Psychophysical Ethics: The Crux of Mental Discipline

Hello dear readers,

I would bet my last dollar that you consider yourself to be an ethical member of society. And I trust that you are. But, have you ever considered how ethical you are towards yourself?

In The Attention Revolution, Dr. Alan Wallace outlines six prerequisites for embarking on a successful Shamatha expedition (AKA, an intense mindfulness meditation retreat).

The fifth among these prerequisites is a call to ethical discipline.

But ethical discipline doesn’t stop there.

Dr. Wallace goes on to explain the third (and arguably the most foundational) aspect of ethical discipline with which most of us are unfamiliar: psychophysical ethics.

How often do we pause to consider the duality of our relationship with ourselves? In the flurry and frenzy of modern life, we tend to automatically identify ourselves with our mind, and accept whatever conditions are present within it—accepting moods as they come, feelings as they arise, and thoughts as they intrude.

To engage in psychophysical ethics is to engage in a certain mental and physical hygiene, where we become impartial observers of ourselves, able to maintain a certain homeostasis within our present experience—modulating and regulating it, so that we can live in harmony within our own minds and bodies.

I think that reconceptualizing the way we think about our relationship to ourselves is the most powerful thing we can do.

When we look at self-care, self-compassion and self-love as a prerequisite to being ethical, suddenly the whole concept of taking good care of ourselves turns on its head.

Suddenly, we are charged with the task of prioritizing our own peace of mind, and prioritizing our own wellbeing—because without it, we simply cannot be ethical members of society.

Think of it this way: if our minds were able to be observed by others, and able to interact with the world through a kind of osmosis of emotion, what would our contribution to the environment be? Would we be contributing kindness, love, compassion, joy, exaltation?

Or would we be infecting our environment with the remnants of self-hatred, the stench of rotting trauma, and vague, amorphous insecurities?

Psychophysical ethics is about realizing that your mind DOES interact directly with your environment. It’s not a thought experiment. You can think of it as a kind of emotional and psychic osmosis; those around you are affected by the quality of your mind. Your environment is DIRECTLY affected by the state of your mental life.

You are ultimately responsible for the role you play in your ability to be an ethical member of society. YOU are responsible for your own psychophysical ethics.

Connect with Metta Human


Wallace, B. A. (2006). The attention revolution: Unlocking the power of the focused mind. Simon and Schuster.

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