Characteristics of the Body Consciousness

Imagine we had to manage all the functions of the body through conscious attention by the mind, telling the body how to operate each organ, controlling each breath and heartbeat, controlling the energy production activities in the cells, etc. It would be clearly impossible. We depend entirely on the separate consciousness of the body to carry out its automatic functioning and with a precision and control beyond anything we could accomplish with direct mental intervention.

Beyond these functions however, we have a wide variety of actions that the body can be trained to carry out, functions which may start with a mental idea, but need to be systematically taught to the body. This includes all kinds of precision arts, handwriting, playing a musical instrument or engaging in sports which require hand-eye coordination or precise sequences to optimize and control movements. Even in these things, however, we find that once the training has been done, it is best to leave the body to carry out these functions without trying to micromanage the action from moment to moment.

The secret in this training lies in setting forth a clear idea of the objective, and then patiently devising a training regimen that the body uses to create what may be called “muscle memory”. This represents an interaction between the mental consciousness which devises the objective and the training method, and the body consciousness which responds to this activity and eventually takes ‘ownership’ of the activity and dispenses with the need for direct mental control.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “In many things, in matters of health and illness for instance, in all automatic functionings, the body acts on its own and is not a servant of the mind. If it is fatigued, it can offer a passive resistance to the mind’s will. It can cloud the mind with tamas, inertia, dullness, fumes of the subconscient so that the mind cannot act. The arm lifts, no doubt, when it gets the suggestion, but at first the legs do not obey when they are asked to walk; they have to learn how to leave the crawling attitude and movement and take up the erect and ambulatory habit. When you first ask the hand to draw a straight line or to play music, it can’t do it and won’t do it. It has to be schooled, trained, taught, and afterwards it does automatically what is required of it. All this proves that there is a body-consciousness which can do things at the mind’s order, but has to be awakened, trained, made a good and conscious instrument.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Parts of the Being, pp. x – xiii

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