Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Myth of Mental Health: We Need Psycho-spiritual Isometrics

A friend who is a college instructor recently asked me if I thought college professors were responsible to promote "good mental health" in their classrooms by not exposing their students to uncomfortable truths about politically incorrect topics. He pointed out that "fear is a bitch," and disturbs our peace of mind. Here is my reply:


As I see it, "good mental health" is not only a potentially dangerous metaphor, but an impossible and unwanted goal. This is another of our culture's unquestioned assumptions--that mental health is ideal, or that it even exists or should exist. In my opinion, physical health cannot and should not be directly and literally translated to the mind or soul. The late 19th century materialist medical model has wrongly and dangerously been applied literally to the human psyche. We should be asking ourselves, "What is health, and when are we healthy?"

The mind and soul (two different but interrelated phenomena) are not exactly like the body. Granted, as far back as the biblical Hebrews and ancient Greeks, the ideas of health and healing have been applied to the mind, but not as literally and all inclusively as in the modern world. The Greeks had their healing Asclepius, but they also had myriad monsters and villains to shake things up. Health does not necessarily mean absence of malfunction or disorder. For example, a football team can be very healthy and complete, but that does not mean that fumbles and off sides are abnormal or unnecessary. Should we consider the Cosmos unhealthy because it began with a cataclysmic explosion and continues to form and reform through chaotic collisions? A bigger view of "wholeness" allows for the chaos as well as the order. There is no creativity and development without both.

Anxiety, fear, "paranoia" and most of what have been labeled mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are normal and necessary human psychological functions and responses. The human mind autonomously produces abnormality and disorder purposefully--to grow, expand and develop into a full human being. Just as an undeveloped baby encounters a world of troubling gravity and hard, sharp objects for the purpose of developing muscle and skeletal structure--so the mind provides all of these "unhealthy" emotions and responses for developing soul. Fear is a bitch, and a bitch is a mother who gives birth. Fear gives birth to an evolving psyche, and bin Laden is the "mother of all psychological development". Neurologist Andrew Newberg explains this simply and yet profoundly in his bestseller, Why God Won't Go Away. He explains the neurology of anxiety as the mechanism that drives evolution, and moves the mind/brain to seek a unitary experience of being (God).

I call these normal and necessary experiences of anxiety/fear, and all so called "negative emotions," psycho-spiritual isometrics--increase through resistance. On the physical level, if you remove the material and gravitational resistance from a baby's life, you end up with a flaccid, atrophied, dead baby. On the psychological level, if you remove the troubling "material and gravitational" psychic resistance from a human soul, you end up with an atrophied and dead soul. Remove ritualized or creative forms of violence from a child's life, you end up with Columbine and the proliferation of gangs. It is a sort of psycho-spiritual homeopathy--the cure is in the disease. If you want to see a FASCINATING study on this, read Allan Guggenbuhl's The Incredible Fascination of Violence, or James Hillman's A Terrible Love of War, or his Suicide and the Soul.

This notion was wonderfully stated in last weeks issue of The Week, by the younger generation feminist, Katie Roiphe in The Financial Times:

"One sometimes sees these exhausted, devoted, slightly drab parents, piling out of the car, and thinks, is all of this high-level watching and steering and analyzing really making anyone happier? Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and 80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. Those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves."

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