The special relationship of mind and body in tranquillity
To enjoy tranquillity, it is helpful to understand the special relationship of the mind and the body. In many respects, at least in theory, the two may seem quite distinct. But the mind is only experienced and utilised through the brain and the nervous system, which are most definitely aspects of the body. We know only too well from our own experience that if the mind is agitated, there is a feeling of disturbance in the body. It is also difficult to maintain a calm mind if the body is upset.
Sometimes the chemical balance of the body may be upset through illness, wrong food or exposure to pathogens, for example. This can strongly affect our thinking and our moods. Conversely, it is also true that if the mind is calm, the biochemical balance is much better, the immune system is stronger and our energy is better.
Meditation, yoga and t’ai chi
Tests on meditators have shown the very close relationship of a calm mind to reactions in the body. Within minutes of starting to meditate, the breath rate slows down, the blood pressure drops and there is greater coherence in the electronic waves produced by the brain.
People who take up arts such as t’ai chi and yoga, find a calming effect on the mind and improvements to health and well-being. These are just two examples but they help to reinforce the understanding and appreciation that there is more than just a tenuous link between mind and body. The connection is a very direct and close one.
The significance of this link is that it can be deliberately utilised to bring about serenity. If we do nothing, it is like piloting a rudderless ship. So we need to find a way of harnessing body and mind that is easy to do.
Kama-manas: the marriage of mind and emotions
If there is a link between the body and the mind, there is an even stronger tie between the mind and the emotions. In fact, they are so closely intertwined that some schools of thought regard them as one – kama manas (literally desire-mind). For our purposes, we can think of the mind as the generator of thoughts and perceptions.
The emotions are feelings that rise up and influence our thoughts. Sometimes they can result from our thinking. Suppose, for example, we are angry about something. We experience the feeling of anger, and we are also have a stream of thoughts which are mainly negative in character. The two things, the sensation of the angry feeling and the stream of angry thoughts, are separately identifiable as feelings on the one hand and thoughts on the other. Together, they disturb our tranquillity.
Do feelings and thoughts have to go together?
We can certainly think logically, without being swamped by feelings, so thoughts in themselves do not depend on feelings or emotions. But can we have feelings or emotions without thoughts?
Probably we can but not for long. For example, we might have a vague feeling of anxiety or sadness for which we can’t pin down a reason. Within a very short time, though, that feeling will normally colour our thinking. Desires, too, can seem to come out of nowhere and suddenly we can experience a craving. Immediately, our thoughts run towards whatever it is we crave.
Conversely, thoughts can evoke emotions. We might be thinking about something that happened in the past or on some future event and feelings can arise based on the memory of past experience. Many of our thoughts are based on our beliefs and, though we may not care to admit to having any, our prejudices. Almost inevitably, these charge our emotions.
The importance of all this is that it has a very direct bearing on serenity and tranquillity. If we want to experience peacefulness, we have to be able to do something about our emotions. We have to be in charge of them rather than be ruled by them. This doesn’t mean suppressing our feelings but it does mean using our creative faculties and intelligence so that we can deal with feelings and emotions as they arise without being swamped by them.
As the mind becomes calmer this becomes easier to do for two main reasons. First, because the mind is clearer, fewer emotions are evoked by the way we think. Second, because mind and body are more settled, we are more aware of emotions as they arise and so more able to pacify them. This puts us on a firm path to serenity.
For online meditation tuition, my Meditation Course contains four approaches to inner peace and tranquillity.