The body and mind are one.

You’ve heard the mantra “mind, body and soul,” but have you ever stopped to think about what exactly differentiates one from the other? I think the common understanding is that your body is the physical part of you that you use to move through the world. Your body is managed and controlled by your mind (mind over matter), but it only contains your soul. Your soul is the eternal part of you that inhabits, but does not integrate with your body.

Many people treat the soul as most important, with the mind coming second and the body being the unfortunate baggage that one needs to bring along for the trip. From my own experience, the mind and the body are so closely intertwined that it is futile to attempt to differentiate them. To me, the mind is the part of you that perceives the messages sent by the body. They work as a pair, with one being useless without the other. If my body is in pain, my mind will perceive pain. However, if my mind is in pain, it will perceive pain no matter what my body senses. If my mind is clear and with energy, I can perceive both pain and pleasure while also witnessessing myself experiencing those sensations, perhaps even mixing and muting them into different sensations that cross the boundaries between pain and pleasure.

As an example of how closely mind and body are linked, let me tell you about my depressive episodes. Years ago I learned to separate my body and my mind so that my mind was paramount to my body and was immune to its pain, but as a side effect was also innoculated to its pleasure. While I considered myself enlightened, somehow raised up above the physical tetherings of the body, the reality was that my disconnection was gradually making physical changes to my brain which eventually put me in a state of chronic depression. One day I realized that nothing in life mattered, every principle could be overturned, all value destroyed, all pleasure meaningless and all pain incapable of reawakening my dying consciousness. I went to a shrink, then another, then two more, and then I started to take medicine to repair my atrophied mind.

The medicine was nothing fancy — ultimately I used Prozac as a sort of mental cast while my insides healed. While wrapped in the protective shell of psychotropic medication, I worked with my therapist and life coach to unpack and experience all the years (nearly a decade’s worth) of compartmentalized experience. It was like doing surgery on my broken mind except that I was the one holding the knife and she just gave me instructions. When all the crap and filth was finally cut open and exposed, the scar tissue severed, we sewed everything back up again and began the process of taking off the cast. I am off medication now, and I no longer have regular visits with my therapist, but sometimes I still find myself suddenly mired in the amorphous swirling shadow of depression that mutates all my perceptions into a single block of heavy, hopeless exhaustion.

Ironically, when I find myself heavy and slow, when every act feels like dragging a lead ball through a two foot deep puddle of mud, when I know that it is my mind that is broken and that there is no real (read “material based”) reason for me to be having so much difficulty with everything, I just sleep. I don’t pep talk myself. I don’t push through. I don’t “mind over matter” or “positive thinking” my way out of the mire. I just give up, walk out and sleep it off. I’ve come to learn over the years that what my mind has come to think of as a depressive relapse is more often than not nothing more than sleep deprivation.  I know it’s popular to always try to “raise people up,” to be their support team and help them to always “shoot for the stars” and that giving up is pretty socially deplorable. But I also know that my mind is so inextricably linked to my physical health that if I’m hungry, or sleepy, or horny and those physical desires leak into my mind space in even the smallest quantity, then I’m done. My brain will make no further progress on anything I attempt to do, no matter how pressing the deadline or important the task, until I attend to my body’s need.

Very few people are able to comprehend the deep connection between adequate sex and sleep and one’s mental health. Our industrial culture says that sleeping more than six hours per night is a sign of laziness. Just use your will power to get up earlier! Unfortunately it does not work that way. Willpower comes from the mind, so that would be a case of mind over matter. But the mind cannot function properly without sleep, so to discipline yourself into operating on less sleep would require innoculation against other experiences and activities that rely on your mind. Modern behavioral economic research has even begun to recognize this relationship where people who are asked to use their minds to remember complicated patterns of numbers are then less capable of adhering to healthy dietary recommendations immediately after.

Sometimes I can get away with explaining to people that my body just requires more sleep than the average person. They look at me skeptically, but usually do not push the issue. It is generally well understood that humans vary in their sleep requirements. However, imagine trying to convince your boss that the reason you couldn’t finish your report on time was because you were horny and hadn’t gotten laid in three months and your entire brain space was so full of squirting penis and glistening vulva imagery that you couldn’t focus! You’d be better off telling your boss that you’re a lazy jerk-off who doesn’t take the company’s schedule seriously. But regular and satisfying sex is as critical to mental health as it is for the continuance of our species.

I often wonder to myself if, as a result of my psychological surgery, that my brain is now overcompensating for my mental health. For years I was so good at ignoring my bodily needs that I forgot how good it feels to eat when you’re hungry or fuck when you’re horny. Now, however, I know that if my body is deprived, my mind won’t work. I also know that if my mind becomes dark, I will find no pleasure in even the most beautiful sky or the most delicious food. That’s why I ascribe wholeheartedly to the better and more effective mantra, “cookie & a blow, then nap.” No matter what troubles you, no matter what obstacle you need to overcome, when you find yourself grumpy, negative and ready to give up, go out and get a cookie and blow. That covers your body’s physical needs. Then, take a nap and let your mind absorb all the good you just gave yourself. When you wake up, whatever it was that was bothering you, will suddenly seem a whole lot smaller.