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Functional Perspectives

Body and Mind

Awareness and Energy

by John Lawson © 1987, 2010

    In the life of each individual, awareness is a fact which defies analysis.  It is possible to subdivide the physical world, to analyze matter under a microscope, and to subject living tissue to chemical reagents.  It is possible, similarly, to investigate mental processes and make inferences concerning the structure of the human psyche.  Awareness itself, however, like life and consciousness, is a mystery.  If, for a moment, we turn our attention to our subjective awareness, we immediately become conscious of processes and events within the field of our experience.  These processes and events involve sensation and feeling.  We know through our direct contact with ourselves that we are sensing, feeling creatures.  The feelings that make up who we are assert themselves as a tension, as a pressure toward movement.  If we express the particular feeling that we are experiencing, the tension will be discharged.  We know this to be true, because we are familiar with our own experience, with our feelings and our patterns of behavior.  All of us have feelings with which we are more or less in touch.  One of the challenges of personal growth is to bring an awareness of our experience into clearer focus.  In this regard, we must understand that growth of awareness on a personal level involves energetic processes within the body.

    It may be argued that important aspects of existence, such as thinking, are relatively independent of the physical realm and that the body is insufficient as a basis for getting to know one's own experience.  I believe that in some instances this criticism is due to a lack of awareness of the deep bodily processes that are at the root of our common condition as human beings.  The feelings of the heart, the rush of excitement in love, the contentedness that accompanies the successful conclusion of a hard day's meaningful work - all of these are sensations experienced at a bodily level.  If one enters deeply into one's bodily sensations, one finds that the body is alive with feeling.  Sexual urges emanate from the area of the diaphragm, the abdomen, and the genitals.  Thoughtfulness is associated with the brain, and one can literally feel one's skull as a "thinking cap" during intense deliberation.  When one feels one's feet on the ground, it is possible to feel the roots of one's security.  Feeling and sensation on a bodily level are a deep field of experience toward which one can focus one's attention.  Such bodily sensations are a part of one's awareness. 

    From the present vantage point, awareness, movement, and energy are interrelated.  We might say, following Reich, that awareness, movement, and energy are "functionally identical."  This means that there is a quantitative factor in experience.  One method, therefore, of promoting deeper individual awareness is to increase the energy level of the person.  With regard to character structure, this entails deepening and expanding the breathing process and reducing patterns of chronic muscular tension that act as a kind of straightjacket limiting the vitality of the person.  If such a process is to be effective, insight into the meaning of the patterns of restricted functioning must be gained.  A genuine process of learning, involving growth and change, requires that one gain awareness of one's basic manner of functioning so that one can attain a reasonable degree of choice regarding one's behavior.  Expanding and deepening the breathing process has the effect of raising the energy level of the person.  This rise in energy level creates a state of increased biological tension, which results from the pressure of increased vital energy pushing against established, limited patterns of experience and behavior.  Resolving such tension requires insight into the meaning of the pressure that is felt and includes clarifying and working through inner conflicts on an emotional level in order to mobilize the capacity for authentic self-expression.  On a practical level, it becomes necessary to organize one's life in a more meaningful way.  This involves creating conditions that will permit the establishment of a higher level of personal energy on a sustained basis.  Awareness is a key factor in this process, and each expansion in the level of energetic functioning opens the way for a broadening and deepening of awareness.  In this sense, the process of growth and change is dialectical.  The various aspects of growth and change form a basic unity.  The stuff and substance of this unity are identical with the energetic, pulsatory movement of life.

    At the root of human awareness is the phenomenon of sensation.  Erwin
Schrödinger has commented on the irreducible nature of sensual qualities.  "The world," he writes, "is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories.  It is convenient to regard it as existing objectively on its own.  But it certainly does not become manifest by its mere existence." [1]  Schrödinger considers the possibility that the world is manifested by the human brain, but then he remarks upon the seeming paradox that the human brain is part of the world which it manifests.  He then asks: "... what particular properties distinguish these brain processes and enable them to produce the manifestation?  Can we guess which material processes have the power, which not?  Or simpler: what kind of material is directly associated with consciousness?" [2]  The dilemma that results from trying to explain consciousness as a product of the brain, when the brain is known only through consciousness, is an aspect of what Schrödinger calls the "principle of objectification."  (We may add that it is an equally tortuous undertaking to attempt to explain the brain as a product of consciousness, since the brain is an objective material entity, while consciousness is subjective.)

    If we attempt to reduce mind to matter or matter to mind, we are truly faced with a dilemma.  Clearly, human beings can be described in terms of mind and matter, and both mind and matter are part of being human.  The philosophical antagonism between materialism and idealism is, to a significant degree, the result of abstracting two different aspects of human life from the unity which they naturally comprise.  While such an abstraction is useful for certain purposes, it cannot provide a satisfactory basis for daily living.  It may, in fact, be argued that the generalization of the dichotomy between mind and matter on a theoretical level is reflective of a split between body and mind in the customary experience of many people.  If this is the case, then the resolution of such an impasse is to be sought at the level of integrating mind and body into a concrete awareness anchored in bioenergetic processes.  The fundamental reality of pulsatory expansion and contraction of the organism, which embodies the feeling of being alive, becomes the focus of attention.  This means that, at a deep level, the pulsatory process of living is equated with functional energetic processes.  Since all movement is associated with energy, this is a permissible equation.

    In a fundamental sense, the phenomenon of life - like the miracle of creation - remains a mystery.  To view life in this manner does not imply a mystical attitude.  The solution of the theoretical and practical problems of life is to be found in the process of living.  If the capacity to live has been thwarted, a person may seek mystical answers to life's problems or mechanistic solutions to life's challenges.  Both approaches are legitimate within their own province, but I suggest that an alternative perspective has its place.  In terms of such a perspective, the active solution of the theoretical and practical difficulties of life requires the deepening of our awareness and the strengthening of our capacity to live.  In D.H. Lawrence's words: "Real knowledge comes out of the whole corpus of the consciousness...  while you live your life, you are in some way an organic whole with all life." [3]  To separate living experience into mind and body is to split the integrity of the person.  The challenge of personal growth is one of anchoring individual awareness at the deep level of living functioning.  In this regard, focusing on the energetic functioning of the person serves as a basic point of orientation and a concrete foundation for fostering personal growth and development. 

[1] Schrödinger, E. Mind and Matter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), p. 1.

Schrödinger, p.1.

[3] Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley's Lover (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), p. 37.

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