In a previous post, I wrote that medical science has made an unsubstantiated assumption about you and I. It assumes that the human being is primarily a physical structure.
In our professional capacities, most healthcare professionals do indeed refer to the physical aspects of the human being - our cells, tissues, organs, and the body as a whole. But what exactly do we mean when we say they are physical?
Physicality is first and foremost an experience. We experience something physical when our nervous system tells us that something “feels solid” and “looks solid.” Both are necessary. Imagine a parched desert traveler seeing an oasis just a few steps in front him. He lunges forward, imagining the cool drops of water that are soon to soothe his cracked lips. But when he arrives at the the oasis, he can’t touch it. It doesn’t “feel solid.” What was thought to be a real oasis reveals itself as a mirage.
In some cases, even experiences that feel and look solid can be thinner than air. The best example might be the dream you recently had. In that dream, the setting was perfectly solid. It looked solid. It felt solid… so solid that nobody would even question its reality and solidness while still within the dream. And yet that very real, “physical” experience was revealed to be nothing but the fancy of your mind when you woke up - thinner than air. The interpretation of a physical world in your dream was just that - an interpretation, not reality itself.
The same is happening in your experience in this very moment. What we call a physical body, physical organs, physical cells, and physical atoms, are in fact mental experiences. Take a moment to look around you now. Touch your arms, legs, and the screen in front of you. You are having the experience of physicality - an experience that is occurring in the mind.
We already know that there is a strong connection between the body and the mind. Now we must go further and clearly define that connection. What we call the physical body is a personal, local, physicalized interpretation of the mind. It's personal because we identify with it so closely. It's local because it often moves wherever our attention goes. For example, if my attention is on getting a workout in at the gym, my physical body tends to re-locate to that site of attention, often through a mode of transportation such as driving, biking, or walking. It's physicalized because it feels solid to the touch and I can see it. None of these descriptions imply that the physical body is fundamentally different from the mind. It is simply an aspect of the mind - a single aspect of you. If you haven't experienced the rest of you yet, know that it is patiently awaiting its rediscovery!
The surprising upshot? That patient you saw yesterday is not localized to the confines of her skin. The reflection you saw in the mirror this morning is not all of you, not even most of you. Accessing the rest of us, patients and practitioners alike, requires a new perspective - one that doesn't necessarily reject the old physicalist perspective, but rather couches it in the broader context of mental experience.
This broader context is the basis of a new model of human anatomy. The current physicalist model that I learned in medical school suggests that we are a morass of cells and atoms. Even the most meaningful experiences we have, such as love, joy, inspiration, and fulfillment, are explained away as tiny neurotransmitters floating around in the brain. We've derived such an incomplete and counter-intuitive model of human anatomy because we've been using blunt instruments to probe our depths. As fine as Henry Gray's scalpel may have been, it was too blunt to dissect mental experiences. Modern scalpels won't fare much better. They are not designed to dissect the inner experience of simply being. Being in love. Being joyous. Being inspired. Being fulfilled. These experiences are whispering to us. They are suggesting that we turn our approach to anatomy on its head - that we begin to model ourselves after what we know spontaneously and immediately: our own conscious experience.
We experience the physical - let this be called the physical body. We experience the mental - let this be called the mental body. And we experience energy, even if we may disagree on its definition or range - let this be called the energetic body. These three bodies - physical, mental, and energetic - from a new, comprehensive model of human anatomy. Most of what allopathic science understands will fit into the physical body and spill over into the mental body. Philosophy and many eastern traditions will fill in the mental and energetic bodies. These three bodies are yours to experience. They're as relevant in your moment-to-moment experience as they are in a medical student's textbook or in a patient's room. And they inconspicuously point to your essential nature as being itself - bodyless, yet expressing as three bodies.
The future of medical science and true health care is being built on a new foundation - a foundation that recognizes the full breadth of human experience must be fully accounted for, not just a narrow view of the human being as a physical structure. For too long, inquiring into the profound depths of the human being has been restricted to the domains of religion, philosophy, and spirituality. Why has science remained content to play at the edges of the sandbox? Indeed, shouldn’t diving into the depths of the human being be the ultimate quest of medical science, ensuring that prevention, healing, cure, and wellbeing become the hallmarks of healthcare? This is the practicality we must demand from healthcare, above all else.
Once we see that what we have been calling “physical” all along is nothing but a particular type of mental experience, we can scientifically pursue a more complete understanding of the human being - body, mind, energy, and all. We will understand the human being better. We will understand our relationship with the environment better. And along the way, we will earn the label of health care.
This is the future and it's at our doorstep. Are you ready?
Anoop Kumar is an emergency physician. He is the creator of How to experience your three bodies: a meditative journey to wellbeing and blogs at his self-titled site, Anoop Kumar, MD.