The subtle bodies: mental body and emotional body
Interview with Juan Li by Pere Muñoz Avellaneda
After some time of practice, who has not wondered whether one is doing the right thing, whether the results that one is just starting to obtain are correct, whether beyond mental images, feelings and postures one is progressing through the different stages of practice?
Because, as it frequently happens with the energetic practices, it doesn’t matter how much we visualize; if the visualization is not accompanied by a feeling in the body the practice won’t cross the mental level. And although it seems that most practitioners give this for granted, it represents the most critical ingredient to deepen into the different levels of practice.
The practices of the Tao system repeat once and once again that feeling is the first step on the path of personal development. In fact, from the introductory level on, one is initiated into a process of self-consciousness that allows one to feel what happens in one’s own body. The softening smile teaches how to contact oneself and to feel well-being. The six healing sounds allow one to feel the different inner organs and the emotions associated with them. Through the microcosmic orbit, we learn to directly feel the life force, increasing our vitality and balancing our being.
When Juan proposed to talk with me about the subtle bodies, he said that this topic repeatedly appears when he is sharing the practices with students. It is important to make sure that the practices are not exclusively mental but an energetic experience that other person can perceive. Because of this, Juan said that the objective of this interview was to clarify concepts and differentiate between what we call the “mental body” and the “emotional body”.
Let’s start from the beginning.
The different bodies of the human being are structured in the following order, from more dense to more subtle: the physical body, the energetic body, the emotional body then the mental body, and then other even more subtle bodies.
In this interview, we will focus on the mental and the emotional bodies.
The emotional body is associated with the ability to feel and to communicate. When the emotional body is not yet structured, the person uses emotions to communicate, like for example a baby that cries and screams when he is hungry. When the emotional body gets structured, which generally happens when the person is 6-8 years old, the child starts to express his own needs with words rather than only with emotions. That happens because the child can gradually manage his emotions much better.
If a child experiences very painful things (for instance, if the parents are fighting all the time), he can decide not to feel anymore because feeling under those conditions is too painful. With that decision, a child stops the healthy development of the emotional body. If a child already had developed a mental body, he could have realized that the parents had a problem and that, as adult people, were going to find a solution.
But the mental body starts developing only at around puberty (with the exception of children that are forced to mature rapidly because they start to work and acquire responsibilities early). Therefore, it is said that bad traumas are settled within the first seven years of life because at that time, the person does not have resources to manage emotions.
When the emotional body is not sufficiently structured, whatever the cause, the person will have a childish behavior his whole life, with an exaggerated susceptibility and sensitivity, going from happiness to anger after only one word or gesture. And what about the mental body? The mental body is associated with the capacity of thinking. As the mental body gets structured, the adolescent starts understanding things and analyzing situations. I have been observing that different cultures have different configurations depending on their latitude. For example, in the most extreme parts of the northern hemisphere people have to plan very much what to do to survive during long periods without fresh food and light. Because of that need, people have developed a strong mental body. In contrast, in other latitudes like in Spain and southwards, where the weather is warmer and more stable, and the fields provide several harvests a year, that urgency to plan does not exist. The tendency is that people living in more extreme latitudes of the northern or southern hemispheres are more mental.
- But, what happens then when a person develops a powerful mental body?
As the emotional body develops first, it represents the foundation for the mental body. If someone develops a strong mental body, one is able even to shield the emotions. Soldiers are an obvious example because they can commit very cruel actions during a war without hesitation. When they are asked after the war why they did such atrocities, the answer is always the same: “I was following an order”. That decision was obviously taken with the mind but with a closed emotional body. Otherwise, the soldier would have questioned that order. Any person who constantly uses intellectual skills at work, who first conceives things in the mind, like an architect or a researcher, usually has a marked tendency to use the mind in the taoist practices.
For example, when practicing the “harmonization of the five elements”, which is aimed at transforming negative emotions, it can occur that this kind of person is not focusing on the physical organ but rather on the idea of the organ. Therefore, it can happen that this person limits their practice to the level of imagination.
That is the reason why it is recommended that practitioners pay a lot of attention to feeling something, especially if they have a profession requiring a great intellectual effort. It frequently happens that one easily believes that everything is fine, that emotions are balanced; but in fact, that superficial calm is not caused by a good managing of emotions but rather by a repression of emotions that make us suffer. This is a subtle phenomenon because the line that separates imagination and sensation is very thin.
- But, what can we do to focus our attention on feeling?
The practitioner can start by focusing attention on feeling the difference of temperature in a certain part of the body before and after an exercise. Also, one can try to feel whether a friend is happy or sad. Then, contact that friend by phone and investigate whether our initial feeling before the phone call was correct or not. In all these practices, a strong mental body is of great help because it will allow the person to keep the attention focused. In a few weeks, the person will already be able to feel and then regain contact with the emotional body.
- Why are emotions so important?
When working with practices of the inner alchemy, it is essential to work with emotions of the highest quality, because these are the fuel.
- What do you mean by the fuel?
After having recycled and transformed emotions through the practice, one acquires emotions of a superior quality, like compassion and an altruistic point of view, and these qualities are the fuel for the alchemic process. By the way, the mental body is very useful because it allows one to project the intention and to practice with discipline. But if a person works only with the mind, for instance, generosity will be generated as an idea of sharing one’s own abundance, and not as a feeling of the heart. Then, the practice will be limited and the practitioner won’t get deep into it. Briefly speaking, the objective of all inner practices is to work both with the emotional body and the mental body in a balanced way, without predominance of one over the other.
- Which signs indicate that the practitioner is progressing?
The level of vitality, for instance. This level increases with the practice and becomes more stable, so that the ups and downs of energy are eliminated. Another sign is what the practitioner experiences in his or her daily life. In fact, what one experiences reflects what we actually are. We can then ask ourselves how our life has changed after some time of practice. Other signs are: our level of health, the number of hours we sleep and in which state we wake up, and also the way we manage our emotions. For example, if someone receives an unfair criticism at work and is not affected, that means that such person has a broad stock of vitality and can manage emotions and conflicts with calmness.
- How do you explain that so many people today, including great masters, are shielded at the emotional level?
Well, the mind is very much emphasized in our modern culture. And the daily use of computers and phones strengthen that trend. Making a phone call is something abstract because it requires that we imagine the person we are talking with. And the more technology gets developed the more complex the use of such technology and therefore, the stronger the mental body gets. Another aspect of our modern culture, especially in the western world, is that a person who expresses his or her own emotions is considered immature.
- It is said that “men don’t cry”, isn’t it?
That makes me think a bit about the Japanese society... Yes, the Japanese society has always been a very structured and hierarchal society, with many rules, and a lot of obedience. Every person has a place in that society and has to play his or her role to the letter. And that is very mental. And of course, one cannot show any kind of emotion in public. That’s right, and that is the reason why so many people commit suicide. When a strong mental body is accompanied with an underdeveloped emotional body, a person can rapidly reach the mental conclusion that life is not worth living. Modern society does not support that people express their emotions. Emotions are not appreciated. It is like a modern taboo. One has to be efficient and quick...
That is the North American model: one has to work hard and the quality of life is improved through that hard work. Also, the discipline required to follow a strict work timetable has strengthened the mental body even more. With the current development of the modern society, the practitioner is probably more separated from the emotions than years ago. Starting to practice yoga from any kind of system allows the practitioner to meet his or her own emotions, to bring then to the surface. The emotions recover their importance because the yogic practices favor our work and research on our emotions.
- In fact, ancient traditions say that the first thing to do on the path of inner development is to harmonize the emotions, isn’t it?
That is the first step because emotions are very important for the development of a person, and are also very important in the development of yogas. That is why the path of inner development is called “the second birth”, because it goes through the same steps. In the Taoist system, this work with the emotions is achieved with the three levels of the practice called “harmonizing the five elements”.
The process of development requires an increase of vitality. Emotions are the first place where energy gets stagnated. For instance, if I am angry with someone for several years and I get furious every time I think about that person, this means that the energy associated with that person is stagnated. When something like this happens, there is a lot of vitality blocked there. When a person harmonizes his emotions, leading to the development of positive emotions, the vibratory level of the energetic system increases. And when one adopts an altruistic attitude, when one’s own intention comes from the heart, the vibratory level makes a great leap. The practice with the emotions is aimed at adults.
It is not suitable for children because, as they have not yet structured the mental body, they won’t have the ability to focus their attention for a long time. Therefore, children do not have the basis for meditation.
- And what about an adolescent?
Adolescents start structuring their mental body step by step. They don’t have much experience of the world, so they first have to try different things out to see what they like. That process lasts, depending on the culture, about five to six years. When adolescents grow into adults, they have less possibilities of choice. In contrast, they acquire the ability to deepen into something. But, coming back to modern society, it actually does not favor such work of deepening into something...
Well, it is true that such a process is not supported in our modern society. In this society, everything changes and gets obsolete very quickly, and external stimuli, such as visual stimuli, are so numerous that people are distracted all the time. Modern people live in a culture characterized by superficiality, and their senses are saturated because of the constant stimulation. As it has been mentioned before, the great majority of people do not take enough time to work with emotions and to free emotional traumas. They have no time because they are consumed with work throughout the day and when they finally get home, they are so exhausted that they don’t have the strength to start anything. Also, it frequently happens that modern people do not think that working with emotions is important. It is also important to be aware that the brain consumes a lot of oxygen and energy and when it works too much can be a dictator for the rest of the body. Such extreme mental activity acidifies the blood, makes the organism more rigid and hard, and blocks the flow and natural expression of emotions. Keeping up this pattern of mental activity as more and more time passes, the emotional body can become weakened or drained and diseases like chronic fatigue can arise. This is an alarm, a signal indicating that the person has to change something, that things cannot continue like this.
I had a student in this situation that was suffering from chronic fatigue. After work, his main practice for some time was “to embrace the tree”. Through this practice, he could increase his level of vitality. Then, as his point of view and priorities changed he could modify something in his life. You have already talked about the importance of feeling in practices requiring visualization..
- Can you say something else?
Visualization is useful for the practice, but it is not enough. I have been observing that people that only use visualization or affirmations like “I am happy”, or “I have the perfect weight”, do not reach their goals because they do not work with emotions. It can occur that at the emotional level, what that people are actually saying is “I hate myself” and “I don’t want to look myself in the mirror”.
Therefore, if the person has an emotional conflict inside, those techniques applying positive thinking and visualization won’t work by themselves. When one is doing a technique requiring visualization, it is necessary to add the energy of the heart, a pure emotion, because such intention coming from the heart is able to change the energy and to attract energy of a similar quality. In this way, the visualization practice does not remain neutral or only mental, and the practitioner avoids that the technique fails due to a hidden negative emotion. However, I have to say again that to have a strong mental body is not a defect, rather the contrary.
If a person’s goal is to develop the ability to feel, one will be able to develop such skill rapidly if the mental body is well developed and the intention is clear. For example, some time ago I gave a seminar for businessmen in Germany. I thought it was going to be a failure, meaning that people would need a long time to feel something. However, all of them without exception felt the inner smile, the six healing sounds and even the microcosmic orbit, which is something exceptional for beginners. Afterwards, I reflected on this and I understood that all those businessmen had a strong power of intention and great mental faculty. Thus, when they decided to undertake something, they did it thoroughly.
Therefore, balance is the key. Balance between the mental body that visualizes and focuses, and the emotional body that feels and provides the fuel. Thanks to this balance, the practitioner can go deeper into the practice(s) and make sure that he is on the right path.