The Future of the Body – Part 3

(The Future of the Body is a remarkable book that has an encyclopedic cross-cultural study of the extraordinary potentials that human beings embody. Of the 12 capacities that the book identifies and details out, the following are the notes I made for ‘Vitality’ and ‘Love’. The overview of the book is available here and the notes on ‘Cognition’ are available here.)


Superabundant vitality that is difficult to account for in terms of ordinary bodily processes.

Examples of nascent expressions in everyday life:
– Feeling great warmth on cold days, without benefit of extra clothing.
– Remaining free of infection in spite of contagious diseases among those around you.
– Going without normal amounts of sleep for extended periods without loss of clarity, vitality, or physical strength.

Evidence of evolution from animal to ordinary human to metanormal (extraordinary) development:
Sustained energy levels, exemplified by warm-bloodedness among birds and animals.
Enhanced vital capacity such as the exceptional fitness produced by endurance sports and the ability to survive extreme deprivation produced by religious asceticism.
Extraordinary vitality evident, for example, in the rising kundalini of Indian yoga traditions.

Practices that foster this attribute:
– Psychotherapy that lifts repressions, resolves internal conflicts, and unblocks defences against strong feeling.
– Somatic disciplines that reduce chronic tensions, promote regenerative relaxation, and make available energetic reserves.
– Athletic training that improves blood circulation, metabolic efficiency, and general fitness so that more energy is available for mental and physical activity.
– Martial arts that promote mental alertness, emotional balance in stressful circumstances, and general somatic efficiency.
– Meditation or other religious practices that reduce draining emotions, unify conflicting volitions, and promote access to the subliminal depths of mind and body.


Love that transcends ordinary needs and reveals a fundamental unity with others.

Examples of nascent expressions in everyday life:
Experiencing love that removes all sense of boundaries between you and a loved one, as if you and the other were a single person or body.

Evidence of evolution from animal to ordinary human to metanormal (extraordinary) development:
Loving devotion to others exemplified, for example, in whales and dolphins.
Empathy and interpersonal creativity produced by emotional education. The loving service evoked by religious service.
Love that transcends normal needs and motives, revealing a unity among people and things more fundamental than any differences between them.

Practices that foster this attribute:
Love has many elements, among them:
– Delight in others for their own sake.
– Empathy, which can be developed by:
–>> experiencing actual situations that others experience.
–>> imaginatively entering another’s experience during role-playing, intimate conversation, or solitary reflection.
–>> extending the range and depth of emotions through non-interfering observation of suppressed or forgotten feelings, concentration upon visual, auditory, or other imagery that evokes it, etc.
– Desire that others thrive, which can be strengthened by:
–>> self-examination or therapy that reduces competitiveness and needs for dominance.
–>> practices that promote one’s own integration, well-being, and sense of personal security.
–>> philosophical reflection that reveals the similarity or identity of one’s own and another’s highest ends.
– A well-being that overflows to others, which can be cultivated through all the practices noted here and by mutual self-disclosure.

The Future of the Body – Part 2

(In last week’s post we looked at the overview of a remarkable book, The Future of the Body, that has an encyclopedic cross-cultural study of the extraordinary potentials that human beings embody. This week and the next I will share some notes I made from the book. Of the 12 capacities that the book identifies and details out, we will look at ‘Cognition’ in this post.)


The supreme intellectual capacities evident in some works of genius, by which great artistic or other productions are apprehended ‘all at once’; and the unitive knowledge inherent in mystical experience, which differs from ordinary thinking described, for example, by Plato, Plotinus and other Neo-Platonist philosophers, by the authors of the Upanishads and other Indian seers, by Christian mystics, and countless sages of the Kabbalistic, Hasidic, Sufi, Buddhist, and Taoist traditions.

Examples of nascent expressions in everyday life:
– Correctly sensing unexpected danger.
– Correctly anticipating a melody before it plays on the radio or a dramatic event before it happens etc.
– Apprehending an exceptionally complex and original set of ideas all at once, in conjunction with great excitement and joy.

Evidence of evolution from animal to ordinary human to metanormal (extraordinary) development:
Specialized organs and internal networks to transmit information within the organism, culminating in human symbol-making and self-reflection mediated by the central nervous system.
Cognitive skills developed by intellectual training, logic, and stimulation of the imagination through art and philosophy.
– Mystical illumination described in words such as — In that which is the subtle essence, all that exists has its self. That is the True, that is the Self, and thou, Svetaketu, art That (तत्त्वमसि श्वेतकेतो, Chandogya Upanishad, VI.8.7)
– Creative works marked by extraordinary immediacy, ease, and completeness, which come ready-made as if from powers beyond ordinary consciousness. Mozart for example, said he saw many of his compositions ‘all at once’, and Blake claimed he received poems by ‘dictation’. In Platonic, Sufi, Kabbalistic, and Vedantic traditions, inspired works of this kind are said to come from God, the gods, the One, or Brahman.

Practices that foster this attribute:
Transformative practice can develop cognition by bringing new material into its purview or by articulating and strengthening its processes. Several practices also facilitate cognitive activity in general. For example:
– The resolving of psychological conflicts that impede imagination or analytic thought, as in good psychotherapy.
– The recall of repressed or habitually unnoticed imagery; for example by emotional catharsis or witness meditation, so that such imagery enriches mental processes.
– The reduction of inhibition to unusual ideas, imagery, or associative process; for example, by psychotherapy, meditation, or philosophic reflection that makes them philosophically and morally acceptable.
Strengthening concentration.
– Integration of analytic, holistic, and imaginative thought by the study of philosophy, myth, artistic works, or religious symbols.

– Exercising unfamiliar types of knowing; for example, through:
>>> concentration on evocative ideas, visual images, sounds, or other stimuli.
>>> intensely imagining new worlds suggested by fantastical literature, contemplative writing, dreams, or altered states of mind.

>>> establishing contact with ego-transcending realities by:
—– imagining such realities with concentrated attention till tangible contact with them is established.
—– prayerful communion with them.
—– surrendering to their activity.
—– noninterfering self-observation that deepens an awareness more fundamental than particular mental contents.
—– deliberately emptying the mind so that its fundamental essence is directly experienced.

The Future of the Body

‘The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature’ is the title of an 800 page scholarly book (the bibliography is 85 pages long) by Michael Murphy. When I read it many years ago I was so impressed and so overwhelmed by the details that I decided to read it all over again and take notes. I thought that presenting some of the notes in these blog posts may interest some of you. The blurb on the book says:

“In the oral and written histories of every culture, there are countless records of men and women who have displayed extraordinary physical, mental, and spiritual capacities. In modern times, those records have been supplemented by scientific studies of exceptional functioning.

“Are the limits of human growth fixed? Are extraordinary abilities latent within everyone? Is there evidence that humanity has unrealized capacities for self-transcendence? Are there specific practices through which ordinary people can develop these abilities?

“Michael Murphy has studied these questions for over thirty years. In The Future of the Body, he presents evidence for metanormal perception, cognition, movement, vitality, and spiritual development from more than 3,000 sources. Surveying ancient and modern records in medical science, sports, anthropology, the arts, psychical research, comparative religious studies, and dozens of other disciplines, Murphy has created an encyclopedia of exceptional functioning of body, mind, and spirit. He paints a broad and convincing picture of the possibilities of further evolutionary development of human attributes.

“By studying metanormal abilities under a wide range of conditions, Murphy suggests that we can identify those activities that typically evoke these capacities and assemble them into a coherent program of transformative practice. Such practice, he believes, if embraced by enough people, would constitute a crucial next step in the world’s evolutionary adventure.”

— End of blurb —

The book discusses metanormal capacities under the following headings:

  1. Perceptions of external things. Eg.: Auditions of beautiful music with no apparent source.
  2. Bodily awareness and self-regulation. Eg.: Awareness of cells, molecules, and atomic patterns within the body.
  3. Communication abilities. Eg.: Direct transmission of spiritual illumination.
  4. Vitality. Eg.: Yogis who do not feel the cold.
  5. Movement abilities. Eg.: Out of body experiences.
  6. Abilities to alter the environment directly. Eg.: Spiritual healing from a distance.
  7. Self-existent delight. Eg.: “For who could live or breathe if there were not this delight.” – Taittiriya Upanishad.
  8. Cognition. Eg.: Mozart said he saw many of his compositions ‘all at once’.
  9. Volition exceeding ordinary will. Eg.: Sportsmen doing what looks like superhuman feats when they are ‘in the zone’.
  10. Transcendent sense of self. Eg.: Perception of oneness with all things.
  11. Transcendent love. Eg.: Love that reveals a fundamental unity with others.
  12. Alterations in bodily structures. Eg.: Activation of the chakras and kundalini by yogis.

We will go into the details of some of the above in the weeks to come.