Heard and saw Candace Pert PhD speak to a full house last night in NYC at the Lighthouse. She is the queen of psychoneuroimmunology [PNI] a mouthful of terms which is essentially the scientific ‘proof’ of the mind/body connection.
Her basic science research in the 70’s were instrumental in demonstrating the presence of endorphin receptors in the brain. This was a tremendous breakthrough in the understanding of human emotions, human behavior, how emotions effect our immune system, our response to drugs and the nature of reality itself. It demonstrated with compelling force that we evolved with the ability to be ‘high’ or essentially that our brains were ‘hard-wired for bliss’.
Personally Pert writes about her own frustrations and disappointments [actually anger] at the way her contribution to this field was not fully recognized by her male colleagues. This may have led her to gradually enter the arena of popular writing and speaking regarding these ‘New Age’ subjects. Still, her scientific background places her in a position in which her opinions deserve listening to.
It is clear to me that homo sapiens evolved with the innate physical/chemical structure to be happy. The enormous and expanding use of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant pharmaceuticals to alter our emotional states merely mimic our own endogenous [internal] peptides which are part of our physical being. Pert noted that these same receptor sites occur on all cells of our body as well as the cells of single-celled creatures! It is extremely important for our fellow humans to understand that we capable of altering our states of feeling, of consciousness–of finding bliss– and often without the use of external, synthetic compounds which merely mimic our internal peptides. Exercise, meditation, cognitive therapy, prayer, sex–these are all ‘natural’ means of realizing our potential to be happy. This is not to diminish the utility of drugs for specific people under specific circumstances. It is just that we usually seek the quick and simple solution of popping a pill before doing the hard work of seeking alternative solutions. But regardless, it does seem as if God/Universe wants us to experience heaven on earth.
The metaphysical implications are fascinating. We need not feel guilty for seeking pleasure. It is in our nature. Those of us with spiritual leanings should regard this arrangement as a ‘gift from God’. This is a rather prominent Kabbalistic perspective. One Hasidic tale speaks of a man who dies and meets God [Jews don’t meet Saint Peter]. It turned out that during his life the man was plagued by feelings of guilt over his desires to embrace his physical nature: food, drink, sex. He prided himself in his vigilance and ability to live a nearly ascetic life. When he approached God he was rather proud of these efforts. He proudly [not the best way to approach Divinity] proclaimed how he struggled to be ‘good’. Rather disappointed, God replied, ‘That is a shame. Why didn’t you partake of these pleasures that I provided for you?’ After all, you are my taste buds in the world.’
The point of the story is to portray the Universe/God as offering us gifts of joy in the face of the obvious pain and suffering of existence in this world. Spiritualize them. They are not the Devil’s tool to lead us into sin or damnation–unless we choose to regard them as such.
The nature of bliss and joy can become an enormously powerful lesson for us. We understand that the pain and suffering in this world and within each of our lives is a universal, unavoidable law of existence. We can not avoid pain. We fear, we love and we will lose what we love. We will be disappointed, we will fail at times. This is a universal truth. How we handle the pain will determine the extent of our suffering. How well we can confront our natural feelings of fear, anger, despair will determine the quality of our lives as well.
The presence of evil in the world is a necessary challenge to all sentient beings. Without evil, the choice of good would have no meaning. Even the possibility of evil is a gift. It imbues our lives with mealing and the possibility of spiritual growth.
Bliss and joy, too, are spiritual gifts to us. They challenge us to appreciate and use them in the right way. By this I mean–appreciate them, be grateful to them, thank God for them and see them exactly as you choose to see them–as spiritual gifts.
Can they be perverted? Clearly they can and often are. The Universe tells us that we need to always seek a balance between forces. Sex can be an offering of love or a weapon of violence and degradation. Our taste for food and drink can be balanced, nuanced and appreciated, or can become the object of obsession and damage our health as well as our self-image.
So being hard-wired for bliss is just one aspect of the human experience. It is a part of our lives, offered, I believe as a counterbalance to the pain and suffering. Like Yin and Yang it is a necessary gift. How we choose to understand bliss, how we choose to utilize it in our lives is up to us.