Sunday, March 2, 2008

Psyche and Substance [Edward C. Whitmont]

[emphasis mine]

We deal with everyday reality as if image and psychic dynamics were irrelevant and separate from "material" events, which are still considered to be largely determined by chance.

There is by way of compensation the opposite tendency of confusing holism with psychologism, of viewing all pathology as secondary to psychological attitudes. The old Cartesian dichotomy is still prevalent in such an approach but with reversed denominators. The body is here treated as an epiphenomenon of the mind rather than vice versa. Now a "right" attitude of mind is held to be the exclusive determinant in curing or preventing illness by avoiding stress and tension.

While it is certainly true that a hopeless or pessimistic outlook on life, repressed psychological conflicts and tensions do result in organic pathology, and that positive imaging helps in restoring as well as maintaining health, it is equally true that no one alive can wholly avoid tension, stress, conflict, repressions, depression and disappointment. Indeed, psychological complexes and crises are the building stones of personality. Frustration and repression are the unavoidable conditions of ego-building no less than approval, success, satisfaction and joy. The capacity to become ill seems to be built into the ground plan of human nature regardless of mental efforts to the contrary.

Morever, we are not merely free-floating minds but minds embodied. A genuinely holistic viewpoint cannot but see the body as the visibility of the mind and the mind as the expression of the particular individual self's way of embodiment. Just as our psyches are open to and indeed participate in the energy patterns that surround us, so our bodies interact with substance and are parts of earth processes and nature. And nature is not only kind and life-supporting; it is also destructive and terrible. Natural living does not guarantee health. Indeed, a perfectly natural way of living would amount to a return to savagery. Primitive man also knew illness. Civilization undoubtedly produces its own pathology but natural primitivism does also. Whichever way we turn we cannot avoid crisis, pain and disease. The tendency to illness appears to be an aspect of the earth dynamic, as is healing. They are the two sides of the same coin.

"That which wounded shall heal" is the oldest known formulation of the similia similibus curentur wisdom of the unconscious or of the gods, and is ascribed to the Delphic oracle in reply to the injury of Telephos. (Telephos means the far shining light.)