Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Mind over Matter

Of Mind and Mental Disorder and the Benefits we Can Reap by Putting Mind Over Matter

The Yoga school holds that each experience that we have both pain and pleasure get registered in our mind and every experience leaves behind a certain amount of impression on the mind. And even when such impressions are not apparent on the surface, they are adequately strong to work beneath the surface, subconsciously. And the thought that we repeatedly think in our conscious mind goes down to the subconscious mind and what is in the subconscious conditioning ultimately bubble up as thoughts. And if the subconscious conditioning is largely dominated by malevolent and negative impressions, the sum total of these impressions will influence our thought and work without our being conscious of the fact. And this will create a strong motive and tendency in us for bad deeds. It is the same with our positive conditioning too. If we continuously think many good thoughts and do many good deeds, they in a similar manner will force the individual to do good in spite of the individual. Therefore, both good and evil have an equal share in moulding our character.

Freud belief that most of the  mind lies below the threshold of the conscious experience.  His psychoanalytical theory on the structure of mind holds that the unconscious mind forms the bulk of the human mind that contains unconscious thoughts, desires and impulses of which we remain largely unaware. But the fact that we are not aware of them, in no way prevents them from affecting our behaviour.

Freud is of the view that much of the material in the unconscious was once conscious but has been actively repressed (often anxiety provoking thoughts if brought into consciousness), that is to say, the once manifested as gross become finer and finer and then go down to the reservoir of the unconscious and become subtle and influence our behaviour without our being conscious. If we go by this logic, it can be argued that, if we constantly raise many good thoughts and do many good deeds, these total amounts of impression will go down to the unconscious and become subtle. And if we have accumulated many evil tendencies in the past then the new waves of good conditioning that go down to the unconscious will oppose the previous tendencies of evil thought and they will check the fine working beneath the conscious surface (this is my subjective opinion and one can differ from me).

And if we see bubbles rising up from the lake then it naturally follows that the cause must be somewhere down the bottom. Therefore every conscious action has a cause in the unconscious and conscious mind is simply a puppet in the hands of the unconscious.

John B Arden in his book “Rewire Your Brain” observed that the more we think about certain objects, the more the object will pop into our mind again and again. Repetition of certain behaviour or thinking rewires the brain and breeds habits. And a thought is an object that appears in the mind and our consciousness of the object becomes a thought. And there is no thought without an object and the thought always consists of a name and form, an emotion and theme or ideas and opinion. In deep sleep, we experience no thought state.

The eyes are simply the doors of the mind through which the object that we entertain titillate our senses. And when we add pleasure to our habits, the pleasure centres of the midbrain get fired. Initially individuals enjoy the habits but over a period of time, there comes a stage where we cannot assert our mind against the command of our own nature that eventually dictates our states of existence and we become a machine in the hands of our subconscious conditioning reducing our life into awful situations. And that is why we see people with substance use disorder often relapse after they are discharged from their treatment. And “Old habits die hard” but the good news is our brain is not “Hardwired” but “Software” with experience and the only remedy to bad habits is counter habits.

John Milton puts it convincingly when he said, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven”. The interpretation and internalization of a situation can create a living hell. And one can create a heaven if one is in tune with fairmindedness and grace that can withstand any given situation with ease and calmness.

Herein I brought the concept of hell as a metaphor to understand mental disorder and to feel and realize the pain of how a person who lived with chronic mental disorder actually experienced in silence. I personally have suffered from Pure O a subtype of OCD for more than a decade along with clinical depression which often is the case for people suffering with OCD. And one of the things which I have realized is that, people get stuck in a neural rut of negative thinking associated with overwhelming fear which is often unknown. This also happens to people suffering with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which resulted out of some malevolent experience or traumatic incident such as rape, sexual abuse, war-combat or serious accident. It is as if being trapped in a “time loop” where a person is compelled to relive the same day again and again in a dark unending tunnel looking and hoping for a window of light to open up and it is no less than a nightmare or hell.

Mind is a subtle entity which cannot be concretely defined but can be known by the functions it performs. And to deal with something which is finer that cannot be objectively measured becomes a hindrance unless one experiences the same. To study the objective world is easy in a sense many instruments have been invented and developed to gather facts from it but when it comes to the internal world, that is mind, we find less instruments to help us. In the study of mind we see lots of mere theorizing that leads to disputes and quarrel among the psychologists themselves. The object of study is internal within us, the mind itself is an object or in other words, the mind studying the mind.

Therefore it needs a certain amount of existential wisdom with inborn empathetic qualities to deal with people who suffer pain in mind lest the possibility to empathize the pain and to feel the weight of what they suffer is less likely to be fruitful. We cannot satisfy the curiosity of knowing a country just by looking at the map. And “bookish knowledge” does not fructify unless the knowledge integrate and becomes part of our personality. For medication, medicine works on its own independent of human interference.

Before playing the game, we need to learn the rules of the games but one of the hapless situation of chronic mental disorder is that after having understood how the disorder works and having read enough amount of the available literature on the disorder, the sufferer will not be able to withstand his/her thoughts in the face of the disorder and the mind will overpower with all its might ultimately losing our own freedom and working under the dictates of the mind and becoming his slaves. And that is where medication parts come into play as of my experience. It is astounding, how the mind being part of ourselves acts as if like an archenemy for without its destruction either I will be trapped under its influence throughout the life and freeing which I can hope to live a normal life. The Upanishadic sages were right when they said, the mind is, verily, the cause of bondage and the same mind is the cause for liberation (in a literal sense).

People usually find it uncomfortable to disclose their psychological issues out of shame and fear of social opinion. And it is often said that people living with mental disorders are seen as if it is something to be ashamed of thereby attaching a stigma with no rational reason.

It is as if punishing a mother whose child had just gone missing because she was not responsible enough to look after the child. The punishment was not at all necessary because the mother was already a victim, punished and tormented by the loss and separation from her child. And even after that if we find a grain of interest in punishing her, it just reveals the sort of personality and character we possessed.

People living with mental disorders face the same situation if the environment in which he/she lived is filled with brute and ignorant folk of people. The person living with mental disorder is already a victim tormented by the pain and suffering that comes along with the ailment and the external world unwisely contributes more to his blow by forming social opinion and stigmatizing irrationally. They have not gone to the brothel for which they should feel ashamed of.

We must never contribute to the one which is in our keeping, the social opinion which is under my control. By forming social opinion we consciously or unconsciously are augmenting the doses of suffering to whom it suffers. But people should not always blame the world outside and if we are too sensitive to what others think and talk around me, it just reveals the chances of more vulnerability, weakness and fragility of the minds we possess. No one, however good he/she may be, can always escape the slanders. Even the character Sita in the Ramayana who is considered to be absolutely unblemished and spotless was slandered and as a consequence was destined to go on exile to the forest again. And sometimes it is misery that teaches more than happiness and we should consider the trauma as a blessing in disguise that provides an opportunity to strengthen our mind to withstand external influence.

We see reality only in the gross, the gross external thickness and feel as if the power lies and lodges in the gross physical body. But it is a distortion of reality. The power in reality is lodged in the subtle and fine and not coarse. We see power in the muscular body, the swelling of the muscles and think that the muscles are powerful. But it is the thin thread like nerves which bring power to the muscles. If one of these is cut off from reaching the muscles, it will not work at all. And these tiny nerves bring power from something subtler and finer still – our thought. And we experience this every time when we go to the gym and lift up a huge weight. The so-called will power or moral stamina is lodged in the mind and it is the fine which is really the seat of power. (Education: Vivekananda)

One of the classic examples which I remember is the famous “Marshmallow experiment”, a study on delayed gratification by psychologist Walter Mischel. In this experiment, four year old children were given a “Marshmallow”, an American sweets, and they were given certain conditions to eat it. They are told that, if they could maintain the “Marshmallow” for a while (at least for 10 minutes), until the experimenter (Mischel) arrived they would be given an extra marshmallow (2) to eat. Most of the children ate the marshmallow as soon as they are left alone with it but somehow some children were able to resist the temptation. Those children who ate the marshmallow right away are considered to be oriented towards the present and those who resisted the temptation have an orientation towards the future. And when the children were interviewed years later (14 yrs. later) when eighteen years old, stark differences were noticed between the children who were able to delay gratification from those children who could not resist immediate temptation. The experiment found out that those who were able to delay gratification were more self-reliant, decisive, confident and cooperative, while children who could not resist their immediate temptation turned out to be more moody, overly frustrated, indecisive, prone to envy and jealousy.

This experiment hints at the necessity for certain amount of morality to regulate ourselves and this is not not to be interpreted as a coercion or self-imposition, but a means not to fall into misery. And without purity in thought it is impossible to control the movement in the fine. No person can possibly have a meditative mind if the person were to be lying above the mattress of black money.

Therefore, it is better to strengthen the mind than to pump the body like a balloon. And it is again better to emancipate the mind from its moral debasement before the idea of social and political emancipation. The latter can be fructified only through the attainment of the former. Books and wealth; status and position: name and fame are secondary details. All these are just a mere means to test one’s character.

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