A few days ago, I talked with my stake president. I mentioned to him that I was seeing my new therapist. He was familiar with the therapist I’m seeing, and was glad that I was going to be working with him. I told him that I wanted to see if I couldn’t get my mind figured out, so that I could get my life on track. Being the kind caring individual that he is, the Stake President pointed to his heart and said that it was the heart that was important, not the head. I pushed back, saying that it had to be both, that if they were not whole together, neither on its own was sufficient.
Over the next few days, I thought about it some more, and like I always do, I started to draw comparisons with everything else in the world. I thought about the relative roles that are played by the heart and mind, the references made to each in both scripture and literature in general, and how they might be interconnected.
The heart is always referred to as the center of desire. The desire of the heart is a common theme throughout literature and scripture. This is where emotion lives. (all of this metaphorically of course.) The sacrifice required for repentance is of course a broken heart and a contrite spirit. One who is in open rebellion against God is said to have hardened their heart. (Some of this is specific to LDS Theology, some exists more generally in christian thought.) The heart is generally considered to be the most important part of the equation.
The thing is, it is not always the most important part that is causing the problem.
A number of years ago when I when I was talking to my one of my best friends, the very first that I trusted with the truth about my sexual proclivity, I told him, “I want it, but I don’t want to want it.” The desire to have sex with good-looking overweight men was there, but I wished it wasn’t. Since then, the desire has lessened significantly, though not yet wholly dissipated. The point though is that in spite of mixed desire, one has been stronger than the other, though they have gone back and forth as to which was which.
The desire to live in accordance with my religious beliefs has been with me since I started living in opposition to them. (that started when i was about 9 years old.) My heart has wavered, but has always come back to wanting to be what God wants me to be. Were this not the case, I would have likely given up a long time ago. I’ve mentioned cognitive dissonance before, but I don’t know that I’ve really described the ways in which one deals with it.
When two ideas that are mutually exclusive try to co-exist in one human mind, they create conflict. There are a couple of ways in which we deal with such conflict. One is to ignore it. By compartmentalizing, one can seal the ideas off from one another. If they never meet, then the conflict never manifests. This method takes an extraordinary amount of effort, as the partitions must be maintained in perpetuity. Another way is to find some way to convince oneself that the ideas don’t conflict, or that the conflict is of little importance and can therefore be tolerated. This method has the downside that it can lead to habitual rationalization, and even to errors in perception in other areas of one’s life. If one chooses to use rationalization as the cognitive dissonance reduction behavior of choice, it becomes a pattern that eventually will lead to a philosophy of moral ambiguity. (I see that as a bad thing.)
The most effective means of eliminating cognitive dissonance is to eliminate one of the conflicting ideas. This is a more permanent solution, and while the initial energy required to do so is much greater, the long-term psychological benefits are significant. This is the path that I have chosen. Of course choosing which idea to eliminate is important, as the cost of eliminating an idea is not the same from one idea to another.
Eliminating homosexuality from my life has not been an inexpensive choice. I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost sleep, I’ve lost the opportunity to serve in certain capacities in the church, and I’ve even considered killing myself on several occasions. (Just retelling what my regular readers already know, not indicating that there is a resurgence in such a desire, as there is not.) The amount of emotional energy I have invested is significant, and while some would see it as a sunk cost. (mostly those who are micro-econ junkies) I see it as a down payment. I have not paid the full price of eliminating homosexuality, nor do I know what it will be.
That being said, the cost of leaving the church would be even greater, and I am not willing to pay that.
Now, you may be wondering how I have gotten so completely off topic. You may be thinking, “He usually doesn’t go on tangents.” You’re right. I go on secants. I leave the original train of thought, only to return later.
The desire of my heart, as evidenced by my continued willingness to pay whatever price I need to, to get my life back in line with my beliefs, is where it needs to be. But that is not enough. (Its time for another analogy…)
Imagine you have a manufacturing line. In this line there is one machine, without which there would be no possibility of making the product. This machine is the most important thing in the process. If it goes down, nothing else can make up for it. Now imagine that it is one of several systems that must work in harmony in order to produce the final product. What happens if any one of those systems is disrupted? Since all of them are needed to have the whole operation be successful, each must be in proper working order.
If one of the machines further down the line is broken, the end result is that the product is not produced. Since the end product is the thing that most people look at, they simply see that the production line is broken. Some of them may even understand that there is one particular piece of machinery without which the process cannot go forward. If these people see that the line is broken, they will likely assume that the essential piece is where the problem lies. In their simplified view of the system, everything is dependent on the one machine.
There is a problem with their assumption though. If the essential machine is working properly, and there is another machine that is holding things up, working on the essential machine will not solve the problem.
The essential machine is the heart. Without desire, there can be no change. But if the mind is broken, then the desire of the heart will not be translated into the action required to make the change. If all the effort is focused on changing the hear t that is already working properly, there will be little noticeable improvement, but if the whole system is examined, and the broken component found and repaired, significant strides may be made.
Now, what in the world am I talking about?
In recent years, the study of addiction (I really don’t like the word, as it conjures a mentality of offloading responsibility, which I detest.) has made large strides in understanding what happens when one begins to engage in compulsive behaviors. With the advent of the Functional MRI, scientists have been able to see what happens neurologically in such situations. At a certain point, the cerebral cortex, the art in charge of morality, disconnects from the limbic system, the part in charge of emotions and instincts. When this happens, the limbic takes over, and starts running the actions. Essentially, the person stops looking to their moral center to make decisions. When this happens, they are only part of themselves. They are nothing more than instinct and emotion. Their perspective becomes skewed, as their ability to perform calculations involving time disappear. Since consequences of our actions typically have both near-term and long-term components, this lack of temporal perspective means that only the immediate outcome is considered.
Living a life that is consistent with a set of beliefs is a long-term endeavor that the limbic system is unable to comprehend. It is the domain of the cortex. Without the two working in harmony, one cannot hope to live a full life. The therapy that I’ll be doing over the next several months will be trying to integrate the two so that it is more difficult for the two to become disconnected. In essence, I will be working to have the machines talk to each other, so that they can work together to produce the final desired product.
I’m looking to be whole. That means getting my heart and mind to work together to achieve the goals I have. It means examining where the problems really are, rather than assuming that we understand their origins. It means directing energy to the areas that need them, rather than the areas that sound like they would be a good idea.
I’ll keep you all updated on my therapy. Group therapy starts on Tuesday. I’ll blog what I can. (Consideration must be given to the confidences of the others in the group…)
Thank you again for reading. I still hope that this helps someone other than me. (Writing does help me, and I appreciate that others are willing to read what I write.) If there’s anything I can do to help you on whatever journey you may be on, please contact me.