Nāmarūpa: Distinguishing Psychological & Physical Sensations

Nāmarūpa is the Pali word for mind and body. That the word is unbroken tells you something about the nature of their relationship. This is what we are! A series of mental and physical phenomena. Try to find something else.

In being human, the body is a vehicle for seeing the nature of all existence, for seeing the mind, and for becoming free. The body is where the mind can be revealed. The body slows the mind down into something that can be felt. The mind (all mental phenomena – thinking, emotions, perception, tone, knowing) is unfathomably fast. A refined consciousness can witness and know the mind’s activities independent of the body. But, the body is a useful way to see and feel the arising, moving, changing, impermanent nature of the mind.

When we are present/mindful/aware, we are a knowing mind residing in a body. The body offers concrete affirmation that we are present. The mind plays in the body. The mind can go anywhere in the body. The mind can appear anywhere in the body. The mind produces physical sensations in the body. All movements of mind have a physical manifestation – on a spectrum of gross to subtle.

This distilled breakdown of what we are made of offers us some grounding in simplicity. Some of the other work we do (i.e., intuitive inquiry into psychological patterns) can have the tendency to complicate things unnecessarily, and to orient too much to the upper chakras.

Attending to the interplay of nāmarūpa settles us into the impersonal nature of things. It allows us to rest more deeply in the lower chakras, grounding us in here-ness without the need to dig for understanding or to get distracted by the ethereal aspects. We simply notice. Notice the minds activity and movement. Notice the felt sense in the body. Notice the relationship between the mind and body.

Some explorations for your practice:

  • Is this nāma or rūpa? (Is this the mind or body?)

  • What is my relationship to the sensations in my body? (“Relationship to” is in the mind – is this pleasant or unpleasant, and am I grasping or avoidant?)

  • When does nāma influence rūpa? And when does rūpa influence nāma? (When does a thought cause me to move the body? When does a physical experience cause a thought or emotion or reaction?)