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HEALTH/ What the Body Can Teach the Mind About Wellness

August Sun 29, 2010

Dr. LaMothe writes that farming has added new depth to her art and her understanding of the human relationship to the earth. Dr. LaMothe writes that farming has added new depth to her art and her understanding of the human relationship to the earth.



The connection between the human mind and body has given rise to fascinating debate and discussion for millennia. The approach of modern science has tended to be one of division: psychiatry and psychology deal with the mind, medicine with the body, and the wellness of the spirit is left to personal preference. But in recent years, recognition of the importance of holistic wellness has remerged as a legitimate pursuit of scholars within both the sciences and the humanities.


Dr. Kimerer LaMothe is one such scholar. Dr. LaMothe combines a PhD in Theology of the Modern West from Harvard University with the understanding of the human body she has gained from years of dancing and choreographing dance. After teaching at both Brown and Harvard, she moved with her partner to a working farm in upstate New York, where they and their five children raise animals and grow their own produce. Their family life on the farm is the inspiration for Dr. LaMothe’s forthcoming book Family Planting: a farm-fed philosophy of human relations.


Dr. LaMothe’s scholarship in recent years has focused on questions of mind-body health. Her book What a Body Knows explores the connection between the desires of the body and the fulfillment of both mind and soul. Her blog by the same title on the website Psychology Today continues to expand on this theme. In her writing Dr. LaMothe follows in the footsteps of the philosophers and theologians she studied at Harvard in an innovative way, by articulating what her body “knows” from its experiences of dance and motherhood. She spoke with ilsussidiario.net to share her reflections on the mind-body connection, and her experience of how the wellness of the body can inform the wellness of the mind and soul.


Your blog, What a Body Knows has the subtitle “Finding wisdom in desire.” What is the connection between bodily desires and wisdom? Can you explain this philosophy?


Desire is movement. It is a yearning that impels us towards what we believe will grant us the satisfaction we seek, and away from what we believe will not. Desire in this sense is a movement of discernment—every desire represents a kind of knowledge about who we are and what we need to thrive. Wisdom, on the other hand, is an ability to respond in the moment, for the moment, with a word or action that transforms that moment into an occasion for love. When we understand desire as movement, we can also begin to appreciate the wisdom in desire.


You recently published a book on this worldview by the same title. Can you tell us about it?


Part of why it is so hard to imagine a wisdom in desire is that we, as citizens of modern western culture, have learned to distrust our desires. We treat our desires as problems to manage (and periodically indulge). We blame desire for our psychological and social ills. For example, we believe that we are overweight because we want to eat too much; that our partnerships end in divorce because we want to have sex at the wrong time in the wrong places with the wrong people and that we are depressed because we want more than we can have of something that is not ours. In each case, desire is the problem.


This perception of desire is a result of what I call our mind over body sensory education. We learn, from a very young age, to think and feel and act as if we are minds living inside these material bodies for which “we” as minds are responsible. We learn to look outside of ourselves for guidance in making our bodies fit, and fit in. We look to others for help in securing the control over our bodily desires we think we want.


I wrote What a Body Knows in order to explore the perils of this mind over body sensory education. I focus on three kinds of desire—our desires for food, for sex, and for what I call, spirit. I give examples of why our attempts to blame, control, or otherwise numb, drug, and distract our desires don’t work. I then offer an alternative—an experience shift—that will put us on the path to welcoming our desires, even in their ragged and dejected shapes, as sources of wisdom.



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