Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Altered body; altered mind


Psychologists have said that parallel thinking is perhaps the most lasting therapy for survivors of abuse. What this means is that, in order to overcome the trauma of abuse and look at one’s self in a new light, it is best to reconstruct one’s identity, change the way one looks and behaves, indeed, change the ideas in the mind and get into a brand new body of thoughts which finally affect the person, inwardly, and outwardly. Thus, the guilt and shame carried in the mind of the abused, which were in any case, the burden carried forward from the mind of the abuser, is laid to rest in the back burner. And the survivor of abuse lives happily ever after.

Or so it seems.

In another instance, especially in India, one can see hoards of men and women who leave their homes to join a spiritual path, leaving behind their families, cities, village or whatever, to start a life of penance with the hope of ultimate salvation and breaking the cycle of birth and death. The mendicant leaves behind and never revisits his/her home, village, or even talks about the past. Ask a sadhu, about the past, the answer is met with silence.

Here is another instance of putting aside an ‘inheritance’ by birth, to alter the past and accept a new mind and body, shaven of hair and over indulgence of the body, by care, to focus on altering the mind with severe and austere spiritual practice. Whether the goal is met, is only known to the person itself, but having once spoken to a Naga sadhu long ago, it seems it is.

“Where do you come from? Where are your parents?” I had asked, green behind my ear, for I learned later that, that is not a question one ever asks a sadhu.

“I am from a village in Bengal,” he volunteered kindly, ‘but, neither I remember my parents and they too may have forgotten me, for it was so long ago, when I was a boy, I ran away from home.’

His altered body, with jata, his scanty clothing exposing a chocolate dark athletic body, tanned by the sun, was not the body he had earlier I am sure. But, I do remember, wondering about his obsession with the chillum he smoked almost at half an hour to forty five minutes causing me to believe, that it served two purposes, one, to forget his past, or manage the guilt, if any, for suddenly disappearing from home, and of course, as a Shiva bhakth, a life lived in imitation in pursuance of his goal, single minded concentration and focus, which is the end of all spiritual practice.

In my recent conversation with renowned film director Rituparno Ghosh (see Atelier India, March 2013 issue), talking of his latest film, Chitrangada he believes that the alteration of the body, is a constant, otherwise, Beauty Parlours would not exist.

“We are all working toward sculpting our own gender identity; women alter their bodies at Beauty Parlours, men get six packs. No transformation is actually over, it is a process; it is fluid.”

The question therefore is: does an altered body, mean an altered mind? Does the external change of the body induce an inward change of the mind? Can one really change one’s identity and settle for a new, or induce one to become a reality, so that one can believe that this new identity is the new self? Going back to what psychologists say, parallel therapy has met with success, is it possible to be and live an altered self?

The recent release of the book by Dr Kanchana Natarajan, (see http://juliadutta.blogspot.in/2013/03/book-release-transgressing-boundaries.html ) brings to light, for the first time in English, the life of a woman saint, in 17th Century, Tamil Nadu, India, the fact that it is possible to leave one’s painful, Brahminical widowhood, to pursue the path of salvation. Would she ever face the same question I am posing today, does an altered body make for an altered mind?

Does not the past lie in waiting, in the subconscious mind, waiting to raise its head at any given moment? If not, then why the tautness of the body, which speaks for itself, hiding its struggle to release itself from the demons of the past?

Would sitting silently, doing nothing, but allowing the thoughts to rise and pass, developing the habit of not holding on to those thoughts, or allowing them to take hold of one’s mind, not silence the thoughts in time, thus, not having to alter bodies, but remaining in the same? Does the mind hold the body or is it vice versa, or both? Is effort really necessary?

Even sitting silently, doing nothing is an effort. But, submitting, resigning to acceptance is not.

What is the answer then? What is the real face of truth – an altered body results in an altered mind? Or an altered state of mind causes the nullification of the body? And everything attached to it, good and bad experiences?

Or as Bertrand Russell once said, no matter, never mind! 


Gopika Nath said...

An Interesting question Julia. I am not sure I have an answer but it does come to mind that we are a sum total of physical,emotional,intellectual and spiritual states of being and these dimensions are inter-related and present in some measure at all times.

The question of abuse and sense of shame for the way that you conducted yourself or did not in such a situation/relationship is one which interests me and I think that a holistic way of dealing with this would naturally be a process which employs the different facets of being in order for it to be sustained.

I do believe that one aspect influences the other so if you push the mental it will affect the physical and vice versa, so there is likely to be truth in the idea you speak of but I find it hard to believe this works without due attention to the emotional and spiritual as well as intellectual dimensions of the being.

Julia Dutta said...

What an erudite response, Gopika. Not that what I wrote was any less intellectual to receive a response such as yours. Yes, the bodies, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual are connected but in my mind, there is only one, here, that remains and observer, neither participating or judging what is happening to the body, mind and psychology, and that is the spiritual. Hence, my leanings are always towards that in the face of the ifs and buts of the other three bodies. By this I mean, repair the body, the mind may still hold the scars, repair the mind, the residue may still hide in the back burner coming up in dreams. The psychology of man is a collective one, from environment and the processes that have gone into making it one's own. I rest in spirituality, for that which was forever detached, of neither, body mind or psychology and the path once discovered is so simple. To realise that one already had it all the time, but was not aware of it. A 100 paths will finally lead to one and here we have spoken only of three - the body, the mind and the psychology of man.

Thank you Gopika for your response.