Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Headed for AMERSA

I'm gonna miss these two characters!

I’m on my way to D.C. for the annual conference of the Association for Medical Research and Education on Substance Abuse (AMERSA). Here’s a little blurb about the conference:

AMERSA’s 32nd National Conference - November 6-8, 2008

We invite you to celebrate our 32nd anniversary at the Hilton Washington Embassy Row in Washington, DC on November 6-8, 2008. The conference is notable for its in-depth focus on substance abuse education and the high quality of its workshops and presentations. The objectives of the AMERSA National Conference are to bring together researchers and health professional educators to learn about scientific advances and exemplary teaching approaches. AMERSA’s membership consists of a multidisciplinary audience, comprised of physicians, nurses, social workers, dentists, psychologists, public health practitioners, substance abuse specialists, physician assistants, and allied health professionals. (Read more about AMERSA here)

While I’m away I don’t know if I’ll get much blogging done so I wanted to offer some “reruns” for your reading enjoyment regarding addiction and mental health. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts about these posts and addiction and mental health in general particularly how you think they may relate to spirituality.

From "Addiction: Triumph of the Animal Aspect"

“As you know from my profile, I'm a clinician working in the addictions field. I've been wanted to post a Baha'i view about addiction for a while, so here goes. It begins with a Baha'i view of what a human being is. The reality of the human being is the soul and the mind is its essential quality, "Spirit is the tree and mind is the fruit". The Baha'i writings point out that another aspect of the human being is the material or animal aspect. Our spiritual development in this world involves the struggle of the soul to transcend the animal or material aspect of our lives so that the animal aspect can become a vehicle that serves the progress of the soul rather than enslaving it. Addiction turns this divine process on its head and puts the animal aspect firmly in control, spiritually, morally and mentally. It is the ultimate triumph of the animal side of our nature. A human being becomes defined by the need to gratify their animal desire for pleasure and need to avoid pain. That is why we find that people with addictions do things that are dehumanizing to them and everyone around them. This is why addiction is one of the greatest afflictions that a human being can suffer from. Recovering from addictions involves putting the animal aspect of our nature back in its proper place as a servant of the soul's progress in this world. It is thus a spiritual and moral process in addition to a mental and physical one.”

From "The Pursuit of a Pain Free America"

“Generations of Americans who have grown up conditioned by a materialistic, consumption-driven culture have come to believe that they are entitled to a life free from pain or discomfort of any kind. According to this view of life, pain is pathological, even worse than death. The "pursuit of happiness" recognized by our Founding Fathers as an important aspect of freedom has mutated into an egocentric sense of entitlement to happiness on demand, 24/7. Our whole society has become increasingly organized around "feeling good" and if that doesn't work not "feeling" at all. If a pill can make either of those things happen reliably, "PASS ME THE PILLS!" This attitude is widespread and impacts every challenge America is facing at this time. The solution to these challenges requires a willingness to sacrifice, but that would involve pain, which has become unacceptable to the American psyche. This is not to suggest that there are not millions of Americans making sacrificial contributions every day for the betterment of our society and the world. But in my experience even well-meaning people have a "pain threshold" beyond which they are not willing to go even when achieving their well-meaning goals clearly demands it. Why? Because the right to happiness in the final analysis trumps everything else.” (Read the whole thing here)

From “No Less Noble”

“Whenever I remember the reality of the soul of each person I'm privileged to serve, the soul whose light has been temporarily obscured by the clouds of illness, my heart is filled with the Holy Spirit and I feel empowered to minister to them in a way that transcends the sum of the problems in his or her life. When I remember that every single man and woman I try to assist was created in the image of the same God that I was and thus embody divine possibilities, I'm able to focus on discovering with them what those divine possibilities might be. If work really is worship, I get to pray all day. What could be sweeter than that? Each day, I have the opportunity to witness a resurrection of some soul, if I just pay attention. I just have to never forget that these men, women, youth and children are no less noble because of their afflictions.” (Read the whole thing here)

From Bowling for Jesus: Mature Faith and Mental Health

“As I've said before, mature religious faith involves a balance between integrity and flexibility, the maintenance of which is actually written into the very constitution of the Universal House of Justice. It occurred to me that what I refer to as integrity and flexibility in a spiritual sense is what some psychologists refer to as ego strength and adaptability. Ego strength as I understand it involves the capacity of the ego to maintain its "shape" if you will in the face of internal and external stressors, as well as its ability to perform functions essential to a healthy mind. One of these functions is adaptability, namely the capacity to make changes according to the diverse needs the dynamic reality of between self, others, and the world. Both mature faith and mental health demand balance and it is the absence of such balance which is manifest as both spiritual and psychological pathology. Certain forms of religious fundamentalism could be understood as a psychological defense against the perceived threat of disintegration of the ego by hostile internal and external stressors. As such it is an attempt at adaptation, that is spiritually immature and should evoke compassion rather than contempt.” (Read the whole thing here)

1 comment:

  1. Chris7:32 AM

    Hi Phillipe,

    Again you touch on issues in a way that resonates with my mind and heart. I was reading this post and then read the post on the discourse of disunity. I was about to write the following in the discourse post, but realised it is a relevant and underappreicated element of the spiritual dimension of mental health also so I will place it here.

    My parents were/are psychologists and although I didn't follow their path directly I always find myself intuitively applying psychological principles to understanding myself, other humans and the effects our internal minds have upon the formation of social institutions that we indwell. We indwell civilization as an extension of our own body through the power of our mind as a tool of the soul. In recent years I have been concerned with the manifestations of these indwelling approaches in analysing social and legal institutions and their relationship to mental health, and in particular Indigenous mental health in my professional life.

    There is a great political philosophyer, Jurgen Habermas of use in thinking about these things. His views have changed over the years as he grew as a human being, but in one of his last public speeches he said some things I feel are a great resource for both of the most recent blog discussions. I extract a section from my PhD (sans footnotes but can provide references if anyone wants)

    "By maintaining a cultural model which is largely a fragmentation of independent subjective realities we deny the possibility in sharing the exploration of potentially universal spiritual forces that may manifest themselves in infinitely diverse ways. We also exclude the possibility of beginning to develop respectful frameworks of contestation where we can co-evolve in our spiritual sciences that each culture and faith contribute to. Most importantly, we exclude the possibility of a unity of purpose in using those gifts to alleviate the suffering of humanity..."

    "The eminent philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, in one of his most recent discussions, offers us an additional useful resource in appreciating how this can begin to occur, even within a deeply secularized society. First he explains the liberal conception of democratic citizenship emerged out of the historical reality of the religious wars and confessional conflicts in early Modern Times. He explains how the ‘assumption of a common human reason is the epistemic base for the justification of a secular state which no longer depends on religious legitimation. ’ This allows for the separation of church and state on the institutional level. He then explores the separation of church and state and how this has inappropriately been projected onto the expectations of internal metaphysics of human beings, concluding that:

    …many religious citizens do not have good reasons to undertake an artificial division between secular and religious within their own minds, since they couldn’t do so without destabilizing their mode of existence as pious persons. The objection appeals to the integral role that religion plays in the life of a person of faith, in other words to religion’s “seat” in everyday life. A devout person pursues her daily rounds by drawing on her belief. True belief is not only a doctrine, believed content, but a source of energy that the faithful person taps performatively. Faith nurtures an entire life.

    Quoting Nicolas Wolterstorff to reinforce this, Habermas continues by highlighting the reality that many religious people in our society feel they must base their decisions related to fundamental issues of justice on their religious convictions and do not feel doing otherwise is an option. He suggests that the state cannot protect religious freedom one the one hand, and then expect citizens to justify their political statements independent from their foundational religious convictions or world views.


    The liberal state must not transform the requisite institutional separation of religion and politics into an undue mental and psychological burden for all those citizens who follow a faith. It must well expect of them to recognize the principle that any binding legislative, juridical or administrative decision must remain impartial with regard to competing world views, but it must not expect them to split their identity in public and private components as long as they participate in public debates and contribute to the formation of public opinions .

    The current ‘democratic’ culture expects an internal separation of spiritual and material, faith and reason, heart and mind, placing legitimate focus on only the material, rational, mental categories of knowing. This creates a cognitive dissonance not just for Aboriginal people whose law and religion is more consciously integrated in Indigenous customary law, but for ‘white’ people as well. A recent extensive study conducted from UCLA of over 40,000 academics from a broad range of disciplines in over 120 universities demonstrates that over 80% consider themselves a ‘spiritual person’, while nearly half (more than half of women) believe it important to integrate this spirituality into their everyday life . They made similar findings in a study involving over 100,000 university students."

    The reason why the above is so relevant for both blog discussions should be partially clear, but there are 'cognitive dissonances'that arise from the inability to live an integrated and holistic life where true independent investigation of truth not only affects our capacity for democratic consultation, but our mental health as whole human beings. Whole human beings that are less likely to resort to addictive behavior to replace the hole left by a culture that doesn't permit the joy and nobility of the spiritual self to be expressed in daily life.

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