Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom
Excerpts about Body Image
Attachment to the Body-Image
At the next level of attachment, the core of the self-image is the body image. At the deepest level, your self-image is based on physical reality, the body image. When I say “body image,” I include in that the shape of your body, how you feel about it, everything about your body, the organs of your body and the functions of your body. When you let go of the external card-holder identity, you find that then your identity is based on your body image, so you sense yourself, feel yourself, pay attention to yourself and feel that you know yourself more intimately. If you think you’re beautiful, you like yourself; if you think you’re not beautiful, you don’t like yourself. You’re fat or you’re thin, you’ve got the right nose but the wrong mouth, or vice versa. The intimate things become very important, whether you’ve got a penis or a vagina. “How big is my penis?” “Are my breasts big enough?” “Oh, I want a girlfriend with big breasts.” “I’m going to work to get my body in shape.” These are the obvious body image concerns; it is part of the self-image, a kernel around which the rest of the self-image is built. It is attachment to physical things from the image perspective. The image of physical objects is present, not only image in the sense of shape, but also in terms of feeling, function, and relationship to your body.
Diamond Heart Book Two, pg. 53
Experience of Space Corrects the Distortions of Body-Image
We see, therefore, that the experience of space corrects the distortions of body-image. The perception of the body, both from outside and inside, becomes objective. Space seems to allow objective perception. In terms of physical reality, it removes distortion. This is the reason that when an individual experiences space while retaining unconscious distortions of body-image, distortions in the perception of physical reality result that are sometimes experienced as spatial hallucinations or disturbances in the perception of body balance. We believe these distortions can be analyzed and seen as the result of body-image distortions pushing toward consciousness, but compounded with the effects of defenses against them. Some experience their bodies as twisted one way or another, or experience a distortion in the proportions of different parts of the body, or experience their posture as different from what it is. What is really happening in those instances—and they do occur in sessions of psychotherapy, especially in body-oriented therapies—is a readjustment in the self-image that is only partially conscious. These distortions of body-image happen in the beginning experience of space, when the person is still burdened with many unconscious distortions in body-image and the affects associated with them. What actually happens is that the appearance of space challenges and brings to consciousness the various
unconscious distortions of body-image all at once. But the individual, for reasons of defense, cannot tolerate seeing all these distortions, so he experiences only a sense of distortion or disorientation that is not specific enough to clarify the self-image or the affective components associated with the specific distortions.
The Void, pg. 47
The next layer of identity is what we call the internal body image, or identification with the body regardless of the image, attachment to the body itself. Internal body image forms the core of the identity at this level, because of identification with the actual sensation of the body, the actual feelings in the body. It forms the core of both the body image and the self-image, and you’re in touch with it most of your life. The inner sensations of the body —how it feels, the warmth or cold, harshness or softness, pleasure or pain, the flow and rigidity, the tension and relaxation—all become part of the identity.
This identity with the internal body image creates attachment to the body itself, to physical existence itself. You need to understand that this is not your identity. You are moving beyond an image here, these are your physical “innards.” This identity is more intimate. You need to correct the common misunderstanding that to be your body, or to have your body, you have to hold on to it. You find out at some point when you’re studying your attachment to your body, that you believe you have to hold on to your body to have it. You believe you need tensions in order to feel your body. If you were to completely relax, you would feel you were going to lose it, float away, so you grab on! That grabbing is the tension, and going deep inside that tension you will feel the actual stuff of attachment, which is hell.
Diamond Heart Book Two, pg. 54
Space Dissolves the Self-Image as a Rigid Structure Bounding Experience
Not only does space correct the distortion of body-image and dissolve the psychological boundaries of the self-image, it ultimately dissolves the self-image as a rigid structure bounding experience. This provides a hint regarding the ontological truth about self-image. Since we see that space makes the body-image objective and realistic, i.e., correcting it according to objective reality, we can assume that it also corrects the self-image according to objective reality. That is, ontologically, self-image is simply boundaries frozen in space, frozen by their cathexis with libidinal energy. When the cathexis is undone, the boundaries dissolve into empty space, which is what actually exists as the nature of the mind. Therefore, we can say that pursuing psychodynamic understanding of the self-image all the way to the end will leave us with, among other things, a real and objective body-image and the experience of the mind as open space.
The Void, pg. 52
Two Kinds of Body-Image
Here, Mahler shows the acuteness of her observation and the creativity of her formulation. In seeing the various grades of space, we will appreciate how accurate this formulation is. She is stating here that there are two kinds of body-image, or in her words, "the body ego contains two kinds of self-representations". One body-image is related to the outside, in relation to the external environment. It includes the shape, the contours, the size, the texture, etc. of the body. The other body-image is related to the inside; its boundaries are in relation to the inner environment. It includes inner body and organ sensation. The first body image contributes to the self image especially in its demarcation from the outside. It contributes to the sense of separateness of the self. The second body-image contributes to the self-boundaries more in terms of a feeling of self, and not as much to a sense of separateness. Of course, the sense of demarcation and separateness from the outside contributes, in turn, to this feeling of self. The sense of separateness is, in fact, an important aspect of the sense of identity. Both self-images (or as Mahler calls them above, "intrapsychic structures") ultimately generate, and in fact form, the sense of identity.
The Void, pg. 145
Unconscious Body-Image of Having No Genitals
So we see that dealing with the superego will at some point expose the identifications that repress the castration complex. Dealing with this issue brings out the specific hole connected with castration, which is a distortion in the body image aspect of the self-image. The hole or deficiency is simply an unconscious body image of having no genitals or no sexuality. Accepting and understanding this feeling and belief of deficiency will bring forth its corresponding essential aspect, which turns out to be the void (space). This essential aspect is the correction of the distortion in the body image. This distortion is really a distortion of space. The void is the experience of oneself, one's essence, as empty space. It is an experience of expansion, spaciousness, openness, and boundlessness. The mind is not bound by the rigid boundaries of the personality's self-image. Its effect on perception is to see things as they are, without distortion. The experience of the genital hole is a distortion of how things are because there is really no hole there. The emerging space erases this distortion. The void is really nothing but the absence of the personality and its various distortions. The mind is empty then, completely empty of the personality. It is as if the inner space is cleaned out, emptied, of the personality and its patterns, mental or physical. The person feels free, fresh, light, and unhampered. The mind is seen as it is, an immaculate emptiness.