Sex, drugs and Mindfulness

Philosophy-lover Philip Cowell considers Mindfulness the perfect tool to practice Michel Foucault’s political call for embodiment 

Man in movement Laura Eades 2015

Man on the move. Laura Eades 2015

Come again?

If Foucault said sex isn’t the be all and end all (let’s all do drugs and S&M instead), then mindfulness might be saying the same thing.


True, drugs and S&M are replaced in mindfulness with the simpler pleasures of the body, like sitting, standing, lying down, walking, but the point remains: sex isn’t the only way to have pleasure; standing still and noticing yourself from moment to moment can be just as pleasurable (and indeed sexy).

Keep going…

Of course, mindfulness isn’t at all against sex (just think of tantra). Yet there’s still something mindful, or mindfou, about what Foucault is saying (and he certainly wouldn’t have put it in mindful terms). What is it?

You tell me!

Foucault seems to say that sex doesn’t have to be the only way we access pleasure in our bodies (and it’s certainly a dominant one in our culture). This is him towards the end of The Will to Knowledge: “It is the agency of sex that we must break away from, if we aim – through a tactical reversal of the various mechanisms of sexuality – to counter the grips of power with the claims of bodies, pleasures and knowledges, in their multiplicity and possibility of resistance.”


In a toss off between grips of power and claims of bodies, who wins? Claims, of course. Etymology lovers take note: the word ‘claim’ has links to the Sanskrit for ‘cock’, as in ‘dawn-calling’, and also old English for ‘making a noise like a cow’. I love the idea of mindfulness meditation as a kind of cock-a-doodle-doo or moo.

So what you’re saying is…

It’s almost as if, after centuries of philosophers bigging up the old mind, Foucault is saying: woah there guys, we forgot the body. Mindfulness, bodyfulness or heartfulness (whatever we call it) is that other tactical reversal where we bring to each moment beginner’s mind and patience and kind curiosity. In Foucault’s words, we counter the grips of power with the claims – the dawn-calling – of our bodies.

By honouring these claims in each moment, and the pleasures and knowledges we can get from them, mindfulness opens us up to the possibility of possibility itself, and plausibility, and flexibility. We can loosen the grips of power on us through softly, slowly stopping, pausing, and listening to the claims of each moment as they ride our bodies like waves. And the great thing is, you don’t have to fork out for one of those expensive leather whips.

So, Foucaultfulness?

Sort of. We can certainly bring Foucault into our mindful practice.


What is it your body is claiming in this moment? Often our bodies feel more like they’re ex-claiming. We can feel like exclamation marks in our own homes.We don’t necessarily need to do S&M to be radical.

Reflect on Foucault as you come to rest in one of the 80,000 positions you can take in mindfulness. After you have found your breath (where had it gone after all?), kindly invite curiosity towards yourself and your relationship to the grips of power. Zoom in on where your body touches the ground or whatever holds you. How much of what you experience of your body is you and how much is the world?

The floor you are resting on is connected to the street which is connected to the river which is connected to your nearest Parliament and the corridors of power. How can your awareness of the claims of your body – and the small but infinite pleasures you experience from it – talk to the possibility of resistance in this moment?

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