You Don’t Own Your Body

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The Buddha

Outside of the context of abortion rights, which should be absolute, we usually do not think about our bodies in terms of ownership.

But without much reflection, it might seem obvious that you do, in fact, own your body. In the context of western liberalism and U.S. law, we do not have much of a conceptual vocabulary for thinking about our relationship to our bodies outside of ownership. Sort of like your house, you occupy it and should have the right to determine who enters it and what happens to it in general.

So in terms of interactions with other beings, you do effectively own your body.

From the Buddhist perspective, however, no one really ever owns anything, insofar as ownership implies the indefinite right to control anything. Our bodies, like everything else, are impermanent. After you die, your corpse is not worth owning, and you will not exist as the owner of anything any more, so it is perhaps more accurate to say that you rent your body during your lifetime, after which your survivors will dispose of the remains, we hope in the manner that you direct.

Where this gets more interesting is when we extend the observation, as we must, to our minds and thoughts, which are notably more ephemeral and impermanent than our bodies.

This is a great way to get into not self. You may think, of course I own my thoughts. I am the only person who thinks them. No one knows what I am thinking unless I tell them.

But thinking that is a choice. You can, and from the Buddhist perspective, you should, take a step back and observe your thoughts with substantial detachment. This is essentially what you are doing when you meditate. Again, our thoughts take up most or all of our attention until we start to meditate and notice our consciousness, or Buddha mind, which is what we want to take up all of our attention and become the default perspective from which we look at and think about the world.

As your meditation practice develops, you will start to notice the negative thoughts that lurk below the level of your ordinary awareness, but have their effects. Psychological problems are often the visible manifestations of deep seated negative thoughts. Most people who teach meditation are very clear that meditation is not therapy, and they’re right, but meditation is an excellent complement to therapy.

But part of the formula is that you have to be prepared to discard your negative thoughts once you notice them. Presumably, you do not want to own them. Why would you? It’s up to you, but once you start noticing and discarding your negative thoughts, all of your thoughts, for that matter, you will find that you are much happier.

So keep meditating and throwing out those thoughts.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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