“The tactile realm of perception is the same thing as the body.”
So far in this book I have used terms such as ‘lived body’, ‘felt body’ or ‘body of feeling awareness’ to present another understanding of what we call ‘the body’ or ‘a body’. I have also argued that the ‘body of our feeling awareness’ as a whole – our ‘soul’ – embraces the entire field or space of experiencing that we perceive as the ‘world’ around us. Here I wish to go a little further in exploring the single word ‘body’.
To most people, of course, this word has a self-evident meaning which is rarely questioned. They see the human body, like any other ‘body’, as a bounded ‘material’ object in space. I stress the word ‘see’, for it hints at the way in which the dimension of visual experiencing has come to dominate both our perception and conception of the body and of bodies, i.e. of ‘bodyhood’ as such, leading us also to think of bodies as ‘material’ objects ‘in’ space.
In reality however, nobody (‘no-body’) can see, hear or even touch ‘matter’. For what we call ‘matter’ is actually a purely abstract concept to which there corresponds no ‘objective’ reality we can directly experience or prove the existence of. Instead, what we think of as properties of ‘matter’ are simply qualities of subjective experiencing – in particular those qualities of tactile experiencing such as hardness or softness, weight and density, roughness or smoothness etc. In other words, it is only because something that we actually see in space is also sensed as something that can be potentially felt in a tactile way that we come to think of it as a ‘material’ body.
‘Space’ itself however, is no objective ‘physical’ dimension but rather the principal dimension of subjective visual experiencing. So again, what we ‘see’ in it is also only what we can also potentially feel or touch. Indeed we could go so far as to say that visual experiencing of and in ‘space’ is itself a sensory and spatial interpretation of tactile experiencing in all its dimensions, actual and potential – which include hearing, taste and even smell. For hearing is vibration that touches us – and gives us a sign of something that can potentially be touched. Similarly, smell gives us a sign of something that can potentially be tasted – taste itself being a form of touch. That is why a dog’s experience of space is shaped as much – if not more – by their acute sense of hearing and smell than by sight alone.
As human beings, whilst we can see a plant or even a single-celled organism under a microscope – neither the cell nor the plant can either see, hear or even smell. What the plant senses, it senses only in a directly tactile way – whether as a breeze, insect or chemical on its surface. What a single cell experiences – even a cell of our own ‘body’ and its multiple ‘sense organs’ (a retinal cell for example) it experiences through touch and feeling awareness alone. It is only through the sense of sight that has been developed by ‘multicellular organisms’ that they come to interpret their tactile experience in a visual and spatial way – or that human beings in particular come to perceive and conceive ‘cells’ themselves (and the tissues, organs and bodies composed of them) principally as visual and ‘material’ objects – rather than feeling them subjectively in the tactile way that they feel themselves.
Yet given the fundamentally tactile nature of cellular experiencing it is no surprise that both touch and herbal remedies are amongst the oldest forms of healing – affecting the very consciousness of our cells, tissue and organs, which is what I have termed ‘the physical soul’. For our cells themselves know of no other mode of experiencing but touch and taste, i.e. tactile experiencing and what Samuel Avery calls ‘chemical’ experiencing on the other.
The radical conclusion that all these reflections inexorably lead to is that bodyhood as such is touch, i.e. tactile experiencing in general and per se.
The radical conclusion that all these reflections lead to is that bodyhood as such is touch, i.e. tactile experiencing in general and per se. It is not just that our bodies are an instrument or object of touch. Instead, the very ‘body’ that we think of as touching or being touched is, in itself, a felt shape or pattern of tactile experiencing.
It is not sight but touch then, that can be said to be the true essence of all sensory and bodily experiencing. Thus not only sensations of hardness and softness, roughness or softness, lightness or heaviness, weight and density, warmth and coolness but also of air and respiration, taste and digestion, lightness or heaviness, movement and stillness, tension and relaxation, sound and silence, even pleasure, pain and emotional states, that are felt in a principally tactile way; as also are such senses as ‘pressure’ of time, of spatial expansiveness or confinement, closeness or distance – not to mention our sense of how inwardly close or distant, ‘in touch’ or ‘in contact’ we feel with ourselves and others.
All that we see from the outside and call ‘a body’ is in essence nothing but a realm of actual and potential modes of tactile experiencing – proprioceptive and kinaesthetic, respiratory, auditory, olfactory (smell) or gustatory (taste and digestive sensations), emotional and relational. There are many people however, whose consciousness is so much dominated by sight that these dimensions of tactile experiencing may be almost totally subsumed by visual perception – by objects that are ‘seen’ in three-dimensional space – or, as they increasingly are, only as two-dimensional images on an electronic screen – including medical images created through CAT and MRI scans. One can link the general decline of tactile awareness and experiencing to the way in which screen technology has markedly accentuated a primary identification of the human body (not least the female body) with something ‘seen’, a mere visual image and to which the realm of actual or potential touch, whether in the form of handling objects or sexual touch, is either subordinated to or, in the case of both pornography and medical scans for example, made dependent upon. As a result, one may ask whether the very word ‘body’, with its immediate connotation of something seen in the form of a visual, mental or technological image, has itself become an obstacle to a more basic understanding of what ‘a body’ essentially is.
The same can be said of the word ‘soul’ – which is why I prefer the term ‘feeling awareness’. In this context however, it is important to distinguish ‘feeling’ and ‘touch’. If we touch something we of course ‘feel’ it. On the other hand we can be ‘touched’ in a feeling way and not just in the physical way implied by the term ‘tactile’ – just as feelings can also ‘touch’ us in a non-physical way. What we call ‘soul’, therefore, can be understood precisely as this feeling dimension of tactile experiencing.
To say that “the tactile realm of perception is the same thing as the body” is to say that not just what we call ‘body’ but also what we call ‘soul’ are, in essence, anything ‘in the world’ that we experience as ‘touching’ us in a manner that is felt in what may be more than just a ‘tactile’ way – whether this be a visual image or perception, a sensation of pleasure or pain, a look on a person’s face or in their eyes, a sound, word or tone of voice, a painting, poem or piece of music – or a lived experience, event or encounter of any sort.
This is what makes it impossible to separate the ‘lived body’ and bodily self-experience from our lived or experienced world. For what most essentially constitutes our ‘life world’ is all that has the potential to touch us in a feeling way. Indeed any ‘world’ consists of nothing but particular potentials of felt, tactile experiencing – none of which arise from some ‘thing’ called ‘the body’ or ‘the soul’, but rather from ‘feeling awareness’ – an awareness which knows no bodily boundaries and yet is the essence of both ‘body’ and ‘soul’ – both of which consist essentially of felt shapes, patterns, tones and textures of awareness.
What we call ‘a feeling’ (singular noun) or ‘feelings’ (plural noun) is one thing. ‘Feeling’ (verb) on the other hand, is another. ‘Feelings’ are something we experience ourselves as ‘having’. Feeling on the other hand is something we do. Or rather not something that ‘we’ do but that awareness itself ‘does’ – for without a feeling awareness of a self or selves – of an ‘I’, ‘you’, or ‘we’ – there could be no self or selves to experience, just as without a feeling awareness of all there is to potentially experience, there would be nothing to experience – and so also no field or felt world of experiencing, tactile or otherwise. The terms ‘feeling awareness’ and ‘body of feeling awareness’ therefore remain an important reminder that it is not the visually perceived and seemingly ‘physical’ or ‘material’ forms (cellular and bodily, thingly and worldly) that feel or touch, but rather awareness itself in all its different shapes, patterns, tones and textures – and that what awareness feels and ‘touches’ are essentially nothing but other such shapes and patterns, tones and textures of awareness.
Furthermore, since it is only through an awareness of experiencing that we first come to experience any ‘self’, ‘body’ or ‘world’ whatsoever, it follows that this awareness itself cannot – in principle – be the property or product of any self, body or world we are aware of – let alone enclosed within the apparent boundaries of what we see as ‘a body’ or ‘brain’. This argument ‘in principle’, i.e. the recognition that awareness is fundamentally irreducible to any experienced phenomena – being itself the precondition or ‘field condition’ for experiencing in all its infinite modes and potentials – is what I call ‘The Awareness Principle’.
Acknowledgements to Samuel Avery for his insights into the relation between visual and tactile dimensions of sensory experiencing and their relation to the myth of ‘matter’.
Avery, Samuel The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness Avery, Samuel Transcendence of the Western Mind Wilberg, Peter The Awareness Principle