The human brain is a marvel of biology. Composed of over one hundred billion neuron cells, it is capable of great feats of ingenuity. At its height, it takes part in the creation of great musical sympathies, can process multiple languages, can program machines capable of sending images through invisible space, understand the complexities of astrophysics and quantum mechanics, and harness the relationship between numbers. But, at the end of the day, a brain is just a brain. It can do so many things, and record information for a lifetime, but without a mind, it is nothing.
The mind is the immaterial part of us that works through the brain. It is where we find ourselves, our hopes, dreams, interests, drives, loves, and beliefs; things that cannot be determined by the physical structure of the brain. Our mind goes beyond mere problem solving and survival. It can appreciate beauty, make art, tell stories, find delight in the accomplishments of others, contemplate our own existence, dream, and perhaps most unique from the animals, express love. Also, unlike the minds of animals, who are confined to the lifestyles their bodies were designed for, we are free to choose what we want to do, and, just as importantly, we have the intelligence to do it.
But why would evolution alone bring about all these things in the human mind? None of these things I have listed above are needed for our survival. Evolution dictates that natural selection drives a species’ progression, and yet we have no equal to compete against mentally, except for other groups of men. In fact, no other creature on earth, living or dead, even comes close to the mental capacity of man. We have adapted ourselves to live in nearly every habitat on the planet, from deserts to tundra, and from the mountains to the sea, but we are still the same man that descended out of Tigris and Euphrates. In fact, we came, at the beginning, with the mental facilities necessary to understand how to build a rocket to the moon; we just didn’t know how to do it yet. We have no need of art, and yet we painted on the walls of caves in absence of other flat surfaces. Sports and games are certainly not practical, and yet they aid in the development of bonds, enough so that, every four years, they bring the entire world together. No other creature can remotely claim the compassion we can feel for each other, even those most distantly related to us on the other side of the planet. We’re certainly the only species that pursue wisdom for its own sake. In truth, evolution alone simply does not explain why we are the only sentient creatures in Creation.
This mind of ours is like a grace itself, a speck of the Holy Spirit, a gift from God given especially to us men. This grace gives us ideas, contemplations, inventions, and works of art. Grace of the mind is a gift from God, an ennobling of the physical brain, separating us from the rest of earthly Creation.
But something happened to us, as a result of the fall of our first parents. We took these intellectual graces, these freedoms the mind offered us, and immediately abused them. We lived our lives according to our impulses and desires. We gave in to vengeance, sexual desires, greed, luxury, and perpetual entertainment, committing the worst of evils in the process. It was by this misuse of God’s grace of the mind that we brought about misery in the world; plague, famine, genocide, slavery, and war to name a few. Among these many miseries are the miseries of the mind. I am of course referring to the many names of depression.
It is a fact that the brain cannot feel physical pain; it is why brain surgery on a conscious subject is possible. Yet, if you ask any victim of mental illness, it seems that the untouchable mind, the part of ourselves that transcends the body to the spirit, is very much capable of pain. Thoughts haunt us. We fear the past, present, and future. We fear of losing what we’ve got, from something as superficial as material things, to something as profound as our souls. Some fear being alone, others being in a crowd. Many fear that they simply don’t matter, thinking themselves constant failures. For some, it is something beyond words: fear of the unknown. Whatever the case, the pain is real, yet it cannot be felt by any of the body’s pain receptors. Ask a patient with schizophrenia, and you’ll see that the pain can be quite paradoxical; both imaginary, yet entirely real. It is a problem that has become more relevant today.
We live in a sinful culture, and sin is irrefutably linked to physical suffering. Our culture has more access to luxury and pleasure than any other in human history. Thus, we have grown into a mentality that says more comfort is always good, and we should try and get the most of it. To get more comfort, we must push aside whatever stands in the way, including deep thought. We push away the very gift of thought, because it is too hard to think about it. We look for ideas that are easily palatable, and believe in what is easy, rather than what is right. We stray from wonder, even survival, to utter uselessness. The problem is, the grace of the mind is still there, and it wants deep thought; it wants the truth, and that truth is Christ. When the truth is denied, the mind fights back.
By setting our goals based on wealth and power, we find ourselves unfulfilled because greed is never satisfied. By seeking out endless pleasure, we become addicts, developing weak minds that lack any kind of temperance. Akin to how eating junk food or refusing physical exercise makes the body susceptible to disease, a weak mind is prone to fall into disarray. We fool ourselves into thinking that restraint is wrong, and that religion and cultural practices are barbaric, primitive things that prevent progression. But by removing temperance, we become slaves to our habits. We become incapable of thinking beyond our comforts, and are unable to move forward in life. We have traded a good King for a slaveholder.
By constantly seeking distractions to entertain us, we shorten our attention span, and lose our ability to think for ourselves. We lose the drive to seek the truth, and fall into maze of falsities. In thinking that we are the masters of our own destiny, we find ourselves crashed and broken when we realize how truly powerless we are. It shows in the increase of mental disorders in the world. In this day and age, the breakdown of the mind is becoming more prevalent; it always does when a culture has reached the peak of pleasure and prosperity.
How, then, do we overcome this illness of the mind? How can we alone hope to cure something with our minds, when our minds are the thing that is sick? The field of psychology has made many advances in regards to treating the ailments of the mind, developing medicines and treatments that have made a difference in the lives of millions. In reality, though, psychiatry alone is only capable of treating half the problem, as it can only understand the half of the mind as it pertains to the brain, not the half that pertains to the soul. Ask any psychiatrist, and they will tell you that they can only treat the symptoms of depression; they can calm the mind for clearer thinking, but unless the root of the problem is addressed, the phantoms will always return. A broken mind is something that is very difficult to diagnose, varying from person to person.
Many psychiatrists today, unfortunately, believe their field to be completely secular, being free from the supernatural. Such things as religious beliefs are ignored as being trivial, or at worst, damaging, for the psyche. Many doctors of psychiatry, in the wake of Freudian theory, have forgotten the need for purpose beyond oneself; a purpose beyond our mortal lives. They themselves have fallen into the hedonistic ideals that dominate this modern world, and are thus more concerned with restoring pleasure rather than aiding the patient with discovering his place and purpose in the Divine Reality beyond this world. Though they have come to understand how the mind works, they still seek to manipulate it outside its natural rhythm. They don’t understand that something from the outside, beyond human intervention, must take place if the quest for peace is to be complete.
The answer, then, comes back to grace. Only grace can fully touch upon such a chronic disorder. For every fall, for every wound and affliction caused by sin, more grace is needed. For every promise broken by the Israelites, God remedied it by giving them another promise, revealing to them another set of graces, to live by. Only by relying primarily on God’s continuous mercy can we ever hope to overcome the demons of the mind. We must give up the wheel, and let God guide us through the rocky storm. The path to redemption is always long and harrowing. There is always a barrier of great discomfort between sin and grace. But whereas sin keeps us in one place, grace gets us to Heaven. Sometimes we don’t know what grace is, or what it should feel like. Our doubts will paint ugly pictures, and we may shy away from it. But if we trust in the Holy Spirit, and let Him guide us through the Inferno of the subconscious, He will set us free.Those Catholic Men.