“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Teilhard de Chardin 1881 – 1955
How can you describe All that you are? Do you believe there are other parts to a person besides their physical form?
When you remove the physical body, what is left over is sometimes referred to as the subtle bodies: the emotions, the mind, the spiritual and social aspects of a person. Our subtle bodies are often discussed in a philosophical way, as if they’re a metaphor for the scientific processes of neurons, hormones and tissues. But I believe the subtle bodies of our mind and emotions exist in a very real, very present way; one that influences the minutes of our lives by affecting our choices and relationships.
There are many factions of society that do not acknowledge the subtle bodies – indeed many people just haven’t thought about it. Others require some sort of proof that what can’t be seen, exists. It’s easy to believe in our Physical Body; it is there to be seen and felt. And most people would likely agree that we also have an Emotional Self – the part of us that we can feel: happy, sad, angry or peaceful. Further, many people, if they cared to think on it, would reason that we also have a Social Self – the part of us that plays roles for other people such as father, daughter, teacher, lover. The existence of our Mental Self is sometimes expressed as that logical, thinking part of us – a part many people equate with, memory, the brain and the firing of neurons.
It truly takes a step further, and perhaps some form of self-reflection, to believe we have a Spiritual Body. This is the part of us that is aware, and is present when you say, ‘Here I Am’. It is more than the thinking which occurs in our brain, more than the feelings, more than the sensations of our physical self.
The existent of the spiritual body is often contested; it is the least tangible of all the bodies. However, when one begins to acknowledge that they are more than just a physical body, they begin to shift away the layers, one by one, until they can experience all of themselves.
A lot of people spend most of their time in the Mental body. It is a common place to get stuck, and it can really eat up all your energy – so much so you may barely see or feel your other bodies!
Often, when we start with someone who is ‘all in their head’ – always thinking, worrying in circles – they try to make sense of the sensations of all their bodies from the view point of the mind. We have a society that favors the mental body and loves to explain away the other bodies with sciences like psychology and neurology.
Honing your mind is a lifeskill, don’t get me wrong. But, because thinking and rationalizing is a way to get what we want and need, it becomes the primary focus of experience for many people. Sensitive humans may experience over-thinking on a chronic level, literally badgering themselves with thoughts and worries to the point of mental anguish. Attempting to make linear sense out of the non-linear experiences of the subtle bodies cannot be done and is not helpful, as it tries to solve an emotional problem with a mental answer. All this exhausting mental labour makes one feel unhappy and ineffective.
Sometimes, in the absurd but blessed contradiction of an existential crisis, this struggle with the mind leads to a desire to explore other dimensions (emotional, physical, spiritual) of being – which can bring about a greater balance and, finally, a sense of fulfillment. In this way and others, the 5 bodies balance and compensate for each other. Getting out of our own way can allow harmony between the 5 bodies to happen.
I will be exploring the 5 bodies over the next months in a series of articles. Please have a look at the Wholistic Self Mandala above. I use this mandala as a visual to ‘map’ out the subtle bodies (a method that makes instant sense to most people who prefer their mental bodies), to explain their interactions/overlap, and as a tool towards improving, moving, and growing all the aspects of a happy Self.
The 5 bodies can be viewed and explained in a thousand different ways, from millennia old traditions to new age theories. The particular viewpoint of these articles belongs to me and was influenced by various teachers, traditions, spiritual guides and by my own life experience. I acknowledge that we all have our own way of looking at the Whole Self; please take from these talks what rings true for you, and leave what contradicts your values or personal experience. If you have something of your own you want to share about the subtle bodies, please leave us a comment below. Namaste!