Today I’d like to pick apart a phrase that you might have heard: “Mind-Body-Spirit.”
It’s the third term that’s the problem child there. Some of you are already itching to navigate elsewhere on the web, somewhere that isn’t populated by people who think the Harry Potter movies are documentaries, just because of that one word.
And that’s a shame, because there really isn’t anything esoteric, magical, or supernatural about it…depending on the definition. That’s the real root of the problem. A friend of mine once told me that he had a difficult time talking to people who refer to themselves as “spiritual but not religious” because the term “spiritual” is nebulous at best.
So today I’d like to try and coalesce that nebula into a shining star of some sort, because the phrase “mind-body-spirit” refers to the whole of a person, possibly the whole of reality. But let’s start with the other two words first, to see which definitions are already taken.
The easiest one to define is “Body.” That’s one that most of us can agree on. That’s the physical portion of our experience. The touch-taste-smell-hear-see portion, and the mechanics by which these things are touched, tasted, etc.
You won’t get many arguments on that, unless you’re talking to someone like Jean-Paul Sartre, who regards the Universe as something which takes place primarily in one’s mind.
Which brings us to define the next term, “Mind.”
Just to keep things simple, let’s define “mind” as “the process by which phenomena are analyzed.” Your intellect, your thoughts, in other words. Your brain is the physical, body, object and your mind is what goes on inside it.
You won’t get many arguments on that, either, unless you’re talking to someone like Robert Pirsig, who regarded both body and mind as aspects of a third entity.
Which brings us to that problematic third word: “Spirit.”
The problem here is that the word “spirit” has been so couched in supernatural and magical terms that these days, if you asked someone, “what is the difference between mind and spirit?” the likely answer is, “one of them is real.”
Both are very real; there isn’t anything imaginary, supernatural or esoteric about it at all. Have you ever heard of a “spirit of adventure,” or a “spirit of scientific inquiry?” Those things are very real. Back in my post about churches, I pointed out that “real” is a question of how you look at things:
I look at “spirit” this way: where body is the mechanical, and mind the analytical, spirit is the motivational factor.
Think about it: one doesn’t sit around and use reason to determine what one feels like doing. The feeling, the spirit, is already there. Reason is how one figures out how to go about doing what one feels, and sometimes, if it would be better not to go about doing that.
This is where it’s important to make a distinction: Mind is not a fetter on the spirit. Spirit is not inherently superior to mind. A spirit unchecked by reason is pure insanity; knowing nothing but the immediate gratification of every impulse would put one on the level of an amoeba. Intellect without spirit is…well, it’s nothing. Not even possible. It would have no logical reason to do anything, including exist, without a motivating factor. Without motivation, it could only be inert.
Body and Mind are aspects of How; Body the concrete aspect, Mind the abstract.
Spirit is the Why; without a Why, the How is meaningless, even nonexistent. That’s one of the reasons I suspect that the Japanese came up with Shinto. All religions, in one way or another, are designed to revere the Why. Shintoists do so more directly than most.
There is a backlash against this sort of thinking in the modern era, which somewhat paradoxically reveres logic.
Logic is a powerful, necessary tool, but it will never be adequate to explain the universe, because the universe contains people. Remember your logic lessons in junior high math?
“If p and q, then r. Where p and q are both true, then r is also true.” QED.
Unless you’re dealing with people. When you’re dealing with people, there could be an infinite number of reasons where r is as false as a porn actress’ chest.
“If p and q, then r“ is logical. “If p and q, then MAYBE r” is human.
As Isaac Asimov pointed out in his Foundation series, only large groups of people are predictable. Individual people, never.
Because people are a symbiosis of mind, body…and spirit. Intellect, physicality, and motivation.
It’s the ability to understand and exercise that third factor which sets us above the animals; to ignore it or dismiss it as childish fairy-stuff is to deprive oneself of a full third of one’s existence.
You’ll never reach your full potential by operating at 66%. That is a logical impossibility.
What I’m driving at here is that any non-spiritual explanation of “people” is, and always will be, inadequate; the “I” is more than a mechanically-driven stimulus feedback loop, as evidenced by the fact that we still operate in the absence of stimuli: we get bored. We amuse ourselves, draw, read, make up stories, imagine…without being told.
A computer is a mechanically-driven stimulus feedback loop. A computer doesn’t fire up a screensaver because it’s bored, it does so because someone checked a box which told it to fire up after a fixed amount of time.
Computers obey. People obey…and command. It is important to understand one’s motivational factors, one’s Spirit, because of that. If you don’t understand why you do something, then you’re just obeying, and you’re no better than a computer.
We are worshippers…and gods. Nietzsche would have approved.
And if you’re wondering what all this has to do with motorcycles, you have clearly never been on one.
The motorcycle is once again a tangible microcosm of abstract concepts: it is a perfect blend of Mind, Body, and Spirit. The “body” part is obvious. There’s a metric shit-ton of intellectual analysis which goes into not only the engineering of the bike itself, but into route-planning, vacation timing, schedule coordinating, hell, even figuring out how much gas you need to get to your next stop.
But the bike does its best work when it comes to the spirit. Even when it’s just sitting there.
Have you ever wondered why bikers put ape-hanger handlebars, flashy paint jobs, specialty mirrors, or novelty license plate holders on their bikes? Or line the underside with LED light strips, change the turn signals, put on different tires or cut their exhaust pipes in half?
I’ll let you in on a secret:
It’s because we feel like it.
Whatever rationalization anyone gives you for doing these things, the fact of the matter is, we feel a desire to have things a certain way, and then think of how to embody these desires in reality.
Mind. Body. Spirit.
Without the last one, the first two ain’t shit.
All three together…is divine.
A Biker understands these things more intimately than almost anyone else, whether they think of them in these terms or not. Whether they think of them consciously or not.
That, my friends, is a Zen state. That is the Truth.
And Truth rides a motorcycle.