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bene¬ts to society as a whole. If cases of second wind and more extraordi-
nary displays of heroic endurance show that these deeper wells of energy
can sometimes be found, then James pragmatically sought more reliable
methods for drawing on these unfathomed powers in order to overcome
the habitual limits of pain, fatigue, and vigor that inhibit our activity.
Though “emotional excitement” and a sense “of necessity” often help
“carry us over the dam” of inability, the essential catapult to these further
energy levels, James maintained, is “an extra effort of will” (EM, 1226).
The systematic exploration of our deeper powers should thus include the
diverse means of strengthening the will to make those powers available.
“This,” he insisted, “would be an absolutely concrete study, to be carried
on by using historical and biographical material mainly” (EM, 1240).
Deeper into the Storm Center 173

Yoga is the “methodical ascetic discipline” of will strengthening that
James ¬nds historically “most venerable” and richest in “experimental
corroboration” (EM, 1230“1231), so his essay™s central example focuses
on a philosopher friend™s fourteen-month experiment in hatha yoga,
the yoga form that emphasizes somatic practices of posture, breathing,
and diet. Quoting at great length from this friend™s epistolary reports
that analyze the yoga methods used and their effects, James con¬rms the
extremely empowering transformation that his friend described. But he
is surprisingly quick to reject attributing distinctive “value to the particu-
lar Hatha Yoga processes, the postures, breathings, fastings, and the like.”
They are nothing more, James claims, than “methodical self-suggestion”
that altered “the gearing” of his friend™s “mental machinery” and thus
made his will more “available. . . . without any new ideas, beliefs, or emo-
tions, so far as I can make out, having been implanted in him. He is simply
more balanced where he was more unbalanced” (EM, 1234, 1236). This
uncharitable and empirically ungrounded verdict is also highly inconsis-
tent with James™s pragmatic grasp of religious experience and his com-
mitment to the in¬‚uence of bodily actions on mental life. It is impossible
that someone who underwent systematic training in hatha yoga practices
would have not acquired any new ideas, beliefs, or emotions. At the very
least, one would acquire all those ideas, beliefs, and emotions involved in
performing those practices (of breathing, posture, somaesthetic aware-
ness, and fasting) and in feeling that one had made progress in their
Why, then, would James try to minimize the particular value of yogic
body methods for strengthening the will by reducing them to a mere
form of mental self-suggestion, “of mental in¬‚uence over physiological
processes” (EM, 1234)? Perhaps he thought his commitment to the exclu-
sively mental nature of volition would be compromised by accepting that
the will could be intrinsically strengthened by bodily means. In any case,
hatha yoga (or Zen meditation) is not merely a matter of performing bod-
ily postures and actions but of performing them with the proper mind-
fulness of rigorous concentration, as in the focusing of one™s complete
attention on one™s breath. Such intense concentration on feeling one™s
breath and other bodily processes involves, however, the sort of somaes-
thetic introspection that James (and Kant) regarded as unproductive in
practical life and psychologically dangerous.
But the facts show otherwise. Yoga, zazen, and other systematic disci-
plines involving somaesthetic introspection do not lead to the mental
weakness, morbid introversion, and hypochondria that Kant and James
Body Consciousness

feared. Instead, they tend, as in the case of James™s friend, to bolster
one™s spirits and strengthen the individual™s will and resiliency. Besides
the empirical evidence of long traditions of practice and testimony that
bear witness to the positive affects of these meditative disciplines, there
is now further con¬rmation from new scienti¬c research in experimen-
tal psychology and neurophysiology. Clinical studies have demonstrated
that meditation training (including disciplines of sitting meditation, body
scan, and hatha yoga) can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety, depres-
sion, and panic, thus generating more positive affect in the meditating
subjects.51 Other experiments have established the neurological basis
of this positive power. Having determined that positive feelings and a
“resilient affective style” are “associated with high levels of left prefrontal
activation [in the brain] . . . and with the higher levels of antibody titres
to in¬‚uenza vaccine,” scientists have shown that subjects introduced to
an eight-week meditation training program display not only signi¬cantly
higher levels of left-sided anterior activation than the control group of
nonmeditators but also signi¬cant increases in antibody titers.52 The
results clearly suggest that meditation improves not only our mood but
our immune function.
My own experience of Zen training in Japan has shown me how method-
ical somaesthetic re¬‚ection can also develop one™s power of volition by
directing intensely focused consciousness to one™s breathing or to other
somatic feelings (such as the contact of one™s feet with the ¬‚oor in walking
meditation). And this strengthening of volitional power can be explained
in terms of James™s own theories, just as the admissibility of evidence
from personal observation would surely be granted by James™s principles
of philosophizing from experience. Will power, as James insists, involves
keeping attention ¬rmly ¬xed on an idea and resisting the mind™s nat-
ural tendency to wander off through speci¬c distractions introduced by
new sensations and our habitual interests and thought associations. We
are naturally and habitually inclined to devote attention to the outside

51 See, for example, J. Kabat-Zinn et al., “Effectiveness of a Meditation-Based Stress Reduc-
tion Program in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders,” American Journal of Psychiatry, 149
(1992), 936“943; and “The Relationship of Cognitive and Somatic Components of Anx-
iety to Patient Preference for Alternative Relaxation Techniques,” Mind/Body Medicine, 2
(1997), 101“109.
52 See Richard J. Davidson et al., “Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced

by Mindfulness Meditation,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 65 (2003), 564“570; and Richard
J. Davidson, “Well-Being and Affective Style: Neural Substrates and Biobehavioural Cor-
relates,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B, 359 (2004): 1395“1411,
quotation on 1395.
Deeper into the Storm Center 175

world of ¬‚ux and new perceptions, not to the constant and imminent
experience of breathing. Even if we momentarily attend to our breath-
ing, our thought almost immediately tends to move on to other things. It
is thus extremely dif¬cult to compel attention to remain focused wholly
on the experience of breathing itself or indeed on any somatic process.
Disciplines of sustained somaesthetic focusing can strengthen our will by
training our attention to keep its concentration and resist its inclination
to wander. Breathing and the body are wonderfully apt targets for such
exercises of focusing attention because they are always there to focus on,
while the mind typically ignores them in running off to more interest-
ing or demanding objects. When I began my meditation training, it was
hard for me to keep my focus for more than a single breath, but after
continued, strenuous effort, I was able to sustain such concentration for
much longer periods, yet do so with feelings of relaxed ease and plea-
sure. And my increased powers of attention could then be shifted beyond
the breathing or meditative walking, so that everyday objects and famil-
iar people were suddenly perceived with greater intensity, depth, and
accuracy. My movement and action, like my perception, became sharper,
surer, and more satisfying.
The strengthening of the will through somaesthetic awareness can also
be explained in terms of James™s key concept of habit. While breaking
the habit of consciousness to rush off to other things it is prone to pursue
because of familiar association patterns and entrenched interests, dis-
ciplined somaesthetic introspection also creates a habit (by sharpening
an ability) of mindful control: the power to direct sustained attention to
what consciousness is reluctant to focus lengthily on and would otherwise
not long attend to. Once this power of attention is developed, it can be
used to keep attention from drifting to the disturbingly morbid thoughts
that sustained somatic re¬‚ection is presumed to generate. Such gloomy
ruminations, in any case, have little to do with the careful monitoring
and clear consciousness of actual bodily feelings that somaesthetics rec-
ommends (for certain contexts and occasions); they instead are vague,
obscure, though powerful imaginations of disease and death, whose dis-
turbing power rests largely on their obscurity.53

53 Though much contemporary psychological literature still con¬rms a link between rumi-
nation and depression, recent studies insist on the need to distinguish between introspec-
tion that is depressive, obsessive, and focused on the negative (designated as rumination)
and other, more positive, forms of introspection that are distinguished as self-awareness
or self-re¬‚ection. See, for example, S. Nolen-Hoeksema, “Responses to Depression and
Their Effects on the Duration of Depressive Episodes,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100
Body Consciousness

Perhaps James refused to advocate somaesthetic introspection for prac-
tical life because he was so psychologically disinclined to deploy it in his
own life of action. Though effortful in some sense, somaesthetic re¬‚ec-
tion also calls for tranquillity and repose. This is because (as the Weber-
Fechner law indicates) it is hard to notice subtle aspects of our breathing
or muscle tone when engaged in vigorous, rapid movement. Outside his
sickbed and armchair of introspective theory, tranquil slowness was not
something James could readily muster. Notoriously volatile, restless, and
impulsive, he was likened by his sister to “a blob of mercury.” His attention
“was eagerly but impatiently interested” in what engaged him, so he loathed
“prolonged application to the same task” and had to use his mind™s won-
derful quickness, mobility, and boldness to make up “for what it lacked
in poise.” James knew this and gladly characterized himself as “a motor,”
prizing dynamic energy and vigorous movement as part of his strenuous
When James felt his motor in good form, he sought to increase its pro-
ductive power by passionately working it at higher levels of performance,
typically followed by some kind of physical or nervous breakdown. Even
when ill, he ¬rmly believed (at least till the last two years of his life)
that the best remedy for his chronic ailments and poor spirits should
be more vigorous exercise rather than thoughtful repose. Despite the
many months James spent in rest cures throughout the spas of Europe,
his comparative neglect of the valuable uses of slowness and energized
repose is evident from his favored menu of practical somaesthetics, the
actual body practices he most keenly pursued and cherished in his quest
for health and the cultivation of his powers.
Though willing to try almost anything to augment his energy and cure
himself, James clearly preferred methods that emphasized strenuous
muscular effort and vigorous movement, even when chronic back pain
and later heart disease should have militated against it. This preference
re¬‚ects his heroic ethical ideals, his dynamic temperament, and the back-
ground ideologies of effortful puritan striving and machismo athleticism

(1991): 569“582; S. Nolen-Hoeksema and J. Morrow, “Effects of Rumination and Distrac-
tion on Naturally Occurring Depressed Mood,” Cognition & Emotion, 7 (1993): 561“570;
and P. D. Trapnell and J. D. Campbell, “Private Self-consciousness and the Five-Factor
Model of Personality: Distinguishing Rumination from Re¬‚ection,” Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 76 (1999), 284“304.
54 See Perry, TCWJ, 32“33, 66, 220.
Deeper into the Storm Center 177

(strikingly exempli¬ed by James™s contemporary Teddy Roosevelt) that
were prominent at that time.55 Weight lifting was an early favorite of
James, but his deepest love was “rapid mountain-climbing,” not only for
its physical exercise but as his “main hold on primeval sanity and health of
soul,” his trusted “old resource of walking off tedium and trouble.” Even
after learning he had damaged his heart through impulsive excesses in
climbing mountains, James continued to push himself with “uphill walk-
ing,” complaining that he had to go slower than he liked but proudly
happy that he could still make “a steep and slippery” climb.56
He disliked the sedentary nature of rest, regarding it almost as an
immoral expression of lazy weakness but also fearing its damage to “diges-
tion and nerve-strength” (C4:346; C9:157). Insuf¬ciently appreciative
of the values of leisure (and probably fearful of the listless morbidity
he experienced in the rest cures of his youth), James would turn to
rest only when too weak to cure himself by more strenuous means. In
dealing with any experienced weakness, he seemed to prefer the hero™s
“bullying-treatment” of resolutely ignoring one™s painful feelings and will-
fully exercising over the pain to vanquish it. In dealing with a sore foot,
James proudly reports to his wife, he “triumphantly applied the bullying
method . . . and walked it down” (EM, 1226; C8:389).
Too ill and fragile to serve in the Civil War (unlike two of his younger
brothers), James compensated with a heroic ideal that was martial and
dynamic, “a strong man battling with misfortune.” “Keep sinewy all the
while,” and “Live hard! ” were his ethical mottoes. “The impulse to take
life strivingly,” James ¬rmly held, “is indestructible in the race.”57 This
may be true but so is the impulse to repose, since rest is essential, even
in a strong and striving life. We can also strive more effectively when

55 Roosevelt was also diagnosed, in his youth, as neurasthenic but healed and transformed
himself through rugged exercise and the rigorous willful quest for manly strength and
toughness. See Tom Lutz, American Nervousness “ 1903 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Press, 1991).
56 James seems to have ¬rst injured his heart in July 1898 while mountain climbing in the

Adirondacks and trying to keep up with a group of much younger climbers (including
some young women he especially admired). The heart damage became much more severe
when he re-injured himself the next summer by getting hopelessly lost climbing in the
same area of Mount Marcy and thus forced to scramble arduously for many hours before
¬nding his way home. See C3:59, 64, 228, 345; C4:327; C8:390“391.
57 From a diary entry cited by Perry, TCWJ, 225; C4: 409; C7:399; “The Sentiment of

Rationality,” in The Will to Believe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 74.
cf. “The Moral Equivalent of War” (662), where James writes, “Our ancestors have bred
pugnacity into our bone and marrow, and thousands of years of peace won™t breed it out
of us.”
Body Consciousness

our efforts, however forceful and swift, have a restful calm rather than
a frenetic nervousness about them. The Asian martial arts and archery,
the swinging of a baseball bat or golf club or stroking of a pool stick all
eloquently exemplify this point. Paradoxical as it sounds, the very effort
of maintaining an alert, animated, or active repose (as contrasted to a
passive collapse) can be a strenuous project in itself. I am not referring
only to the special meditative states of yoga or Zen noted earlier; there
are also projects of introducing more tranquil mindfulness in the tasks
we perform in everyday life, thus giving our actions (and being) a greater
sense of ease and grace. Because our habits are largely the misshapen
products of excessive busyness, tension, and pressure, this more relaxed
use of the self requires a strong-willed, strenuous effort of self-monitoring
and re-education, providing perhaps a “moral equivalent of war” “ of bat-
tling one™s own bad habits “ that might meet even the Jamesian criteria of
heroic striving in the “theatre of human strenuousness.”58 He certainly
avowed that the task was dif¬cult, when he eventually was convinced by
an unconventional Boston physician that he was systematically misusing
himself through excessive muscular effort in his everyday actions and
Less than two years before his death, James began seeing a Dr. James
R. Taylor, whom he initially described as “a semi-quack homoeopathist”
(C3:376). Though continuing to complain about the cost of the frequent
visits and remaining skeptical about the bene¬ts of the vapor inhala-
tions, vibrations, and “homoeopathic pellets” that the doctor adminis-
tered (C3:386), James was clearly persuaded by Taylor™s insightful diag-
nosis and re-educative instruction with respect to the damaging effects
of James™s chronic tendency to excessive tension and muscular contrac-
tions (or “crispations”) in his everyday life. The real bene¬t of Taylor™s
treatment, explained James to his brother Henry,

is to re-educate me as to my general way of holding myself in the current
of life. . . . What tells in the long run . . . is the ˜pitch™ at which a man lives,
which may be a vicious and false one. . . . Suf¬ce it that I have been racing


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