‘I love you, mind, body and soul’, lovers declare while staring deeply into each others eyes.  What they mean is ‘I love you with all of me’.  Mind, body and soul are the three indivisible components of self, but what do each of these actually represent?

 

Mind is often regarded as some strange entity, an unknown force that governs the working of the brain; the ghost in the machine, but if that is the case, where is it, what is it?  We can’t do an operation and remove the mind, but we do recognise what happens when the mind is deficient.  Patients with dementia, or an absence of mind, cannot learn or remember, they cannot reason things out, they cannot think clearly.  So is the mind the thinking apparatus of brain?  If so, why can’t neurosurgeons operate to remove that part of the brain in people with schizophrenia; why can’t they transplant a better mind – one they’ve removed from an accident victim and kept in deep freeze? 

 

The answer is that the mind is not part of the brain.  It is the brain, but not the firm greyish blancmange we would see in an open skull.  Mind is not a structure.  It is a function.  And as such it involves the whole of the brain.  It is not centred in one location; it involves the whole network of neuronal interconnections.  The mind is the brain in action!  The distinction is much the same as that between the lungs and respiration, or the heart and circulation.  

 

Most philosophers perceive mind in terms of thinking, planning, reasoning, remembering, learning and feeling; the conscious expression of who we are.  But very little of what the brain does is conscious.  The control of our guts, our lungs, our kidneys and our circulation is quite automatic and unconscious.  Similarly our motor functions; walking, swimming, riding a bike, playing the piano, are carried out quite automatically.  By that I mean that we don’t have to think about it; it’s entrained into us by experience and practice.  Indeed, if we start to think too much about it, we make mistakes. 

 

Tennis players on ‘the tour’ have honed their skills to such an edge of perfection that their brain automatically computes the trajectory of the ball and the position, strength and action of the racquet as an extension of their arm.  When we think about that, the complexity, the achievement is quite incredible.  We couldn’t build a machine to do it.  We could never think it out consciously.  In fact, we shouldn’t try to think it out.  In The Inner Game of Tennis, W.Timothy Gallway describes how, to be at the top of their game, competitive sportsmen have to learn to relax and trust their unconscious mind and not tighten up and try to control it.  Andy Murray is a more successful tennis player than Tim Henman was because he doesn’t lets doubts constrict his game with anxiety and control.  As an indication of just how much these functions are incorporated in the unconscious mind, when researchers described a tennis serve to a player, who was in a profound coma, all the appropriate parts of his motor cortex lit up as if he were making the shot. 

 

The same principle applies to musicians, writers, cooks, surgeons,  any complex role or set of actions that demands a high degree of dexterity.  Although years of training requires conscious application and practice to establish the circuitry in the brain, once it is there, it is best to have confidence and let the unconscious mind take control ( although practice is still important to keep the skills fresh and to make minor adjustments and adaptation).  I am typing this piece quickly, but as soon as I start to think about what I am doing and try to override my unconscious mind, I make too many mistakes.    

 

We not only act automatically for most off the time, we see what we expect to see.  For the most part we don’t actually notice what happens.  Psychologists carried out an experiment in which they asked to watch the video of a football game and count the passes that the white team made.  They all did it accurately.  Then the psychologist asked, ‘And did you see the dog that crossed the pitch?’  None of them had.  The unconscious mind had eliminated it.  

 

There is a condition known as cortical blindness, where a stroke, injury or tumour in the visual cortex at the back of the brain deprives people of conscious vision.  They can’t see a thing, but when a cup of tea is placed in front of them, they pick it up and drink.  The eyes and their nervous connections to the base of the brain are quite intact.  Their unconscious mind ‘sees’ the cup and performs the action. 

 

And we hear what we expect to hear.  This is a major source of dispute between couples.  Over years, people who live together come to know each other so well, that they longer listen, they just know what they will say, and their unconscious mind provides the script.    Most of the time this works well.  There is comfort in predictability. Conflict only arises when one partner makes a change in the directions and the mind of the other ignores it. 

 

Brain scans have shown that when schizophrenics hear voices, the auditory cortex lights up.  There are no voices,  they are created by a troubled unconscious mind, which gives them meaning and brings them to consciousness.    

 

And we understand what we been conditioned through learning and experience to understand. Have a debate about politics with anybody and they will come up with the same arguments.  It’s so predictable.  We understand character and personality by its predictability.  It’s sobering to think that what I value so much as my intellect, my  individuality, is really nothing more than a highly programmed and conditioned neuronal machine.  And the more I struggle against predictability, the more I recognise that the manner of my unpredictability is so predictable.  When I was a teenager, my friends and I learnt how to strip down the engine of a three ton lorry at Norton army camp outside Taunton.  The corporal instructor taught by rote.  If we interrupted him with a question, as we frequently did – out of pure devilment, he would have to go right back to the beginning and start again.  He was on automatic pilot.  Perhaps we all get like that as we approach the vanishing point.

 

When psychoanalysts talk about the unconscious mind, they are referring to way our actions, perceptions and thoughts are conditioned by our experience.  The significant events of our life are never lost.  They remain locked away as a neuronal memory, a set of connections that influences all aspects of our behaviour from the way we deport ourselves to the choices we make in life to how we react to situations. George Groddeck psychoanalyst, correspondent of Freud and author of Das Buch von Es (The Book of the It), even suggested that illness is a unique expression of personality.

 

Whoever sees in illness a vital expression of the personality will no longer see it as an enemy.  In the moment that I realise that the disease is a creation of the patient, it becomes the same sort of thing to me as his manner of walking, his mode of speech, his facial expression, the house he has built, the business he has settled or the way his thoughts go – significant symbol of the powers that rule him.

 

If we can understand the origins of our behaviour, we have the opportunity to reappraise them, decided whether they are still appropriate and make adjustments.     

 

Change is possible, but it requires courage to alter the reassuring patterns of a lifetime.      Imagination is the engine of change; the ability to think outside the box, to imagine how things might be.  Artists, writers have imagination in abundance, but it fades.  Too many become fixed, their style becomes typical, instantly recognisable.  Writers can tell the same story over the over again.  Actors become typecast.  Scientists keep doing the same experiment in constant reaffirmation of their one big breakthrough.  It takes too much effort, too much soul-searching to reinvent yourself.  The artist Isamu Noguchi did it.  He constantly changed his style, his medium. He had to. With a Japanese father and an American mother, his art was a fusion of cultures, a restless quest to discover his identity.         

 

So when your lover tells you, I love you, mind, body and soul, you hope that the mind component means that they  love you with all the imagination at their disposal and the necessary courage to face the change that loving you must bring …..  and not that they love you because you are the predictable embodiment of projections, based on their life experience of relationships – in other words, you remind them of their mother!   

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