An Integrated Self: The Only Healthy One

Whether you credit Ryle or Schopenhauer for the corrective or blame the problem on Descartes, I will tell you that bad philosophy has made many of us very physically ill.

Now you need never have heard or read any of those guys for my point to be made and what I propose as the right medicine to be found.

I want to maintain that a fully integrated self leads, inexorably, to healthy behavior. Where you find disease, that is chronic behaviorally related disease, you will find a fractured self. The cure will turn out to be, not a psychiatrist, but a personal trainer, a gym and plenty of sweat. Oh, and ‘whole, real food.’

Now the reason that a psychiatrist is not usually, though sometimes, the needed corrective is that the fractured self arises not from bad parenting or too many or too few spankings as a child; the fracture that infected each of us grew in our society; it was the very air we breathed. It grew from bad philosophy!

I remember as a young man reading “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Mallory. This was written in the 15th century- I was really young then! – and has none of the fancy self awareness we associate with modern fiction: a notable early example of the latter is “Ulysses” by James Joyce. It was all action. Intentions, even feelings were visible to the reader only in so far as they were revealed by action. Pretty cool, actually. Jousting and heads flying and brooding, darkened skies. Monty Python with fewer jokes.

OK, hold that thought: feelings, thoughts and actions are one. Well, used to be.

Now along comes Descartes, not long after actually, by the way you are right it is not quite this simple, and he posits an inner world and an outer world: consciousness and the physical world. Cogito Ergo Sum: I think therefore I am. Not just self and other but almost inner self and outer self.

Well western thought seems never to have recovered. In fact in so far as some have attempted a correction they went too far the other way and we now have a reductionist account of consciousness. Please hold on and I will help you cure your diabetes or low testosterone or (fill in the blank) with these musings! Really.

Well everybody from Kant, pretty dry genius German guy, to Schopenhauer, not as dry or, to me as satisfying, to Gilbert Ryle, everyone tried to patch things up: to put Humpty Dumpty together again. To unite the actor and the action. Ryle wins the memory contest because of his famous phrase: ‘the ghost in the machine.’ This clever phrase was the short hand version of his withering criticism of ‘Cartesian Dualism.’

Well the problem was out of the box and all of the Schopenhauers one might find have not repaired the breach between self, thought, feeling and action. And here is where the almost desiccated, distant musings of philosophers made us all sick: we believed the breach and have not brooked any cure.

There is a cultural model for “The Thinker,” “The Feeler,” and “The Doer.” There is no cultural model for the “Whole Man.” Feelings, thoughts and actions in harmony, so integrated that not even a knife edge fits between the parts of this wonderful whole. We can almost believe there is such a person but not quite, not really. He, or she, must just be a better actor than the rest of us craven, shriven, confused, indecisive, vacillating, dualistic or triune beings. Don’t believe it? Just try to do anything, ANYTHING without being ‘aware’ of the moving intersecting parts of thought, feeling and actions.

Now, I have several women in my practice who are Equestrians so whoever is reading this I am NOT talking about you, and the other day one mentioned that the only time in her day, almost the only time in her life, when she ‘quit thinking’- as you will have guessed she meant ‘thinking and worrying too much’- was when she was riding and jumping. She was fully there; nowhere else, not a ‘thought’ in her head. In the moment, happy, active and at peace. There in the midst of death, certainly injury, defying action she was ‘at peace.’ I know what she means: I have had the same reward on a 5.11 lay back a 1000 ft above certain death.

OK, I am not just talking about ‘mindfulness’ and its manifold emotional rewards. I am pursuing other quarry: the broader cost of our fractured self and its cultural origins.

My VC’s work too much, eat poorly, sleep little or at odd hours; they are often athletes and over-train or don’t and sit for days at a time. We somehow think this is heroic; in a way it is. Still, the society that creates such heroes doesn’t know what is good for it; at least good for its inhabitants. Our artists must be crazy; they live in their heads or emotions. Art must be an illness, or it can’t be art. Our athletes must be stupid or  if smart still must live as animals; promiscuous and bereft of normal feelings. These are fractured beings, fractured selves that have or will get diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, depression, divorce, loneliness; you get the idea.

There are models of wholeness, both Western and Eastern ones. Alignment of the three centers of Chi, thought, emotion and basal needs, is considered health in the East. I understand there are different models but I use this truncated one to illustrate. In the West we pay homage to the Renaissance Man; well not really we tend to use that term when we mean ‘dilettante.’

Practically this culturally fractured self feels that the need to eat right is a failure of our animal self to thrive when we feed it badly and never exercise. The fractured self is affronted that we need a spiritual/relaxation discipline to remain emotionally and physically healthy. The same fractured self groans at the prospect of sweat and sore muscles as if we should have evolved beyond such base and human needs. Sleep? Time wasted! You know what I mean. It is an odd voice recalling us to live as a harmonious single being in the fullness of an integrated, whole self.

Well for now I am that odd voice. Guilty of everything here charged but still trying to recall us to our whole and integrated self. Anytime you feel that stopping to prepare and eat good food, anytime you resent having to interrupt work to go to the gym, anytime your worrying is such a full time job that you don’t have time to breathe and meditate; these are times you are suffering the fractured self. All cure begins with a proper diagnosis.

I once wondered why my diabetics couldn’t just eat better. My thoughts ran along the lines of: this is crazy; she eats candy bars and worries about going blind?! Only a fractured self, an intelligent fractured self, could live so non-linear, so irrational a life. Well look in the mirror Dr.Mike. Do you see a fractured self doing any number of non-linear, read ‘stupid’, things? I do indeed. No, I am not multiple personalities, a favorite ploy of contemporary philosophy of mind and consciousness ‘thinkers’, I am an inadequately integrated self.

“Be here now.” “Care not for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself; sufficient unto the day are the troubles therein.”

If I could only get that into my head I could get rid of this spare tire, sleep better, take time to shop for my vegetables, not rush through the gym and, by the way, smile more at my children. Probably wouldn’t have a heart attack either. How about you?

Have Fun, Smile and God Speed,

Dr. Mike

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