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Response to Wilder on the Mind, Brain, Spirit Interrelationship.

Jim Wilder, one of the authors of Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You has constructed a very helpful model of human development that correlates with recent discoveries in brain development. His "Neurotheology" (see grounds his practical work. He there argues for a close dependency of mind on body to achieve a wholistic integration. In his experience, Christian theologians have tended to be "dualistic" in their approach, downplaying the body's role in favor of spiritual solutions to issues. Such repression of one’s instincts and emotions in the effort to gain moral control does not work under stress. In crisis situations one reverts to experienced patterns of behavior rather than conscious principles. If we really want to grow in Christian maturity, we need to integrate the mind with emotions and brain development—to be grounded in "joy" and "mature relationships." The mind develops through synchronizing one’s relationships in joy and learning from parents and mentors to return to joy from six basic negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness, shame, disgust and hopeless despair). In this process one develops one’s "control center" (the prefrontal cortex in the right hemisphere of the brain) and a stable sense of personal identity which can remain faithful and stay in relationships despite crises. Explicit consciousness, the left brain, depends on that experiential maturation.

Wilder's unified theory is very persuasive when contrasted with those who have tried to pit the mind over against the body. Such a "dualistic" view admittedly has had a great influence in Christian thought, which has often seen the emotions as unreliable and even temptations to evil if not controlled by the mind. On the other hand, there is evidence that simply identifying the mind with brain development is too facile a solution to the dilemma. Dr. Karl Lehman has presented evidence in his essay, "Mind and Brain: Separate but Integrated" (see for the text) that the mind is distinct from the brain and body it governs. For example, Dr. Penfield, an early expert in "mapping" areas of the brain to coordinate it with different functions (seeing with one part, touch with another, etc.) came to the conclusion after years of research that there was no "place" for the mind. In fact, some children had an entire hemisphere of their brains removed (as a help to control epilepsy) yet they still felt subjectively like "people" and demonstrated "mind" functions. He concluded that the mind uses the brain like a computer but is not identical with it. He did discover that the mind seems to access the brain through the diencephalon, a primitive part of the brain stem, for if this was cut off, the person could do pre-programmed actions but could not "make free will choices, or initiate original, creative thought or activity." After much research since Dr. Penfield’s book (The Mystery of the Mind, (1975)) scientists have still not found the location of the mind .

Another piece of evidence is from near death experiences which Dr. Lehman has experienced through close friends. The brain monitor shows inactivity, yet the person on recovering can narrate precise details of what went on during the time. One of the patients described by Dr. M.B.Sabom (in Light and death: one doctor’s fascinating account of near death experiences (Michigan: Zondervan, 1998) p. 37-51)  described detailed memories of the events that had occurred in the operating room while she was clinically dead, with no heart beat and no respiration.

Further evidence is provided by intra-uterine memories, when the brain development is still very primitive, or even before the brain has begun to form at all. For example, recalled an argument her parents had about whether to abort her, which the parents knew they had told no one about. (Lehman, p. 8)

Prodigies provide still another source of evidence. "Blind Tom" had astounding musical abilities despite being mentally retarded with respect to most cognitive functions, and without musical training. This and other cases are not explained by any brain biological theory Dr. Lehman is aware of.

The above evidence indicates a distinction between mind and brain. Other evidence shows the close connection between the two. Experiments with rats that were traumatized till they lay passively with signs of depression showed that even after other options were presented, they still lay traumatized. When given antidepressants to change their brain chemistry, they began to find available escape options and got free of depressive symptoms. A changed brain chemistry changed their "minds." But also, when they were moved manually (by moving their legs, etc.) to find the new options, they seemed to learn and get free of the depressive symptoms. Action "therapy" also changed their "lie based perception." In Dr. Lehman's medical practice, some patients on medication, who experienced the return of disabling symptoms if the medication dosage was decreased, were able to reduce or stop medication without the return of symptoms, after treatment with EMDR or Theophostic ministry. In other words, brain biology was involved (or the medication would not have helped), and it was changed by changing the mind!

On the other hand, there is no clearly identifiable connection between the biological brain and operations of consciousness, self awareness, thoughts/beliefs, free will choices or demonic phenomena. The connection seems to be through emotions. Emotions follow thought, so that when Theophostic prayer leads to a change of thought from "I’m going to die" to "I’m not there any more, I’m okay now." the person’s emotions change from panic to peace in a matter of seconds. (p. 19) In another study, the same injection of adrenaline led to subjective happiness in a pleasant situation but to aroused anger in a frustrating situation. The mind/spirit clearly played a crucial role in forming the resultant emotion. But also the physical brain plays an important role since stimulation of particular areas of the brain give rise to particular emotions. And changes in the physical chemistry of the brain give rise to the symptoms of mental illness. Still, what symptoms emerge are not necessarily due just to the illness. Dr. Lehman cites one case of Alzheimer’s where mental deterioration and loss of memory did not give rise to distressing symptoms in one who before was loving, humble and Christ-like. In his case, releasing defenses did not free unresolved garbage from the unconscious.

The conclusion Dr. Lehman draws is that both mind/spirit and biological processes are involved in all disorders of the mind. In some, like true schizophrenia, the biological processes are primary. In others, like panic disorders, the mind/spirit is primary. But research is needed for the mind/spirit contributions of schizophrenia and for the biological contributions of panic disorders. When theorists, often very knowledgeable and well researched, speak as though "only brain" is involved (see p.32 for such a case) they are overstepping the data. When three patients with flashbacks of childhood trauma were treated with medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder, they ceased having the flashbacks. Dr. Schacter (Searching for Memory (N.Y.: Basic Books, 1996) pp. 266-7) concluded: "This in turn suggests that the diagnosis of repressed childhood trauma was incorrect." That conclusion was a "false dichotomy" in Dr. Lehman’s view. Or when authors like Allan Shore and James Wilder speak of some childhood deficiencies as "permanent," they should rather say, "from a purely biological point of view they are permanent." (p. 36) What may be possible, even affecting one's biology, from the mind/spirit is yet unknown.

Also, one needs to put Dr. Wilder’s view of "brain development" in a "mind and brain" point of view. The younger brain does not just " download" the older brain. One also "learns" from the older mind — aspects of learning that can especially appear as "just neurological processes." (p. 37)

My own understanding of the hierarchy of levels of development would support Dr. Lehman’s concerns. When we move into "individuating faith," which is the place where we are open to an immediate relationship with God, that breakthrough can bring healing more fully to preceding stages. "Familial" relationships (which would correspond more to the biological processes discussed by Dr. Wilder) are reordered according to the freedom and spiritual transcendence of this new self-knowledge. This is the area most discussed as "spiritual development," growth in "humility" and "surrender to God" which allows one to be detached from enmeshment with one's ancestry and parental figures in order to reinterpret oneself as a "child of God" (as Jn 3:5 says, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."). That spiritual rebirth and freedom allows one to be non-defensive regarding the other, which often leads to relational healing. Each higher system has a relative independence from the lower and can bring healing that was not possible merely from the lower system. (see Ewert Cousins, "States of Consciousness: Charting the Mystical Path," in Fires of Desire, edited by Fredrica Halligan and John Shea (Crossroad, 1992)). Cousins writes:

"It is interesting that often when a problem arises on the ontogenetic level, the psyche will not attempt to solve it there, but rather the subject will be spontaneously drawn into the phylogenetic level where its more powerful energies will provide a solution. The same is true between the phylogenetic and the mysterium levels. A problem, such as the threat of death, on the phylogenetic level may be resolved by the energies emanating from the eternal sphere of the mysterium." (p. 138)

As Dr. Lehman says, "I have seen emotional/spiritual healing result in physical healing" when blocks to faith in healing were released, or when demonic spirits were sent away. But he had not seen emotional/spiritual healing resolve primary biology problems like strokes, Alzheimer’s or true genetic schizophrenia. (p. 38) But even there the lines are fuzzy and what is needed is a humble attitude. We need to ask forgiveness for any arrogant attitude that would downplay the importance of other approaches. We know far too little about the power of the mind when open to God to draw such conclusions. At root we are all a complex energy system that expresses a wounded inheritance (original sin), but has been transformed by Jesus’ resurrection.

If we consider that Jesus’ resurrection brings humanity into God’s time which is an eternal NOW, its healing power reaches back to a healing of ancestors, in fact, all the way back to Adam and Eve (for Jesus is a "New Adam" and as Catholics we believe with the early Fathers Justin and Irenaeus that Mary is a "New Eve."). That may seem irrelevant to present day healing but the experience of people like Dr. Kenneth McAll show that healing of ancestors brings healing to the living. In an article for the Journal of Christian Healing (vol. 5, no 1, pp. 24-27) he gives the results of working with 18 anorectics referred to him over a 5 year span referred to him after unsuccessful hospital stays. He writes: "In 17 of the cases family histories revealed a total of 25 violent deaths or deaths by suicide, 5 terminations of pregnancy for non-medical reasons and 8 miscarriages. There were deaths from accidents and suicides in 10 families. Abortions and miscarriages that had not been mourned were found in 7 families." (25) He prescribed ritual mourning (prayer to release the souls to God). Fifteen of the 18 were relieved of their symptoms, 3 within 12 hours, 1 in a week, 7 in 6 months and 4 over a period of 14 months. Three were not helped, 2 whose parents refused to cooperate with the suggested line of approach, and 1 whose priest prevented the family from pursuing the prescribed mourning process. Dr. McAll’s book, Healing the Family Tree (Sheldon Press, 1982) shows that the relevance of this approach is not limited to anorexia nervosa. In 1994 he published A Guide to Healing the Family Tree which gives many other situations from medical diseases like cancer and diabetes to emotional illnesses like depression. These experiences underline the importance of relationships for our healing (as Dr. Wilder emphasizes) but indicate that these relationships extend beyond death and that their healing can bring release to the living.

I consider this dynamic in the "communitarian faith" stage of development where one's suffering brings healing to others. Jesus took on himself the sins of the world and through his death gave life. Paul affirms that the same dynamic was at work in him, "Death is at work in me and life in you." (2 Cor 4:12) I have noticed that as directees deepen in their union with God they experience conflict with their unbelieving families, but as they maintain a peaceful, forgiving yet assertive attitude toward their families change is brought about. A similar release happens when apology, forgiveness and healing is extended to those who died. What Carl Jung calls the "collective unconscious" is seen in this light as relational influence that extends even from and to those who have died. This is not spiritualism, as Dr. McAll rightly says, since the ritual mourning is done in and through Jesus. (see"Praying for Departed Loved Ones"). Communitarian faith is a level beyond Individuating faith and actually brings deeper healing to that stage.

Finally, "mission faith" is grounded in the inner life of the Trinity and is brought to realization through dying for and with Jesus (martyrdom) that God's self-emptying love might be further expressed in our world. These are the "saints" whose death gives life to faith in others. The saints speak about wanting to suffer with Jesus because he chose to face suffering for us. The deeper their union with Jesus, the wider their influence, even if they never left their monastery (like St. Therese of Liseux) or their desert hermitage (like St. Anthony of Egypt). We live in an extended energy field, as Rupert Sheldrake has put it (see his The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature) and a change in one part affects the others even when physically separate. This is certainly true of Jesus’ resurrection that has regrounded all creation, but it is also true, it seems, of those who share in Jesus’ resurrection through dying with him.

How does this relate to the question of "dualism" or a kind of biological "monism?" We know from the Trinity that distinction (the total distinction of persons in the Trinity) does not necessarily imply dualism (or a threefold separation in this case). In fact, distinction is key to unity in the case of the Trinity. The greater the freedom of the persons the greater unity is possible through their free self-gift. If this dynamic is extended to creation (as I believe it must be), then the relative independence of mind from biological processes influenced by mind does not necessarily imply dualism but can actually be a higher form of unity if the mind welcomes the otherness of the body.

Dr. Conrad Baars developed this more cooperative view from St. Thomas Aquinas. Many believe the spiritual life is struggle, and that it is better when we will against difficulties. No pain, no gain. This came originally from a philosophy in the 12th century called voluntarism. The voluntarists believed that the will was everything, that it must be trained to act against the emotions because they feared the "passions" (a term St. Thomas also used for emotions). This view has dominated the thinking of the church. The goal was good, but it was distorted. St. Thomas, on the contrary, stated that the emotions have an innate need to listen to the voice of reason. He stated that having a feeling or liking for the good definitely adds to the moral value of an action. It is not only psychologically better to strive for the good with one's feelings and actions, it is also morally better. Human are thus totally involved in morality — feelings and emotions. When we are drawn to the good, it is more moral than merely choosing the good. We are far more repulsed by someone who seems to like doing something evil or bad than one who does it but regrets doing it. Similarly, we are more inspired by someone who delights in doing what is good than one who has to make himself do the good, even though the end result is the same. What the Lord intends is that we feel love for the good, not just do good works. If this were not so, our feelings and emotions would be superfluous, or even a detriment to the will. In reality, God has created us so that reason guides the emotions rather than extinguishing them. Reason does not force as a tyrant but guides benevolently.

St. Thomas, as Aristotle, dared to claim that the will has a passive character. It needs to be moved affectively first. Thus we say, "moved to tears." If at all possible, what is good must please the will via the senses, at the same time appeal to it via reason. Affectivity means being affected on a feeling level. Only secondarily is the will effective and active. Once I feel—I have been moved by what is good—then I choose to do it. If a certain activity does not please me, I can only force myself to do it. This willing is compliance. If there was something that would hold my interest completely (like God), then I would be drawn and act effectively. There is no place for an absolutely tyrannical will. The Voluntarists saw the will as supreme. Making yourself do what is right would then be better than wanting to do it. But such people get exhausted. Suzanne Baars (the daughter of Dr. Conrad Baars, author of Healing the Unaffirmed and other works) used the example of a horse and rider. One man was always afraid of his horse. He didn't feed it well because he felt a weak horse was better than a strong horse. The more he pulled on the reins to keep the horse from going too fast, the harder it was to control it. Falls became more frequent as time went on. As the horse became weaker and thinner from being underfed, the harder the man had to work to make it do what he wanted. He had to use the whip to make it go faster till the horse was no longer able to carry its horse and rider and one day it lay down and died. The man became seriously depressed at this failure to train his horse as he thought was best. The horse is like the emotions.

Now look at the analogy when one recognizes the importance of the emotions. A young girl can hardly wait for the colt to grow up so she can ride it. But she must wait for three years for that. In the meantime she spends many hours with the horse, watching it play and run around, discovering itself in the world. She feeds it regularly, washes its coat and patiently leads it by a rope around the neck. Thus they get to know each other, their likes and dislikes, temper and other characteristics. They learn to respect and trust each other. Now, when the time comes to train the horse, the girl must learn how from an experienced trainer. She is fortunate to have one of the best in the business. She learns it takes time and patience to teach the horse to go through its paces, to bridal and saddle it and many more things. In the beginning it tries to have its own way, resists the training, yet responds little by little to the gentle but firm insistence to make him do what she wants. Whenever the girl loses her temper and hits the horse, things get worse and the horse shows signs of obstinacy. The next day the girl has to work harder to catch the horse in the meadow. She has to be especially kind to gain the trust and cooperation of the horse. Both girl and horse, however, learn from their mistakes. What looked like a battle, becomes more and more a cooperative effort. When the girl becomes a young woman and the colt grows, everything runs smoothly because each respects and listens to the other. The horse no longer shies and rears when the woman remounts after falling. It is a joy because the horse does all the heavy work, running long distances, while the girl shows it where she wants to go with barely felt movements of her legs and hands. The girl and horse have become one. They understand and trust each other. Together they do what neither could do alone. Through trial and error, final integration is achieved. The daily ride is pure joy, and her energies are available for more important things, free to go where she pleases because she is one with the horse. (see Suzanne Baars' tape series, Made in His Image: Healing and Wholeness for Living the Affirming Life, tape 2: "Emotions and Authentic Will Power")

The emotion gives the power, the mind gives the direction. They now work as one, whereas the effort simply to control made them two, at odds with each other. Mind, in this case, is distinct but not separate. There is no "dualism" but a complex unity. If we add the spirit to body and mind (as does 1 Thess 5:23, "may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."), we have another distinct but united dimension. The spirit is that part of us that is open to other spirits and ultimately to God, our interpersonal part. The soul is the principle of life in me. There is no separation in any of these aspects, but also no confusion. They are distinct but united, and when God's Spirit is united to ours, we actually participate in divine life which is totally beyond (yet within) our human biology, totally free and freeing yet in relationship. The spirit opens us to living now the life of the world to come. It is the basis of celibacy being a New Testament virtue, for "in heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage," and some are called to remain celibate "for the sake of the Kingdom." Such a call is beyond the OT point of view; it is the life chosen by Jesus and encouraged by Paul. Still, celibacy is not individualism but a higher expression of community — faith community. It is not separate from marriage, since both now are vocations for the Kingdom, but is complementary to Christian marriage as Christian marriage complements celibacy.

In conclusion, I see the biological/interpersonal basis of the mind as analogous to the spiritual image of the Trinity in us. What Jim Wilder sees as essential to healthy development, joy and returning to joy, which results from knowing and experiencing that we are loved and that our love is received, is a finite image of the divine joy which surpasses all understanding. It springs from and leads to our mind’s love of our body and of our foundational community and ultimately celebrates God as source of all love. Wounds and sin bring about a break in this harmony, but because of God’s "eternal" presence, healing and restoration is possible from the very root sin and wound, even into past generations. A changed meaning (mind) through a changed relationship (love) brings about a changed bodily expression. What, if any, the limits are to such a change is impossible to say since with God "all things are possible." Much depends on our own vision of possibility.