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Japanese Bridge (detail), by Claude Monet, 1900, Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation
Leaving the Garden
Splitting the Mind
from the Body and the Soul
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The third split is when you split your mind from your body and soul and make your mind the engineer, the control tower. You make your mind “you.” Almost all people do! As Descartes said during the Enlightenment, “I think, therefore I am.” This is considered the low point of Western philosophy, but actually he was being very honest and observant! Moreover, when you say, “I think,” you largely mean only with the left brain, which has overtaken the Western World since the sixteenth century. Before that, the right brain was often dominant in most of the world. The right brain receives reality in a holistic way, in a symbolic and metaphorical way. It receives the whole without eliminating anything.
When we split our mind from our body and soul and live primarily in our mind, the body gets underplayed and dismissed, and the soul is not even recognized. Even worse, our sense of shame and guilt localizes in our body. (I’m afraid Paul’s use of the word “flesh”—instead of “ego”—may be partly responsible for our thinking of the body as inferior.) Jesus’ statement for holism, or holiness (and they are the same word), is “You are to love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole soul, your whole body, and your whole strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37). He’s clearly trying to describe a way of knowing God, knowing yourself, and knowing the moment. In Jesus, there’s no enmity between body, soul, and mind. Jesus’ psychology and anthropology was really quite up-to-date. But as my wise Franciscan history professor said, “The church has been more influenced by Plato than it has been by Jesus!” (In Plato’s view, body and soul are enemies; in Jesus’ teachings they are one.)
This third split is the very one we try to resolve in contemplation. Deep inner journeys of prayer are one clear and recommended way to overcome this split. (Great love and great suffering are actually the quickest ways, but they normally cannot be sustained at the unitive level.) Contemplation is the mental discipline that detaches you, even neurologically, from your addiction to your way of thinking in general, and your left brain in particular. You stop believing your little mind is the whole show, you stop trusting it as fully adequate, and you start venturing out into much broader ways of knowing, which frankly are much more compassionate because they are not dualistic.
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