Mental Climate Control
By mental climate, I mean one's general feeling about oneself and life in general. For most of the day, do you feel happy, engaged, joyful, peacful, anxious, depressed, blue, angry, or moody? Apart from the Holy Spirit, "mental climate" is subject to all kinds of influences, internal and external. Christians are familiar with the feeling of "being on the mountaintop" while attending inspiring meetings and retreats, as well as the "letdown" that is expressed as "coming down from the mountain into the valley". Even Jesus acknowledged the power of externals over one's sense of life, noting how answered prayer causes one to be joyful.
Is it possible, however, to adjust and control one's mental climate apart from external circumstances? If one realizes that mental climate is a side-effect of the secretion (or non-secretion) of specific neurotransmitters, and that the indwelling Holy Spirit can control the release and retention of those neurotransmitters, then the answer is a definite yes! If our faith is strong enough to permit the Spirit to rupture neuronal vesicles to counteract temptations, then it is strong enough to ask the Spirit to rupture appropriate neuronal vesicles to proactively generate mental states consistent with the Fruit of the Spirit (isopistic). Indeed, if all the Fruit virtues are mental, then at some level they manifest themselves as electrical patterns affecting the secretion of specific neuro-transmitters.
Let's take the first three fruit virtues of the spirit. At initial conversion and during special occasions, one has the sense that one is intensely loved by God, as well as becoming able to be loving toward others (as outlined in 1 Corinthians 13). However, for the longest time, I have not personally felt such a love. In fact, I generally felt that God was apathetic, if not sullenly hostile, toward me. After the realization and internalization of the concept of symbiosis, I have rarely felt like this again. Indeed, there are times when I feel overwhelmed with the rush of love from the Holy Spirit toward me. It is only within the context of such intense and unconditional love that one is freed from one's fears and uncertainties to extend love to others, including one's enemies. (Those who object to this interpretation by insisting this is love is only directed externally should read their bibles more. My thanks to Ken Fuqua for directing my attention to that passage.)
However, almost always after such bouts of being passionately loved, I would feel mentally drained and exhaused, sometimes to the point of being intensely tempted along my usual compulsions. It is disconcerting to feel almost insanely loved by God in the morning, only to be strongly tempted to cruse the internet for porn in the evening! What was happening?
Recall my discussion about neurotransmitter buffers. Creating a sense of being intensely loved appears to be a very draining "score" that the Holy Spirit within plays on the "brain organ". Draining, not on the Holy Spirit Himself, but on my neurotransmitter levels. Like a teenager with a credit card, the experience of over-extension can be exhilarating, but sanity and prudence must necessarily prevail.
Love is good, but what about joy, which also is a fruit virtue of the spirit? It is indeed possible to set one's mental climate to joy, and it is a less intense level of feeling the divine approval. My experience shows, however, that having a sense of joy in the faith and the Spirit, while not as intense as love, nevertheless is a high drain "score" as well. "Making it through the day", in my case, is being able to go to bed without engaging in any struggles with porn compulsions, and it appears that it is "touch and go" when the mental thermostat is set to "joy": I sometimes make it through the day and sometimes I don't, depending on what else came up during the day. As I pointed out before, even Jesus acknowledged that joy was dependent on external circumstances, such as answered prayer.
The next step down in intensity is peace. From my experience, I believe that this fruit virtue is the one to strive for that is resource optimal. With one exception, I have not yet failed to successfully get through the day if I strove to maintain a mental climate of peace. Indeed, I suspect that it may be the setting that is supported by divine intervention above and beyond the level of control that the Holy Spirit already employs. Jesus said the following in John 14:25-27:
25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. 26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. 27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Paul was not silent about the relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and peace. In Romans 8:6 he said "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." In Romans 15:13 he said "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." And then there is this classic passage from Philippians 4:7: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Of course, it may be the case that the neurotransmitter burn-up rate required to sustain a mental climate of peace is close to its replenishment/replacement rate within the brain cells. However, these promises seem to indicate that, even if one's "natural" replenishment rate is not enough to sustain a sense of peace throughout the day, divine intervention is definitely promised to ensure that the supply will be sufficient for that day and its burdens and needs. I am not sure if this takes the form of creation of the necessary neurotransmitters on the fly, or divine healing of the existing brain cells so that production is normalized, but the end result is that the promise of sufficent supplies is kept and that there will be "enough peace" to last through the day.
It may seem that symbiotically maintaining a mental climate of peace is a sort of "let down". Would not life be sweeter if we could enjoy the sense of being intensely loved by God or insanely joyful? Compared to what is possible, peace seems rather, ahh, dull. Pedestrian. Mundane. Plodding. Barely making it. Just getting by. Why follow a policy of walking down in the plains (albeit on a highway) when the circumstances of life call us to "be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices"?
Well, to me it is a matter of walking by faith and not by sight. Yes, being able to "walk on the mountaintop" at will and for hours at a time is indeed possible. Paul alluded to this when he told Timothy "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands." This implies that there was some previous instruction he had given to Timothy regarding his spiritual gift and how to trigger it, and in this passage Paul reminds him of that instruction and his capability of calling upon it voluntarily. What keeps us from doing the same thing with regard to our moods?
Nothing at all, except the uncomfortably real fact that we are still finite, having limits that we mature Christians should know and respect. Merely possessing the capability is not an excuse to exercise it apart from sound wisdom and prudence. It may be strange to say that "If it feels good, do it" is still bad advice when "it" is something that is divinely possible, but wisdom and prudence are probably the only virtues that we should exercise vigorously, continuously, and without "discrimination"!
Of course, this would not be a real theo-engineering website if we did not consider the possibility of raising the limits. While granting that our brains may have neurotransmitter production limits, just as muscles have limits, is it possible to "build" one's brain capacity to produce more neurotransmitters, in the same way that we can build muscles that have higher limits? After all, if "the joy of the Lord is your strength", does it not make sense for the Christian to work to increase their ability to live in joy?
Prior to November of 2008, I would have said that that was not possible. However, recent information has come to my attention that has radically changed my views. Space requires that the discussion of that information, and its implications, will have to be deferred to the essay regarding increasing our faith.
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