“Mind, Body Spirit” Is Too Simple – The Mystery Of Humanness

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.      Genesis 1:27

Like many western physicians, I used to think of people as having a mind and a body – in two distinct parts – and maybe a soul or spirit too. Also, as is typical for the average medical doctor, my focus was typically on the body: What’s gone wrong with this or that organ? What’s causing the infection? What’s the best medicine to use? Is an operation necessary? Sometimes my focus was on the mind: Is this patient depressed? Is this a “real illness” or is it “all in his head?” Rarely was I concerned with mind-body interactions, and the spirit, if it existed, didn’t seem all that important. If I had drawn a schematic diagram of humans, it might have looked like this:

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I’ve grown since then. Over the last couple of decades an increasing body of medical research has clearly demonstrated that our minds and bodies influence each other in obvious and subtle ways. (For a basic example, exercise improves mood.) I also “found God” (or stopped denying him) about ten years ago, thereby acknowledging and becoming more aware of the unseen spiritual world and its interaction with us – our bodies and our minds.

Since then my understanding (and perhaps yours too) has been of the mind, body and spirit as inextricably combined in each one of us. The mind has thoughts and feelings; the body has sensations and actions; the spirit has some connection to God. Each part, body mind or spirit, interacts with and influences the others. For the last several years, I have used this mind, body spirit diagram:

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Now I’m starting to think this is still too simple. After all, these are just man made labels. They are our human way of thinking and talking about ourselves. God created us as unified beings and in his image.  Who can really understand what God has made? Are not his ways higher than our ways? Although we identify our various parts, I’m not so sure that it’s helpful.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.      Isaiah 55:8-9

Where do feelings reside? Are they solely in your mind? I don’t think so. Imagine feeling sad or angry or elated. Don’t those feelings involve physical sensations as well? You might feel physically (that is, in your body) tired when you’re sad, muscle tension when you’re angry, and be bounding with energy when you’re elated. It happens the other way too. Can you imagine some physical sensation that doesn’t also come with a feeling? Imagine spraining your ankle. Wouldn’t you have emotional pain as well as physical pain? You might even feel as much pain “in your mind” as in your ankle.

Where do thoughts come from? Are they self-generated? Does your mind alone create your thoughts? All of them? Do some come from your spirit? Certainly Christians believe that some originate from the Holy Spirit living in us. Sometimes it seems like a lot of my thoughts come from somewhere else. And what about the “subconscious” or natural instincts? Is that the mind or the body? Can something be from the mind if it happens without thinking?

These are just some of the things that I’ve been wondering about, and it’s all starting to seem pretty confusing to me. Lately I’ve begun to think less in “mind, body, spirit” terms and more in “it’s a mystery” that I won’t ever really comprehend. I don’t think anyone else will either. We humans are complicated beyond our own ability to understand. There’s a lot going on with us, and it’s just all in there somehow. My evolving schematic now looks something like this:

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I’m finding the “it’s a mystery” paradigm makes me a lot more humble about health, wellness and healthcare. There’s a lot I don’t know, but I am convinced of two things: 1) we are simply not going to figure everything out through more medical research, and 2) everyone needs their own unique and “whole-person” approach to healing.  What do you think?

Comments

  1. Dexter Simanton says:

    great post Peter

  2. The “correct” diagram biblically would be based on the following : Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.To the ancient Hebrews the heart was the mind including all thoughts including emotions. When we are told to love God with all our heart (Deut 6:5) it is not speaking of an emotional love but to keep our emotions and all our thoughts working for him..to complement it, we have the Spirit of God who comes to keep in check the three … tough call !

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Well said Jean Maurice. Thank God for his Holy Spirit who encourages us and helps us manage our thoughts and emotions.