Friday, April 11, 2014

Blunted Emotions and Spirituality

"When we refuse to accept things the way that they are, we make ourselves   (and often others) unhappy." --Ronald Pies, M.D.

Author and Psychiatrist Ron Pies writes in his newest book,
The Three-Petalled Rose: How the Synthesis of Judaism, Buddhism, and Stoicism Can Create a Healthy, Fulfilled and Flourishing Life,  that the mind-heart connection in spiritual matters is very real and vital.
And while Dr. Pies has been a sometimes flash-point, many who read his book will take the positive from his discussion on stoicism.

Stoicism can be attributed within Western civilization all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, perhaps further back even than they. Its philosophy espouses an essential aim of traveling lifes' paths via the 'middle way' or as the bible reminds its reader, 'this too shall come to pass.'
While not limited to the West or to Christian thought, stoics may be seen in a more universal, spiritual light.
Those who can learn to see the world in just this moment, life as it really is; just now, the way that things are, can be well on his or her way to a centered and equitable life, a stoic.
 Many people believe that stoicism involves little or no feelings at all. However a study of the ancient thinker Marcus Aurelius, for example, proves otherwise. And he just may be the original cognitive therapist.

In the west, especially, and over the world generally, modern medicine has wrought great power into the realm of nature; we have, through scientific discovery, overcome many biological forces that previously were the bane of humanity. Diseases, such as polio, have been mostly eliminated. Small Pox is today a footnote in history books, and the dread of AIDS and Malaria brought under its scientific scope.
In the realm of the mind, there has been much improvement in treatment and human lives; there is however a reliance and increasing use of anti-depressant drugs, pharmacological medications given to more and more persons world-wide, now often from an early age, that may result in the  blunting" of the emotions or affect, as science refers to it.

 Developed as a wonder treatment against the scourges of mental illnesses, these very drugs intended to aid sufferers may now be the very same substances which prompt their feelings of indifference and coolness towards others.

There is concern. Are we to raise up the first generation known to mankind enveloped by these drugs? Many are pondering how a mother may then make an attachment to her infant, how a parent may properly care for their children; how any person will have the experience of attachment or simple affection for others, how the bonds of marriage will endure in an environment of an increasingly drug induced apathy? For some, it seems to be a matter of trade-offs, deals 'with the devil.' Are we blowing it and not looking towards the greatest causes?

 In the spiritual life, there is a need or desire to perceive what is not immediately, easily or clearly seen, the clouds which obscure the clear blue sky, if you will. The poets, musicians, the writers and the artists among us clamber to express their hearts, and very often speak for our own.
What is to become of them, what is to become of the most basic foundation in human life, to love and be loved without fully intact affection with which to perceive and appreciate? How will modern, stressed mankind survive now?

American researcher, medical doctor and critic Dr. Helen Fisher charges, "these drugs blunt emotions and reduce obsessive-compulsive thinking, but those are also two main characteristics of romantic love. 
Relationships may be torpedoed not because of the factors between individuals, but because-- it just may be the drug.
So many nowadays are taking anti-depressants when young; they wish to avoid stress or sadness, but by the same token they may be robbed of life's joys in equal measure.
"The writer May Sarton noted, "Pain is the great [and] happiness, are what we take and do not question...but pain forces us to think, and to make connections, to sort out what is what, to discover what has been happening to cause it.." And this is at the heart of the spiritual life, making sense of the world around us, and our place within it.

  For Pies, the answer of sorts, may lie in a form of Stoicism: We recognize that there exists in the world a way, a being that existed before our entrance into the world, and will  likely continue  long after our exit from this world.  Addressing the focus of his lifes' work, mental illness, Pies notes, "when we refuse to accept things the way that they are, we make ourselves (and often others) unhappy." And when we do accept things, we may find a certain peace, free to pursue other, more productive tasks.
This presents an eternal spiritual challenge of acceptance for the things that we cannot change and the wiseness to know that one from any other.

The Chaplaincy Institute, a California based inter-faith organization writer notes, "If we can learn to respect and value the spiritual wisdom of people diagnosed with mental health conditions, we will be respecting their very essence. Then perhaps all of us, as a society, will become more capable of loving this part of ourselves: the part that gets disoriented, that is prone to despair, that loses sight of hope, that falls prey to fear, that cannot feel love, that is constantly in motion, and that keeps us from experiencing that beautiful inner stillness where we rest peacefully in the arms of the Divine Presence.



Ron P said...

I very much appreciate your citing my book, "The Three Petalled Rose", for which the correct link is:

I think we would agree that both Buddhism and Stoicism would concur with the famous prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr:

"God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

Best regards,
Ronald Pies MD
Prof. of Psychiatry,
Lecturer on Bioethics & Humanities

Simple Mind Zen said...

Thanks for reading, Dr. Pies.