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The Integral Map - Part 4 - Body


The integral approach recognizes not just one, but three different types of bodies.  They are:

    1. Gross body
    2. Subtle body
    3. Causal body

The gross body is the one we most commonly think of.  It includes every aspect of our physical form.  The subtle body is not physical, but is rather comprised of the flow of our energetic systems.  The causal body is the super-subtle ground and cause of our gross and subtle bodies.  It is the infinite energy field that surrounds and radiates from the self.  Now let’s take a closer look at each of these three bodies.

Gross Body

Gross body includes every possible aspect of our physical form.  This means everything from atoms, to molecules, to genes, to cells, to tissues, to organs, to organ systems, to the whole body.  It encompasses anatomy, biochemistry, and all physiological processes, such as metabolism, digestion, breathing, and growth.  It includes all the physical conditions of health and illness, as well as every aspect of our behavior.  If we do not have any particular training in health, nutrition, fitness, or medicine we may think we have little or nothing to offer in terms of gross body.  However, it is not necessary to have a medical degree or extensive knowledge about the human body in order to be mindful and responsive to a person’s physical needs. 

Some aspects of gross body that are more observable to those of us without medical training are its outer appearance and behavior. For instance, if we pay attention we can easily notice (or ask about) the following:

  • Physique
  • Posture
  • Movement
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Use/abuse of substances (including nicotine and caffeine)
  • Use of prescribed medications
  • Injuries
  • Physical disabilities
  • Athletic skills
  • Sexual behavior
  • Skin tone
  • Depth of breath
  • Range and quality of motion
  • Response to stimuli
  • Facial structure and expression
  • Clarity of eyes
  • General hygiene
  • Personal grooming
  • Cycles of activity and rest/sleep
  • Clothing, makeup, tattoos, jewelry and other adornment

It is possible to make many discerning observations about the gross body without any specialized knowledge. The more mindful and aware we are of the gross body, the better prepared we will be to respond to someone’s physical needs.  We can know if people are hungry, or thirsty, or tired, or in discomfort and so respond in a helpful way.  If we are tuned into how someone looks and moves in their gross body, we are more likely to help them seek the care of medical or other health professionals when necessary. 

As we open our awareness to all of these aspects of a person’s physical existence, it may not be immediately obvious how all this information will help us provide the care they need.  It may seem besides the point that someone has high cheekbones, green eyes, and tendonitis.  In isolation, none of these details may seem very significant.  However, put together they make up the total unique gestalt of a very particular and unique person.  Noticing everything we can is a way of committing ourselves to someone, and leads to more creative responses that are finely tuned to actual people rather than our preconceptions. 

When attending to the body it is important to include not just the attributes and qualities of a person’s physical form, but also the entire realm of their behavior.  Human behavior is a vast and complex subject and the focus of countless volumes of research and speculation.  While I cannot explore this subject in depth here, it is important to know that any possible aspect of behavior can be included in an integral approach.  It is considered to be part of the upper right quadrant, or of body.

Subtle Body

The subtle body refers to the energetic systems that move through the physical body.  They are non-material, as electricity and light are non-material, but they are still objective phenomenon that can be seen as “Its”, per the upper right hand quadrant.  If you rub your palms together and then hold them just a few inches apart, you can feel an energy field between them.  It feels like two magnets with their repelling ends subtly pushing away from each other.  This is one tangible way to experience your subtle body.

There are many different systems that recognize the energetic or subtle body, including but not limited to the following:

Most systems assert that there are several different layers of subtle bodies, hierarchically arranged from lower to higher.  The higher the body, the more subtle, and the closer it is to some conception of a Divine Absolute.  Higher level bodies can be called etheric, astral, mental, celestial, higher mind, etc.  There is not enough space to explore this topic at length here.  I simply want to acknowledge that when we speak of “body”, to be fully integral we will have to include the energetic systems that underlie our physical form.  There are many ways to go about this.  

We may not have extensive knowledge or skills in working with the subtle body, but we can still consider that a person we care for may need such a practitioner.  This might include acupuncture, acupressure, Reiki, therapeutic touch, chakra work, homeopathy, bioenergetics, yoga, spiritual practices, etc. 

Causal Body

At the highest level of our subtle bodies we find ourselves at one with the universal energy field.  This is called the causal body.  While most of us are not conscious of it, this body is continuously present and available to our awareness.  It can be felt as the infinitely vast space in which all of our experiences arise.  It is beyond but inclusive of our sense of a distinct physical self as well as all of our subtle bodies.  There is only one causal body, which is to say that we all share the same infinite energetic openness as the ground of our gross and subtle bodies.

Please visit Part 5 - Speech


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