What does it mean to truly live? This has been a question on my mind for the last ten years. My conscious and subconscious have chewed up on this question so much that at times I’ve felt like a cow, ruminating upon its cud.
Part of this “chewing” has involved trial and error, success and failure at things I thought might bring me the sense of actually “living life.” Something I learned from my sword master, Greg Hinchcliff, a few months ago struck me. “Remember, the master has failed more times than the student has ever tried.” Greg pulled a sword maneuver on me that he stated he remembered from years ago. I realized he has tried and forgotten more than I have learned.
Feign thrust, cut and thrust . . . Greg told me after using this on Lucas, and later, on me that he remembered practicing this move 40 years ago. It just came back to him . . .
What does this have to do with “truly living?”
All of us are living . . . at least we are going through the motions of living. And, every man and woman will die. But, not every man and woman will truly live. Truly living is done by understanding and comprehending “the way” to live. This way take practice. Like the master swordsman, years of practice, trying, failing and trying again until you get it right.
Truly living requires us to comprehend light, or knowledge and truth. That light is understood in varying degrees by men. If you look at the scriptural references above to the word “comprehended,” it relates to receiving the Spirit, something that the natural man, the instinctual man does not and cannot understand. We were given instincts (automatic physical responses to keep us alive, heart beating, breathing, making urine . . . .etc.) as part of the physical makeup, just like animals. These are wired into the cerebellum of the brain and brainstem of every human. The natural man is the man or woman who functions off of instinct alone, or functions off the lower brain regions.
Instinct is driven by the autonomic nervous system of the brain. The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system responsible for “fight or flight responses.”
If a bear rises up in front of you while you are strolling through the woods, and the bear begins to chase you, the autonomic nervous system kicks in to speed up the heart rate, shunt blood to the muscles and turn down the processing of food in the gut while you run from or fight the bear. This autonomic nervous system is also the system that links emotions (like happiness, sadness, stress, anger, depression) between the conscious and subconscious mind and creates the attachments of these emotions to specific memories.
The natural man is the person that functions solely from this subconscious survival mode part of the brain. If you have ever felt anxious for no reason, this is your autonomic nervous system (subconscious brain) attempting to signal that it wants something for survival. Or, a memory has been triggered that was attached to a negative emotion.
Research has identified that memory and/or subconscious idea is directly tied to emotion through the brain hormones called neuropeptides that, when triggered, reproduce stored memory, emotion physical autonomic responses (like changes in heart rate, dry mouth, dilation or constriction of the pupils, sweating of the palms or trunk, chest pressure, etc) and even auto-immunity. These neuropeptides also participate in memory sorting, storage and recall.
Research has taught us that the miracle of memory is not that we remember, the miracle of memory is that we forget, and that we only remember what is necessary. The miracle of memory is that we only remember those things that are important and teach us meaning. This is how repentance comes into play. Repentance allows us to learn the meaning from an action, then forget the nasty details.
Because we can forget, we don’t drag the horrible details of the past along with us. Our memories allow us to get free of the past. God designed our brains to pull the learning and wisdom from our experiences and store them as emotions, then forget the nitty gritty details of life’s worst roller coasters.
All you need is three sleepless nights in which you cannot dispense with the past and you quickly come to understand that life would be a literal Hell if we cannot dispense with the day – all the minutiae and the memory and the emotions of each day.
Our brain and our consciousness requires a rest. We must renew ourselves in the cyclical unconsciousness we call sleep. Sleep is the resetting of the memory. It is during this time that memory, emotion and neurohormones are tied together. That’s why sleep and naps are so important.
Our memories are tied to emotions through neurochemical synapses created in the brain by the neuropeptides. Forgetting and remembering are very complex and sophisticated cognitive processes. Our subconscious reduces the memory, emotion and experience to its significance only. The significance is then recorded as memory with its associated emotion, then our brain lets go of all the other nasty details. It was designed to do this by a loving God.
If you think about it, we boil our lives down to the “jest” of the story and then we remember only the significance of that story with attached emotion. This process saves us from being crushed by days, years and decades of the gory details of day-to-day experience.
But, most humans have, in their early childhood and through the gift of agency, been able to see that there is a higher, more noble way of living life. And, human beings were given the ability to choose. The process of choice gives us a temporary override button to the autonomic nervous system. This allows for the capacity to override the instinctual autonomic nervous system for a period of time. We can override the process for only so long, though. Then the natural man starts to send feelings of anxiousness, unsettled feelings, and emotions to let you know that “you got stuff on the stove still cooking that needs to be dealt with.” You have memory that needs processing for significance, so the dirty details can be dumped.
The natural man, or the autonomic nervous system, though essential to survival on the earth, I suspect, is what keeps us from seeing through the spiritual veil. It was designed to keep you alive, stop rigor mortis from setting in, and keep you from turning to dust before you finish “probation” on the earth. When one “overcomes the natural man,” one is able to see and comprehend spiritually (1 Cor 2:13-14; 2 Peter 2:12; Mosiah 3:19; Mosiah 16:3; Gen 8:21; )
A disconnect or poor communication between our conscious mind and subconscious mind wreaks havoc in the balance between memory, emotion, cognitive function, endocrine glands and immune system. One example of this is the onset of panic attacks for no reason. Another example is chronic fatigue and many symptoms found in autoimmune diseases. I’ve focused on this in my studies because this same autonomic nervous system, when malfunctioning, plays a significant role in our ability to lose weight.
The subconscious mind can and does trigger the autonomic nervous system without the conscious mind’s involvement. If memories from 18 months or older are still bothering a person, if they produce negative emotions, that is a sign that a memory has not been correctly or completely unpacked by the complex processes of the brain. And, the “natural man” is still trying to get you to deal with it “before it kills you – like a bear.”
It is essential that the brain unpack wisdom from the past, so that learning can occur, and it can be applied to the future. This process occurs so that you don’t do the same stupid thing over and over again. Or, it is there so that you can repeat things that worked well. That is the purpose of memory. Our memory is not for recollection, our memory is the extraction of wisdom for the lesson of life from vast experience. The spirit, then, has the capacity to bring things to our recollection if necessary (Alma 11:43; Alma 32:28).
“But the aComforter, which is the bHoly Ghost, whom the Father will send in my cname, he shall dteach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). It is, therefore, the Light of Christ that allows for memory and recollection, and the conversion of knowledge to wisdom (D&C 8:2-3).
It is the Spirit that replaces the darkness with light (Alma 19:6)
If you have a memory that is still hurting you, making you anxious, causing you fear, guilt or shame, you have not undertaken the complex process of analyzing that memory, pulling out from it the moral, and dispensing with the details. This is why writing down these specific memories is so very important. This is where journaling is so very important, so very essential.
You must write the bad memory out on paper with a pen or pencil (I cannot emphasize this enough). You must write out all of the details you remember and the emotions of that experience. Writing onto paper allows the mind to do the complex processing of significance to you and those around you. It allows the subconscious mind to identify wisdom, social and moral barriers of uncertainty, anxiety, threat, fear and panic contained within that experience that need differentiating. Without this processing, these things will continue at a subconscious level to bother you. This is what therapy does when one talks about and discusses the past. But, journaling it on paper is faster.
You write it out on paper so the natural man (because the natural man – your subconscious or as Freud identified it, your “id” who has no sense of time and the patience of a three-year-old still thinks you are living that uncompleted experience) can see that you moved the memory to paper (external storage). Then, while you sleep, your amazing brain will process the wisdom from it extract it, attach it to correct emotions, then dump the rest.
The process of journaling is a way to appreciate what you have today, and what you are doing right now. Appreciate and be thankful for the experiences (good and bad) you are having and for what you are learning. Nothing is a coincidence. The experiences you hare having are exactly what the Lord wants you to be learning right this very moment. Look for the timeless truth being taught to you today. Then, write them down in your journal, as the Lord may never teach them to you again.
Brigham Young, said, “A man would do well to carry a pencil in his pocket, and write down the thoughts of the moment. Those thoughts that come unsought after in the moment are commonly the most valuable, and should be secured by recording them, . . . because they seldom return.”
These thoughts and concepts have been on my mind for the last few weeks. So, I’ve taken my own counsel and written them down. I have so many patients that struggle with anxiety and panic, that I thought I’d write them here, so that others might profit by them.