Logical and Spiritual REFLECTIONS
Book 4.More Meditations
Chapter 6.Mental health
Just as our physical health is defined with reference to the human body, and its various members, organs and systems, as the optimum condition and function of that body – so in the case of mental health. Mental health isthe optimum condition and functioning of the psyche.
The psyche, the subject-matter of psychology, is of course a very large concept. It includes to some extent the body, since our mental life is largely psychosomatic, and since the body is the substratum of the so-called mind; especially, our mental health depends on the healthy condition and functioning of our nervous system, including the brain and the sense organs. On a less physical level, the psyche has two main domains, the spiritual and the mental (in a narrow sense of the term).
By the spiritual domain, I mean the soul, and by the (narrow) mind I mean the mental phenomena that occur (as it were) around the soul. With regard to those mental phenomena, they are perceptible (to various degrees) things or events, like thoughts, dreams and emotions. They are, strictly speaking, outside the soul. They can be experienced and manipulated by the soul, but their existence depends on the nervous system too; and indeed, sometimes they are entirely products of the nervous system.
The soul is the true self, that which constitutes a person within us. The soul may be active or passive relative to mental phenomena and relative to the physical aspects of the psyche (i.e. the nervous system). The soul itself has three obvious facultiesor powers, namely cognition (intuitive, perceptual, logical and conceptual), volition (our will) and valuation (our values). The core issue in mental health is the health of the soul, although the issue is wider than that.
Mental health refers mainly to the correct functioning of the three faculties of the soul. It has three components, corresponding to these three faculties. These are of course closely interrelated, each requiring both the others to function. Mental health has degrees. The degree of overall mental health is proportional to the degrees and combinations of degrees of health in these three areas of human endeavor.
ØThe faculty of cognition is at its best when it is well prepared and trained to know the surrounding world and how to deal with it. That is certainly true and important, but the main cognitive health issue isself-knowledge.This is achieved by introspectionand self-observation in action. Without a lucid, profound and extensive knowledge of one’s own inner workings (motives, desires, fears, emotions, capabilities, etc.) and outer behavior, one is bound to feel imprisoned or lost in strange territory.
ØThe faculty of volition, likewise, has to be maintained for maximum efficiency in dealing with mental and physical phenomena. But the essence of health in relation to it isself-control(in the best sense of the term, not implying oppression), i.e. getting into the habit of doing what needs to be done (energy) or not-doing what needs to be avoided (restraint). This is essential to self-trust and self-confidence. For it is clear that if one allows oneself to be at the mercy of every passing fancy, impulse, urge, obsession, compulsion, bad habit, one will soon experience great anxiety, for anything might happen anytime. Without discipline one becomes one’s own worst enemy.
ØThe faculty of valuation is properly used when or insofar as one’s values are conducive to life, to self-knowledge and to self-control. This may be calledself-value(in the best sense of the term, not implying egoism or egotism, selfishness or vanity). Clearly, if one has twisted values, contradictory values, an inclination to perversion of some sort, and so forth, one will soon become confused and ultimately bring about one’s own self-destruction.
Thus, briefly put, the three most spiritual aspects of mental health are self-knowledge, self-control and self-value. These are spiritual, because they concern the soul (or spirit or self), the core of our psyche or mental existence. When the Subject of cognitions, the Author of volitions and the Valuer of valuations is appropriately looked after, he or she is healthy and the rest follows. If the self’s faculties are on the contrary neglected, the opposite occurs. We may thus speak of spiritual health – or in the opposite case, of a sick soul.
This is one aspect of mental health, its most intimate aspect. Of course, mental health does not only refer to how we take care of our soul, but to the full range of survival conditions and tasks. We need to improve our general cognitive abilities, e.g. by studying inductive and deductive logic, by being attentive, by remaining sober, and so on. Our capabilities of action will be improved by controlling our diet and our sex life, by staying physically fit, and so forth.
In short, without going into details, mental health relates to a wide range of inner and outer behavior patterns. It is therefore closely related to what we call ethics, the study of what is conducive to life. A person who cultivates mental health gets inner equilibrium and self-respect as reward, and achieves happiness, or at least basic contentment. Whereas the opposite person, sentences himself or herself to much inner conflict and self-contempt, and ends up suffering considerably.
Moreover, although the primary task of mental hygiene relates to oneself, this has a strong impact one one’s social relations. That is to say, a mentally healthy person will naturally treat other people with respect and consideration, since that is the way he or she is used to dealing with himself or herself. On the contrary, a mentally unhealthy person will have many inter-personal conflicts, and suffer fear, anger, hatred, and similar negative emotions as a consequence.
Thus, mental health begets both dignity and decency. And inversely, mental sickness spoils life for self and others. Mental health is ennobling; mental sickness is debasing.
When one has mental health, the ongoing task is to maintain it and increase it. When one lacks it, the first task is to obtain it, i.e. to cure oneself of mental sickness. A very powerful way to obtain, maintain and improve mental health ismeditation. Through meditation, one gets to really know oneself, gets to really take charge of oneself, and gets to really see for oneself what is good and what is bad in life, right and wrong in behavior.
The term ‘faculties’ should not be taken to imply that the soul contains entities or departments – it merely refers to capabilities to cognize, to will and to value.
Note that ‘introspection’ has a widening circle of meanings. The deepest level of meaning is the selfintuitivelyaware of itself (i.e. of the soul), and of its cognitions, volitions and valuations. The next level is the self aware (perceptually and conceptually) of the mental phenomena in its mind (in the narrow sense), i.e. memories, imaginations, verbal thoughts, moods, etc. The third most superficial level of meaning is awareness (again, perceptual and conceptual) of its bodily phenomena, i.e. physical sensations, visceral sentiments, the sights of its body in different postures and positions, and so forth. All these levels are significant – but in ethical judgment, it is intuitive introspection that has the most impact.