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Integrating Mind and Spirit with Body and Emotion
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Nancy K Morrison and Sally I Severino
Sacred Desire:  Growing in Compassionate Living (West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania:  Templeton Foundation Press, 2009.  196p.)

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Morrison and Severino are medical doctors specializing in psychiatry.  Here their goal is to explore the connection between emotion and the moral motivations of humans and the spiritual realties beyond sense perception.  The book is based on clinical testing and case studies and is classified as Psychology.

They evaluate relational aspects of human existence such as love and desire, the concept of the holy and personal morality and social/community concepts.  They attempt to identify the link between natural human spirituality and actual objective reality in the universe.  In laying out their analysis and proposed theory, they draw upon philosophers and theologians and a broad range of concepts from religious perspectives from different cultures.

They begin with a statement of their foundations, which includes an understanding of the word desire as they use it.  A key factor in their investigation and in the theory they develop is the recently discovered existence of "mirror neurons."  These mirror neurons "activate in our brains when we see another person do or feel something, just as they activate when we do or feel the same (p xi).  This scientific discovery provides one way to understand how we are able to "read each other's minds" and understand the intentions of others.

They tie this concept to the idea of "desire" in terms of meditation, which is a virtually universal practice among human societies, in one form or another, except in materialistic western cultures of recent years.  They refer to the basic meaning of the Latin word "desiderare," the basis of our common word "desire," which is used to mean to hope or long for.  They refer us to the root meaning of "desiderare," the word "sider" or "sidus," meaning "heavenly body."  It is this ancient link of human emotions and motivations to awareness of the physical heavenly bodies that they reference in their analysis and theory.

In trying to understand the tie of our emotions and identity to the broader universe, the authors investigate the effect of various hormones and neurotransmitters on our emotions and physical energies and motivations.  Oxytocin is described as "holy nectar."  This neurotransmitter makes us calm and friendly and is the basis of our sense of trust and security, enabling bonding to others.  Drawing on a range of scientific authorities, they tie the biochemical patterns and operations of our brains and nervous systems to our interpersonal relations and moral character.

The doctors tie these relational abilities, along with compassion that arises from relational stimulation and the accompanying hormonal and neural operations, to our concept of the Sacred or Divine, however conceived.  They find a central nerve in the body to be related to Joy, the Ventral Vegal Nerve.  The Dorsal Vegus responds to life threat, while the Ventral Vegus responds to social cues.  Both are part of our parasympathetic system, which slows down body functions.  From here they present "Resonant and Dissonant Attuning," patterns of caution and relationship.

In this neuro-social framework they investigate such conceptual emotional experiences as "Experiencing the World as Evil."  They investigate neural activities involved in our awareness of good and evil or protection and danger, and evaluate implications from this for human concepts of a Divine or spiritual reality.

They conclude that Loving is rooted in volition, rather than feeling, despite the common popular romantic concept.  They also determine that Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciling.  There are two processes involved.  Forgiveness, like Love, they conclude, is volitional.  They attempt to separate the emotional feelings from the moral volitional decisions, linking each of these to our neural biochemistry.

Other conclusions they develop in their investigations include the following.  We all do bad things, but all of us are also good.  Evil derives from within us, rather than from some external force or power.  There is an aspect of "attuning" to others that is redemptive, contributing to another person from our energies, or "Desire."  This includes loving one's enemies.

Morrison and Severino suggest that in modern technological society, we have been impoverished by technology, diminishing personal encounters.  This, they say, has perverted the Grace of Gazing observable in the emotional bonding of a mother to a baby by simply gazing into each other's eyes.  Another example of this is two lovers gazing each others eyes.  This type of interpersonal bonding has been largely lost in the modern impersonal and individualistic focus on technology.

This makes a fascinating read, aside from any preconceptions one might bring to it.  This book represents a creative analysis of recent scientific discoveries that reveal new secrets of our biochemical inner selves.  This theory, based in the latest neurochemistry, and providing a practical analysis of actual patients, documented in case studies, helps make sense of some wisdom of the ancients lost or out of fashion now.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Practicing the Presence of God
[review] Psychic Memories Through Time
[review] The Shack:  a Realization of Relationship and Revelation

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Reviewed on Amazon 17 August 2009
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 20 October 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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