A Threefold Disease: Unfolding

“This is how it is, spiritually understood, with us human beings.  We have a suspicion about ourselves; we gradually become conscious that we are not really sober…and that is why we conceal ourselves in the same way as Adam hid among the trees.”  -Soren Kierkegaard

Everyone in recovery kind of knows that we have a three fold disease, yet we have not yet mastered distinguishing these three folds or observing how they interrelate.

It makes perfect sense to each of us that we should think about what we need to do.  We have immense respect for our intellect’s capacity to solve problems.  We want to use our knowledge and at least some of that now infinite supply of information available to us, to figure out how to get our lives to work.  We each have certain important areas of our lives where we actually know what to do and know that we can in fact do it.  We all know how to loose some weight or save some money or get organized.  We know how to not speak harshly, or start fights, we know we do not need to get into a rage over the driver who cut us off on the highway, or the person who cut ahead of us at the supermarket or the theatre.  In short we know what to do and know we can do it.  This is in fact why we get mad at ourselves when we don’t do that thing we committed ourselves to do, or we did do the thing we promised ourselves we would never do again.

This is what I would like to look at today, this clarity with which we get angry at ourselves for not doing what we know how to do, or feel guilty when we know we could have done better.  This anger or guilt would obviously make no sense if we didn’t know for sure that our minds are in charge of our bodies, so we can put that down as one of the deepest certainties of human beings, and a great source of misery to virtually every one of us.  We doubt many things but we do not doubt that we, and others, can do what we know how to do.  We do not doubt that knowledge is power.  Even if we learn about alcohol that ‘self knowledge avails us nothing’ we will not fully apply the lesson to our finances, our romances or our projects of self discipline.

We think that the world we are thinking about is the same as the one we are walking around in, we know that the friend or spouse or stranger we know is the same as the one we are looking at.  We overlay the mental fold onto the physical.  Whether or not this is cunning, it certainly is a baffling and powerful illusion.  I know my wife’s fears about her work and since I know this I don’t notice how I never take up the task of listening to her words, to take in the concerns she is seeking to share in this moment.  I’m so occupied by what I know that I don’t hear what would genuinely make a difference.  It often seems as though our minds are in charge of our bodies.  I think I will raise my right hand and up it goes, so obviously I’m in charge and ought to be upset with myself (or others) when I see that self control is not exercised by myself or them.

We believe that knowledge is power and that knowing is the source of doing.  This is so deeply and unconsciously embedded in our minds that it just doesn’t occur to us to question it–and yet moment by moment, in some of the most important concerns of our lives we demonstrate over and over that self knowledge avails us nothing.

Alcoholics have sort of known about this for years.  I used to figure out, every time I got drunk, what went wrong and would convince myself again and again, each time I had failed that now I was in control–I felt it with certainty.  I never really saw through this phenomenon until another drunk explained to me that this is the nature of powerlessness common to alcoholics.

The neuroscientists have actually discovered an area in the left hemisphere of the brain that they call the interpreter.  They can now, for example, give an instruction to the right hemisphere which it will carry out without the left hemisphere knowing the instruction was given.  “The left brain interpreter will nonetheless construct a contrived explanation for the action, unaware of the instruction the right brain had received.” “Although the concept of the left brain interpreter was initially based on experiments on patients with split brains, it has since been shown to apply to the everyday behavior of people at large.”  “the facile explanations provided by the left brain interpreter may also enhance the opinion of a person about themselves and produce strong biases which prevent the person from seeing themselves in the light of reality and repeating patterns of behavior which led to past failures.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left_brain_interpreter)

So our minds are obviously designed to operate on the principle that they are in charge of our bodies and yet, just as obviously, our minds are not in charge of our bodies.  Our minds and our bodies are in completely different realms.  Something obviously is in charge, the body follows rigorous patterns, even immensely painful patterns of behavior that we consciously do not want to repeat and yet we do repeat them over and over.  These patterns are obviously automated and if you have been following this blog you can remember that the etymology of the word auto-matic means “self willed,” and thus indicates our dis-ease at work.

This auto-mationalso governs the mental process.  Not only are our minds not in charge of our bodies, they are not even in charge of themselves.  We are not consciously thinking our ‘happy’ thoughts.  We think things we do not want to think and imagine things we do not want to imagine and remember things we do not want to remember, this is the real experience of ‘mental dis-ease.’  We think and imagine and remember what is consistent with our will’s concerns.  Our behavior and our mental processes are in the service of our will and our will is ill.  Thought and action seem to be correlated to each other because each is correlated to the same third force: our will.  We are always willing to do what we do; willing to think what we think (remember, imagine, etc.) and we don’t even notice this.  Will is transparent.  We are always willing to justify our resentful behavior and gather evidence for the truthfulness of our resentments.  Our minds are always willing to make up reasons, explanations and validations for what our wills will.

I am always interested when I hear a scientific validation of something my spiritual discipline has told me of for years.  I respect science and envision a converging of narratives among disciplines as things progress.  I do not expect anything to occur in the physical domain that does not obey all the laws of physics.  I am not, however, inspired to turn my will and my life over to the care of my local neuroscientist, nor to live in the constant delusion that my mind is in charge of my body and that I will gain satisfactionand happiness from this life if only I manage well.

I observe the repetitive behaviors in the physical domain, I assume neuronal patterns are at work.  I observe the same with my mental phenomena.  The same patterns of thought, of denial, the same images of failure etc. are repeated over and over.  I imagine it is all very scientific how this occurs.  I am glad to hear of neural plasticity.  I couldn’t really prove it for myself but I believe pretty much what one believes in these matters, in our time.

But now I remember that no amount of self knowledge relieved my pattern of drinking and, for me even more painfully, no amount of self-knowledge or understanding altered my financial behavior.  Observing and admitting that I was ‘willing to under-earn’ clarified things for me, and supported me in surrendering my will and my life over to the care of my higher power.  Of course, in order to observe this I had to wake up a lot.  I had to radically increase my level of consciousness and making this admission still requires a humbling process, but then I witness my body behaving in ways that relieve me of my fear of economic insecurity and I enjoy the thoughts of being aided by a power greater than myself and I envision a world where we actually help each other wake up from our auto-matic state and free ourselves from our ‘mind forged manacles.’

Originally Posted February 11, 2013