More on the Appetite: A Healthy Soul
In a previous post I brought up the appetite, and I ended thinking that much more should be said. Well, really, much more has been said already, and not by me, but by really smart philosophers. So I am going to say again what other smarter people have already said. Because it’s important. Because before you can start changing your life/habits/waistline/health, you have to understand what you are. If you fail to observe and understand yourself, you will medicate your symptoms, but never change the root of the issue.
I am going to expand on what I mentioned about the soul in my other post. Plato wrote a dialogue called the Republic that asks the question, “What is Justice?” Yes this is a yoga blog, and yes I am talking about justice. It’s relevant, I promise. In the dialogue, characters discuss a just city and a just person; if we can understand justice on a large scale in a city, then that will help us understand justice in an individual. If you want to know what Plato writes about the city, go read it yourself; I am going to focus on the just soul. What makes a person just? Like I mentioned in my previous post, there are three main parts to the soul according to Plato’s dialogue: the appetitive, the will/heart, and the mind/spirit.
The appetitive part of the soul keeps us grounded in our physical needs. Just like any animal, we have to eat, protect ourselves from weather and predators, and reproduce. Our appetite is our desire for these basic animal needs. Our appetite for these things is good and necessary. But the thing is, we are not just any animal. Our soul is different. We have two more parts that the animals do not have.
The will or the heart sets us apart. It is this part of the soul that contains human emotion that moves us to act. We don’t just act out of basic needs like the animals do we? You can see this in yourself. We act and make choices because we love, because we hate, because something moves us with its beauty or goodness, or because we want to achieve something great and meaningful.
The third part of the soul is the mind or spirit. In Plato’s dialogue, the mind is not just the brain and firing synapses, the mind is spiritual. It reaches into the unseen realm of logic and God. We think, consider ideas, make judgements, we ask questions about existence, we can comprehend invisible things such as mathematics, we reason, discern truth and error, create metaphysics, and ponder the divine. The mind is our most elevated part, the most godlike part of our soul that is least tied to outward earthly things.
Now that we have the anatomy of the soul in mind, back to the question: what is Justice? Justice is a rightly ordered soul. A just person has all three parts of the soul working together in an orderly way. The mind is on top, ruling the other two. The heart moves us to action according to what the mind has ruled. The appetite desires its due needs in accordance with what the mind and heart have ruled. If the three parts are working together ruled by the mind, you have a just person who acts with wisdom, virtue and moderation.
Not many of us have the parts of our soul ordered rightly. Examine yourself and you will see. I am sure you have been or have met a person who seems to have only one of the three parts. In our culture the appetite usually takes front and center. We spend our lives wanting more and more material stuff, food, and sex, manipulated by advertising that perpetuates the feeling of need, need, need. We reach out our hands in every direction, grabbing for as much as possible as fast as possible. We become manipulative or violent so our appetite can be satisfied. We think we have to have it, whatever it is, because our appetite is ruling.
The appetitive life backfires on us. It’s not good for us to live like that. We all know it, our doctors tell us, religion tells us, our favorite health blogs tells us. Yet somehow we just can’t stop, we can’t control ourselves.
If you are looking to live a healthier life, start by learning how to live a just life. Cultivate your godlike reasoning mind, and your courageous sensitive heart. Explore and exercise those parts of your soul, and maybe your mind and will could become strong enough to control your appetite. A healthy soul lives a healthy life.
I promised earlier that this concept of the soul relates to yoga. Here’s how: the practice of yoga can be a tool for self reflection. Just like you look in a mirror and it shows you the truth of what you look like, we need to look in a mirror that tells us the truth of who we are. Yoga practice can be that mirror. Your time on the mat can reveal the order or disorder of your soul. It’s not just an exercise for the body, but an exercise for your mind and will too. During your yoga practice, pay attention to the thoughts, feelings and desires that go through your mind. As you are holding warrior two for what seems like forever, what does that challenge make you feel? Does your appetite cry out, “that’s enough, time for a rest and some pizza?” If it does, keep going anyway. Yoga class is the time to practice yoking the appetite into it’s proper place. Yoga class can strengthen your mind and your heart, if you pay attention. Build inner strength on the mat, and you can bring it to the rest of your life as well. As you practice, you may discover that getting your soul lined up justly is a daunting task; it may slip out of order every few seconds no matter how hard you try. The balance of the soul is more precarious than Downward Facing Tree pose (handstand), so the goal isn’t perfection, just insight and self-knowledge, and maybe the strength to cut back on pizza.
More on the goal of yoga here.