Yoga Mountain Pose

The Body as an Infernal Prison

Descartes and Leibniz both thought that God made the body and the soul separately, but in such a way that they could cooperate. It is only because God exists that Descartes lets himself think that the senses bring relevant information to the soul about what is happening around the organism. The I who thinks about the resources that God deigned to place in the soul is terribly dependent on the body and the senses to obtain information about what surrounds him. The flesh is made up of organic systems that we can begin to detail in a reliable way in the seventeenth century; it functions without the I’s ability to feel (by introspection) what is at play. The soul is indeed a reflexive system, but it is also a kind of impasse. Some information produced by the body is swallowed up by the soul and then emerges transformed. The body, according to Descartes, is the space from whence information leaves and returns.

The body has the capacity to react automatically to its environment via mechanisms like the reflexes that are observable in all animals. These reactions, often effective, have no need of the soul and seek her out only occasionally. The soul tries to influence these sensorimotor reactions so that the body and the soul can together create forms of behaviors that cannot be produced by the reflexes of the body. Descartes situates the affects (passions) at the heart of this to and fro:

1. The affects are thoughts that form in the soul under the influence of some tumultuous dynamics of the body.

2. Their intrusion is always problematic for the soul because they are regulated according to automatic reflexes that influence the soul without being able to manage what is already happening in the mind.

3. The affects are nonetheless useful, even crucial, because they allow a thought to move the body.

This analysis is not so far from certain approaches in body psychotherapy like the one described by Jane R. Wheatley-Crosbie (2006) in an article that describes a cure during which psyche’s return from soma’s underworld.❠From the point of view of philosophers like Descartes and Spinoza, the individual cannot truly become himself without learning how to understand his passions and the way they impose the logic of the body on the dynamics of the mind. Consequently, a therapy of the soul is necessarily a form of body psychotherapy that focuses on how body and mind interact with each other.

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