harmony.
I sometimes think of this on the analogy of a computer. The essential program is stored in the computer. When the program is malfunctioning, I reboot the computer and the original programming is restored.
Gnosis is the primordial inspiration and original intuition of health.
The Subtle Body
To say that the body is the seat of consciousness is to say that gnosis can be apprehended through what we call “the connection to the body.” This connectedness, brought to its highest levels of awareness, becomes the primordial field for contemplation known as “the subtle body”. Yoga is the cultivation of the subtle body as the primary medium and ground of contemplation. This has been developed over millennia in the East, but can be alien to the West, which often derides it as “contemplating the navel”. This Western attitude results largely from the separation of spirit and matter in the Christian tradition, and the devaluation of the body as the locus and cause of sin.
Techniques of meditation in the subtle body may center on watching the experience of breath, often but not always in repose.
Other methods use visualization of primordial images projected into bodily awareness. Consider, for instance, the central image and locus of immortal consciousness in the subtle body. In the Indian tradition, this is the spinal column and the charkas, and, in the Tibetan tradition, it is the channel running up the center of the body and seminal points along it. In the Far East, tai chi and martial arts, which are moving forms of meditation, focus on deep kinesthesia, directly contemplating chi or life force animating the subtle body in motion.
Masters of the essential disciplines in the East do not age and die in the American way of gradually declining and succumbing to degenerative disease. They tend to retain their physical and mental faculties until they have some system failure and then die within a couple of weeks. This is dying of old age rather than of degenerative disease. This condition of age seldom exists in our culture, and, insofar as it does, it is seen as genetic luck rather than any kind of mastery of essential life skill.
Medical science is miraculous in its capacity for preserving physical function. However, it is a misguided miracle in that the tradition is myopically physical. It splits the body from the integrative whole and conceives of it on the model of a machine. It “fixes” malfunctions and tends symptoms without any real comprehension of the essential cause. The non-physical elements are discussed rarely and are often left to the untutored intuition of the physician.
Essential methods do not create side effects, other than those that the whole undergoes in the process of restoring its integrity — so called “healing crises”. By contrast, when medical technology is deployed, it often throws the body off its internal integrity. The medication “fixes” the physical symptom, but creates problems in its place. This process is compounded when more than one medication is employed. There can be side effects that conflict, creating new symptomology. Medication can constitute disease in its own right, in that it militates against the essential integrity of the body, thereby thwarting the fundamental self-healing principle within the essential whole. The deployment of medicine is economically driven. The more new medication fixits are created, the more profits increase. In this sense, medical science, fueled by the profit motive, is itself a pathology.
Like all foolishness based on the principle of More, the contradictions inherent in this system are bringing it to a crisis. We generate more and more hi-tech (read expensive) fixits, our medical personnel are in an increasing frenzy to master and sustain them, and the fixits are becoming so expensive that the system can no longer afford them.
Long ago, we lost sight of the essential integrity of the whole. In our materialist myopia, we look to the body for the cause of illness, whereas disease can have a root cause that is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. Medical science is most effective in cases where the root cause is actual physical damage or pathology. Indigenous cultures have methods that are often far superior for approaching other levels of causation.
Medical science is at pains to explain instances of faith healing as well as many methods employed by indigenous cultures, which are based on the cohering principle of essential integrity, which we call “spiritual”. However, in our materialistic context calling these methods “spiritual” relativizes and trivializes them. But, the integral nature of health is in fact foundational. While medical science works at the physical level and hopes for a percolation into emotional, mental, and spiritual levels, foundational healing works at the spiritual level, which flows down into the mental, the emotional, and, finally, the physical level. Fixing can happen, but no real healing occurs without a foundational realignment. That foundation is essential.
Many healers in the West have looked to more indigenous cultures to adopt essential healing practices, bringing to this project their own ingenuity to adapt them to effective deployment in the West. For a long time this was marginalized, with practitioners being considered flapdoodle imposters by “real” doctors. Because of the intrinsic contradictions within the medical paradigm, these essential methods have come slowly into fashion. First they became “alternative”, and now, as the economic weight generated by the medical industry is rendering the system untenable, the methods are becoming “complementary”, but the medical model still determines the course of the mainstream.
In our physical culture, we greatly depend upon employing force. That includes medicine, which does not function cooperatively with the essential whole; it uses force to alter aspects of it. Our beauty industry is based on hi tech and profit driven exercise machines and cosmetics. But none of this is essential; nor does it produce genuine well being.