It wasn’t exactly out of left field that I majored in Philosophy in college. I guess as an introvert, I’ve always enjoyed the company of thoughts a little bit more than the company of people. I did a lot of creative writing when I was younger and so I spent a lot of time in my head.
Having parents who are open to nontraditional ideas and Eastern philosophies also provided a nice groundwork for my major. Still, my parents didn’t exactly have a favorable reaction when I announced my field of study at the end of freshman year. Philosophy doesn’t exactly sound like something that can get you a 401k.
“What can you do with that?” was the most frequent question I was asked. I had no idea, but it was what I was interested in, and as it turns out, your major means just about diddly squat unless you are pre-med or pre-law. I was certainly neither (although philosophers do make great lawyers).
So what did this fabulous major do for me? It gave me a chance to ask big abstract questions and learn to think critically.
Okay, you’re saying to yourself, so what? Well, here’s where philosophy becomes practical for me. Three years after graduating, I completed my education as a licensed massage therapist. This seems like the total opposite of all the abstract thinking stuff but it’s not.
The more I learned about massage, the more I learned that our thoughts, feelings and emotions are connected to our bodies. You probably know someone who keeps their feelings all bottled up. What do you think those feelings do to your body with no place to go? It’s not good. Have you ever noticed that a person you call a pain in the neck can literally become pain in your neck?
This isn’t news. Bodyworkers of all sorts know this because they see it all the time. What I find exciting is that the mind-body connection is one of the biggest topics of discussions in the philosophy community.
Basically, philosophers ask “what is the mind?” The mind seems to be distinct from the brain in that it isn’t a physical thing we can locate, although all of us seem to agree it is separate from our brain. The problem is, if the mind is not a physical thing we can locate then how does it communicate with our brain or our body? Another way to look at the difference is to compare brain activity with consciousness. Are they the same? If your brain is a vegetable are you still in there? Whether you believe that mind/brain/consciousness are all the same type of thing or totally different things is a fierce debate for philosophers and scientists.
It gets much more complicated than that, but on a basic level, these seem like important questions for a bodyworker. Mainly, how is my client’s mental state affecting their physical one and what can I do about it?
So after spending a lot of time in college talking about this kind of stuff (no decisive conclusions reached) here I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, in a profession literally examining the physical evidence.
Sure I might not have a lab coat or a particle collider or be sitting in an armchair sipping brandy, but I’m here, right on the front lines with people to ask about their experiences with their minds and bodies. Sounds like a personal research project to me!
Luckily for me, there are also other people asking these questions. In massage school several people recommended the book The Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine by Candace B Pert, PH.D. I had it on my “reading list” of things to get to, but it wasn’t until I saw it on the shelf at work recently that I started to read it. I can’t say much about it yet, since I’ve barely read a chapter but since I fortuitously found it out on the shelf at a bookstore for $5, I’ll be reading it for sure. All I can say for now is that Dr. Pert is a scientist and she is not afraid to talk about issues which many scientists have skirted around for quite some time. Not only that, but she published this book in 1999 which means this isn’t a new question! I hope to have more to share as I read the book ( one of many I’m semi-reading right now).