The question of self and body have been largely discussed in philosophy. This question addresses what makes up an individual and which characteristics are essential for a subject to be and act like a person. Some follow the Cartesian dualism view, in which the mind is argued to be better known than the body, since the mind is our essence and the body is simply our property (1). While others such as Evans and Sartre argue that the body is the factual part of ourselves, and therefore constitute a persons identity and self-awareness, the way individuals act on their body in intrinsically connected to how the body acts on the world, this unity expresses a view of living and experiencing reality from inside and therefore intimately relating body with mind (2). Body is the existing part of ourselves, the physical condition for someone to be in this reality, while the mind is the intrinsic and non factual part of the self. Both ways of analyzing and experiencing the body are valuable, but only the phenomenological theory, the incorporation of mind and body as one, gives room to a transcendence of body through mind, which can be achieved in many ways in this reality through a disconnection and overcoming of the given factual aspect of an individual.
For Sartre, a person can see themselves in two distinct ways. A person that is a “being for itself”(3) is a self consciousness being that see their self and body as dependent parts of the same whole. It is a type of consciousness that acts self-reflectively and have self-consciousness, therefore is free and able to transcend the body, due to awareness of both duality and of the material world. Another scholar, Shoemaker, characterizes this type of self, as beings that find no need for introspection (4), the perceiver is aware of themselves by being aware of the objects, a per-reflectively awareness of world is what carries an awareness of self and consequently of mind. This type of subject is intentionally aware of objects and therefore more capable of controlling their actions and desires. The self in this case isn't a reflection of the mind, but instead the mind in its material form, and therefore is a self-governing type of being, that is conscious of their material state. On the other hand, a person that is a “being in itself” is a person filled with self (5), it considers itself as something given to them rather then a part of their being, and therefore don't have much control or power to govern their material state, its objective is simply to be what it is, or to fit in without self-consciousness. In this later case, the body is simply used by the mind, or the property of mind, therefore it is a debodified type of consciousness, or in a Hegelian term a 'alienated' (6) type of being, in which their actions aren't seen as themselves but instead as part of themselves.
A being in itself can also be seen from the Cartesian dualism perspective, which is largely argued by Descartes, in which the mind is said to be something that owns experiences, something that is a non-material essence of self also known as Ego (7). In this view the ego is better known than the body, since the body is seen as belonging to the self but not essentially the self, that is because the body and the mind in this sense are intimately related but fundamentally separate and the body is simply seen as the owner of material properties while the mind is the real ruler. In this sense the body is a instrument or a objectified self since it is dependent on the mind for everything. This disregard of the body as essential self can be called, as metaphysical philosopher Strawson suggests, “a no ownership view” (8) in which the body undergo experiences, instead of also possessing states of mind. This view would be one in which the body holds only instrumental value, and not intrinsic value, only the Ego have intrinsic value but it is alienated from the body and the body is simply a part of self that goes through the world without being part of it. The objectification of the body in the case of the Cartesian Dualism is to be avoided if one wants to transcend the body, the features of the body are as important as the mind to the achievement of transcendence, since they are both part of self-consciousness and therefore must be integrated in order to achieve mindfulness or harmony in this existence.
A “being for itself” is a type of existence that gives room to a more fulfilled and self-controlled life, since a self-reflection, or a consideration of one's desires, actions and taught makes a self-conscious and mindful reality, in which you are your body, and you choose how to be and you can always transcend the factual aspect of the body by nihilating (9) or negating your body and its desires, as well as negating what is socially acceptable and consequently having a self identity or a word in your experiences and life. In other words, a being for itself is a subject that have the possibility of choosing what to do instead of just fitting into a given type of self, which is the dualist, or the being in itself type of experience, in which the body is simply to be acknowledged not nihilated or changed, since it is given and independent of mind. The monks, the Lama's, or any type of individual that goes against, or beyond, what society dictates, and that choose what type of life is a life that gives room to a flourishing self, characterizes a being that negates the ideology of its time, that knows that the body is the mind, and therefore treats its body as itself. It sees itself as a active determinant of its body and therefore is able to dictate it. Precisely, by nihilating the desires, or the norms that are ideologically in place, these type of beings, the beings for themselves, nihilate their body, since they are aware that their body isn't an instrument, but instead a essential part of themselves, and therefore act consciously. On the other hand a “being in itself” lives a instrumental life, since it acts not self-reflectively but conspicuously, it lives as its body was someone else, and therefore fits in very well in the twenty first century society, in which the subjects are simply objects of a large scale economy that dictates how one should act and think in order to fit inn. This type of being lacks both knowledge of self-action and of self-control, it does not nihilate itself by being aware that it is its mind, but instead it is 'sunk in life'.
A “being for itself” is free of facticity, ready to transcend the boundaries of the material world, and finally, a free being, due exactly to its awareness of unified experience between body and mind.
Many religions argue that a disconnection of mind and body is possible in this reality. In the majority of times the person is still aware of themselves and of their being, but its body is used as an instrument to transcend this reality, or even to help people that are in other realities. In the case of Buddhism, meditation is seen as the exercise in which a subject frees their mind by transcending the limits of the body and appropriating a cosmic energy that is worth more energy than many hours of sleep to the body. In this case the subject needs a extensive training of detachment from bodily desires, in which they nihilate not only what is socially acceptable, but also its own desires and bodily necessities. Buddhism gives rational explanations to why a body nihilation is necessary, and how a connection with nature and with less abundant living gets you closer to mind fullness and body equilibrium. These types of beings, that practice meditation and have achieved a self control that is unimaginable to the Western conceptualization of free will, are clearly beings that are for themselves, and that have conquered a body powerfulness that is unachievable to subjects that are being in themselves, which live a given life without self consideration and nihilation. They have overcome what is traditionally the custom in order to rule over their body as thinking things, their body isn't seen as solely subject of experience but also as possessors of states of mind in which the body is a essential element and must be controlled from the inside.
The transcendence of seeing the body as a given mechanism, to seeing it as an opportunity of action, is central in order to achieve mindfulness and self control. It can also be illustrated in some individuals negation of basic needs such as eating, not abstaining from junk food or industrialized food, but abstaining from food as a whole. I personally know a person that claims that the photons composes the atoms that satiate the body, as much as the protons, electrons and neutrons, and that it is as simple as changing our mental programming, or the way we see ourselves, in order to change the alimentation mode: half hour of sunbath is worth a banquet (10). A person that is able to do such detachment from what is known as bodily necessities must be a 'being for themselves' in which their will and freedom of choice dictates how their body act and responds. This person is a well known professor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and she have achieved a level of control over her own body that the majority of us might think it is impossible or a fraud, but in reality she simply have overcome the Cartesian dualism view, and live this life from the inside, as ruler of her body and as if her body was for her, and solely dependent on her dictations rather than a mechanism that is opened to error and 'mine but not me', which gives room to a vast interference from outside dictations of what to do and how to act on itself.
When one is aware of themselves and of their mental states simply by existing, then that person have achieved the state of 'I as Subject' and are actively vigilant within their own mind and body. The metaphysical philosopher Evans, have argued that features of the body are as important as mental states when identifying parts of a person's consciousness. According to him to be subjective is to integrate body with mind, since no distinction of body from mind should be truthful when trying to achieve self consciousness a 'relationship to yourself applies not only to experiences but equally to many bodily states.' (2) That is precisely due to to the fact that the body is our 'existential self that is embodied' and therefore your bodily properties are you as much as the Ego is you. Since it is through the body that others relate to you and that you relate to space, or to the reality we are inn.
This perspective is also very similar to the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Since it is believed that what you eat, or the types of food that one consumes, is directly related to one's temper and personality (11). In this case people that nihilate what is socially acceptable and abstain from drinking alcohol, eating industrialized food and have a macrobiotic type of diet tend to be much more self-conscious and overall more happy than the ones that see their body as their property and eat whatever is easier or trending in the modern conceptualization of food. It is scientifically proven that your diet influence what you think, how you relate to yourself and your temper, this is an illustration of how the body can influence the mind more than what is usually discussed in metaphysical discourse that favors the ruling of the Ego over the body.
Another type of transcendence of body through mind that isn't common in metaphysical discourse that I find peculiar but nevertheless very common in this reality, is separation of body and mind through religious practices. The religion that I was raised in, which was born in France but became very popular in South America, called Spiritism, it is claimed that the mind leaves the body of the subject, called 'medium', and gives room to other peoples mind to communicate through that body, in this case the minds of people that aren't in this reality, or that aren't embodied. The medium puts their body as an object for other minds to communicate through them, but in a very different manner then the objectification of the Dualist, since in this case the body isn't a machine of the mind but instead a tool of transcendence from this reality. In Brazil crimes have already been solved using this transcendent type of communication to the dead. The personification of other minds have been popular for thousand of years in 'pagan cults' and traditions in Africa and the Middle east, in which the body of a subject is used by another entity to communicate to this world. To help others in the case of Spiritism, or to harm others in case of pagan cults. The medium or the subject that puts themselves into this position of bridge are usually very simple people, that abstain from what is conceived of a socially acceptable fulfilled life in order to help others and flourish in this reality through other means, especially through body nihilation and transcendence. These people, can't be people that live a given life, or that see their body as a simple reflection of an alienated mind, but instead are people that have achieved a level of self-consciousness that is beyond. These subjects are 'beings for themselves' and due to that are able to use their body as medium to other minds, only the subjects that have overcome the separation of mind and body are able to experience a disconnection of body and mind.
One way to identify if a person is a being for itself or a being in itself is by analyzing the way they relate to their body, to the space, and specially to self. The transcendence through mind is only achievable when the individual have overcame the view of body as something self-identical, passive and inert which are characteristics of the beings that are in themselves, the beings that simply are, that see themselves as undetermined. When the individual have achieved a fluid and dynamic view of their body, and is able to transcend the 'givens' or the facticity of reality in order to act and to be self-conscious then that person have achieved the level of mindfulness and consequently of transcendence. Only after this self conceptualization meditation or any action of transcendence of body through mind is actually achievable and possible, since self-control and self-consciousness gives room to possibilities that the mind was unaware in the 'being in itself' type of experience.
(1) Levine, Steven. "Phil 381." Class Notes on Strawson. UMB, Boston. Mar. 2014. Lecture.
(2) Evans, Gareth. "Commentary upon Strawson's Individuals." Things without the Mind. Print
(3) Sartre, Jean-Paul. "Chapter 2 - The Body." Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. Philosophical Library, 1956.
(4) Shoemaker, Sydney. "Introspection and the Self." 121. Print
(5) Levine, Steven. "Phil 381." Class Notes on Sartre. UMB, Boston. April. 2014. Lecture.
(6) Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Phenomenology of Mind. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.
(7) Levine, Steven. "Phil 381." Class Notes on Descartes. UMB, Boston. April. 2014. Lecture.
(8) Strawson, P. F. "Unity and Objectivity." The Bounds of Sense: An Essay on Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason' London: Methuen.
(9) Sartre, Jean-Paul. "Chapter 2 - The Body." Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. 309. Philosophical Library, 1956.
(10) Hirsch, Sonia. Meditating in the Kitchen. Rio De Janeiro: Correcotia, 2011. Print.
(11) Knowler, Karen. Eat Right for Your Personality Type: How to Work with Your Unique Personality to Create the Perfect Diet for You. London: Hay House, 2012. Print.