I blame Descartes; for it was he that concluded that the mind and body were separate. According to Descartes physical things such as hat-stands, blancmanges, and houses have “extension” in various directions into the physical world. Thoughts, however, do not.
The mind according to Descartes is a non-physical thing that thinks; and is entirely separate from the body.
This causes a problem though, because clearly the mind can have an effect on the body. Think of a lemon and your mouth may water, think of your fingernails being pulled off and your heart rate may rise, think of jelly down your trousers and you may start to laugh.
But how can this non physical thing have a causal effect on the physical body? This is the so called "problem of interactionism." It was thrown up (if that is the right word) by Descarte’s (Where to put the apostrophe?) musings on the split between mind and body. It caused him a problem because undermined his theory. Merde! Combien incommode!
In order to fix this glitch Descartes decided that animals were in fact automata, and that us humans were different as we possess the pineal gland located the centre of the brain between the two hemispheres. The only part of the brain not duplicated. He, incorrectly, believed that animals did not have the pineal. Others tried to resolve the matter by arguing that mind / body interactions were the result of interventions by God -no less.
At this point I think we can see the mess that splitting ourselves in two can lead to.
Common experience demonstrates to us that there is a great connection between the mind and the body. We know, for example, that anticipation of a difficult experience can make the heart beat faster, your armpits and forehead sweat, and bring about the urge to find a loo.
In some eastern philosophies the mind body split does not seem to appear so much. I believe that Buddhism talks of mind body unity although I’m not sure about this. In western medicine we have stitched ourselves together rather cruelly by using the word Psychsomatic.
There is still debate as to whether Ulcerative Colitis, for example, is a psychosomatic illness. For example in 1983 Milton Rosenbaum MD wrote a paper (Ulcerative colitis, Psychosomatic illness review: No. 10 in a series) in which he says there is extensive clinical evidence which shows that in someone who suffers from Ulcerative Colitis, emotions and personality will play a large part. In particular he suggests that there are intrapsychic conflicts which lead to regression to anal behaviour, and dependant immature emotional relationships – especially with Mum. Thanks mate.
The difficulty with this kind of description is that it appears to be a bit judgemental, and implies blame. Maybe it is because words like immature are considered, in ordinary language, to be insulting. In medical language it may be a precise term.
Thinking of my own experiences, and trying to see beyond the language I’m starting to wonder whether there is some truth in this. Only recently in my mid 50’s have I started to realise that I may actually have abandonment issues.
At the age of 7 I was sent to a boarding school. Nothing has frightened and hurt so much since. The sight of our clapped out grey Cortina disappearing down the school drive, and the feeling of undiluted fear is seared into my being. Add to this the fact that my home was in the same village, and that I could actually see Dad driving the tractor about the place, see the house I called home, yet I could not go there, was a Tantalus too far.
In the Journal of Psychology, 2004, 49, 683 – 705, Joy Schavarien has an article entitled “Boarding School: The trauma of the privileged child”. This articulates very well the strange schism I felt. In particular, the difficulty of balancing the idea that this experience was an expression by my parents of how much they cared for me. That in being rejected I was loved. That they were sacrificing so much to send us all to good schools was hard to understand.
At such a school there is a really inconsistent view of the relationship between the mind and the body. On the one hand they are separate; physical weakness and pain can be simply ignored by a disciplined mind. On the other hand they are intimately connected; a mind that is weak and feeble can be fixed by physical punishment.
A track or a trace is left in the mind, a habitual way of thinking, a stream of self-doubt, a morbid fear of authority, a fractured resistance.
You know how when you are scared you feel it in your guts, like a serpent writhing inside. I felt that a lot, not just at school but often afterwards. I certainly was, and maybe still am, a little unsteady.
I’m not suggesting that everyone else with UC has necessarily got the same kind of connection. That is for each individual to decide. For myself I think there is.
My speculation is that these experiences, in conjunction with my genetic inheritance, may have been at the root of my Ulcerative Colitis.
Furthermore I speculate that by a harmonious balance between mind and body, both will benefit.