Air Date: November 5, 2009

Jim Channon was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army . Most notably he is remembered for creating the First Earth Battalion manual. Post Vietnam 1978 was a time when military morale and enrollment were at an all time low. During this period the U.S. Army needed to drastically shift approaches and prepare to defeat a vastly larger Soviet force in Europe. Army leaders called upon officers to develop needed creative approaches to dealing with this challenge. They were encouraged to fully explore the Army’s “Be All That You Can Be philosophy”.

Many of the ideas contained in this and the outcomes of putting such concepts into practice have been documented by journalist Jon Ronson in his book The Men Who Stare at Goats , and now the new movie of the same name, staring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey.

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In a KEST-AM 1450 interview, Dr. Len Saputo asked me a very important question:

(for more information about Dr. Saputo click here )

Click here or on the image below to view this 4 min video!

Certain foods, certain chemicals alter how we think and feel.

As the human consciousness tumbles through life, it is constantly being modified by environmental influences.  The 2 billion nerve cells of the infant make 50,000 connections per second all the way through up until adolescence.  Overwhelmingly, these connections are determined by environmental influences – situations to which the child is exposed produce chemical shifts in the cortex.  Internal physical states create other chemical patterns on the cortex.

When we associate an internal state of unhappiness with a particular event (Dad coming home) or happy feelings with another (scuba diving) then we will develop attitudes and judgments about these activities, which will forever influence how we value them and think about them.

One of the aspects of an experience is whether it is stimulating or calming.  What determines which of these qualities in a given situation will produce is what kind of chemical state they produce on the cortex.

I believe that there is a parallel between certain kinds of emotional experiences and their effect on us, and the effects of different kinds of drugs on us.  And just as people with certain chemical/emotional makeups tend to be attracted toward stimulant drugs, thereby being more susceptible to addiction and dependence on “uppers”, then there are those with a need for calming, they might tend towards sleeping pills, alcohol, etc.  (Certainly alcohol may actually produce signs of stimulation in one person – but this could be because an inhibitory part of the brain is anesthetized by the alcohol, thereby creating an increase in energy, etc.).

Just as we can become addicted to the cortical affect of an external chemical, we can become addicted to the cortical affect of a certain situation.  Thus, people can become addicted to relationships, the taste of sugar or coca-cola, etc.  It has become popular to speak of things like “addictions to love, chocolate, work, anger (rage-o-holic, work-o-holic, etc.).  One form of addiction requires the gross physiological dependence on a chemical, and folks who construct the world in this way will claim that you can’t become addicted to another person.

While it is true that the gross physiological addiction can be demonstrated in the laboratory with lower animals demonstrates that many cells of the body outside the brain can become dependent.  And certainly this kind of dependence only magnifies the psychological dependence.  Yet it is the psychological dependence that is most important.  Morphine addicts have a very difficult time weaning themselves, and they are always susceptible to going back.  Yet, a person who has been in the hospital with severe pain for several weeks may develop a very strong drug dependence, yet they are eager to stop taking the drug so that they can “feel more normal and have my mind feel really active again.”  Such people are no-risk for becoming dependent again, much less being willing to stick a dirty needle in their arm to get it.

On the other hand, a addict who has been physiologically “clean” for years can be suddenly be hit with an overwhelming craving.

People who have been addicted to nicotine or caffeine recognize that this is true.

I started smoking by sneaking cigarettes out of my mother’s packages when I was in my early teens (as some may remember, it was “cool” to smoke in those days – a persuasive Mr. Ronald Reagan appeared regularly in the magazines explaining how Camel cigarettes would be kind to my “T” zone, were smoked by more doctors than any other cigarette, or something else like that).  After she had given up trying to stop me from smoking, we would often sit and share a smoke together.

By the time I got to college, I was quite addicted.  I had little money for cigarettes and would often smoke butts that I found in ashtrays, and would smoke Lucky Strikes down to the point that they burned by fingers.  I felt enormous shame about being so dependent.  What if someone had seen me sneaking into the student union at 3:00 in the morning to search the ashtrays!

I quit for the first time in 1967 by timing it with the Surgeon General’s formal announcement that cigarettes “might be harmful to your health.”  It wasn’t very hard, but not long after that I found myself attracted to a woman who smoked.  In short order, we were enjoying cigarettes together at all the right times.

I have actually stopped smoking about six times.  After all but one time, I went back to smoking within a year or two.  Each of which would occur soon after I had begun a relationship with a person or a group of people I felt emotionally close to, and who also smoked.

Yes, the nicotine addiction was horrendous – but far more potent was the emotional factor.  It really took my working out the mind body aspect of smoking that has enabled me to continue cigarette free for more than 15 years now (15 years of sobriety).

The word addiction is somewhat misleading since it has such a specific kind of medical meaning.  Yet, there are repeated habit patterns, even down to mental patterns such as obsession, chronic worry, etc.  Obsessive and compulsive behavior patterns – and any time we repeatedly make the wrong choice in our lives (to come home later than we promised, go into debt again, cheat on the husband, go to work instead of our kids recital or game) this should be considered to be an addictive kind of phenomenon (it would be nice if we had another word – what is it?).

I was “addicted” to someone I felt close to, an even more powerful drive  than the chemical nicotine itself.

When we get involved in an obsessive/compulsive loop like this, by definition, is decreasing the quality of our lives.  One popular definition of alcohol is “continuing to drink in spite of the awareness that the results of the drinking are having a deleterious effect on our lives.

When one is involved in a obsessive/compulsive activity, the awareness is kept busy.  This busyness may lead to a pleasant feeling of stimulation or it may relieve an inner pain – the unreasonable fear of financial disaster in a person with no likelihood of this happening, experiences a reduction in fear when he ignores his family and works until 2:00 am.

Thus, we can see the relationship to denial.  The substance or experience, thought, etc., helps us not think about something that creates a “bad feeling” inside.

The Cultural Perspective

From the cultural perspective, we see a culture addicted to “more.”  Christopher Columbus came over to get more gold, and when the Indians didn’t dig fast enough, the Padres turned their backs while Columbus hacked off their hands as a punishment and lesson to others.

The recent bumper sticker says “He who dies with the most toys wins.”  The people we worship are the ones who have alot – OJ Simpson would have far fewer people interested in watching him if he hadn’t been so successful, gaining more yards, winning more games, going further in the business/promotion field than so many others.  Money can buy you virtually anything except sincerity.  Indeed, it gets in the way.  More money, more power, more sex, more toys . . .  indeed, “the more the merrier.”

The problem is that more is never enough.  In fact, we become addict to “more” everything – the concept of less being better in any way, when we are talking about something that gives pleasure, is unthinkable in this culture.

Further, it is highly acceptable in our culture to avoid pain at all costs.  Not long ago, I saw a commercial for an drug designed to treat ulcers and gastritis.  The man had eaten a pizza and was having a stomach ache.  He took the remedy and his stomach went away.  The final shot was of a bottle of the drug sitting next to a bottle of hot pepper – the clear message was if you take this drug you can eat all the hot pepper you want.

So, we become addicted to things which relieve pain and discomfort.

Of course, life comes along and makes us goes through difficult situations, and we learn a tremendous amount from them, if we are awake, and gather a great deal of wisdom.  Still, we avoid the next potential learning experience as much as we can.

Many life experiences – going to a party, climbing a mountain are stimulating, many relaxing-vacation, lying in bed with a injured foot, etc.  If our orientation becomes primarily to this aspects of the situation, however, we will have a tendency to become dependent on that feeling, and then cluster our lives around getting more and more of it.  We end up developing tolerance, greater and greater need, and less and less sensitivity.  (Clearly the cure for this is to increase sensitivity rather than increase dosage.)

We need to have other guidelines – wise guidelines to live our lives by.  Our emotions are messengers, and properly used they carry information to the brain and instructions back from the brain.

We are discussing a form of sublimation here – at least that is what Sigmund Freud called it.  Finding a higher level metaphor for an activity, or letting that activity be a metaphor for some higher activity, is at work with sublimation.  The person who feels a murderous rage, wanting to chop up his parents might turn out to be an excellent surgeon – working out his blood lust while at the same time serving his spiritual needs.  Still, at the same time, the emotional growth of examining the blood lust more directly might lead to the discovery of a still higher principle, one that could be more directly served without so much gore.

In the 1960’s, people discovered “recreational drugs.”  They were used to enhance consciousness, increase creativity, etc.  Assuming that more was better, people started smoking more marijuana, taking more LSD, etc.  In many cases, as with marijuana, people started becoming addicted to its calming affect rather than its stimulating affect.  Thus, instead of getting “high” people began to get “stoned.”

There seems to be the same situation with alcohol.  A small amount seems to catalyze warmth, openness, creativity.  Up it more, and the depressant effects of the drug, intoxication dulls the senses and awareness.

Small doses of experiences and drugs that produce changes in the energy system (calming or stimulating) can be very positive, then.  Used very judiciously and in the right proportions, life functioning can be enhanced.

The problem is that people in our culture have no idea how to develop or use this kind discernment.

Beyond a certain amount they are toxic – intoxicating.  This, I think is a secondary affect.

The best bet is to teach children how to use things in moderation, and to especially be sensitive to their over-emphasis on “more.”

Wise men and women from all times have claimed that true happiness came from letting go – making your needs small and few rather than by trying to make your capacity to get more ever larger.  We also learned that giving up the drive to simply please the self didn’t bring a long lasting happiness – but the devotion of oneself to another, to a group, etc., can bring happiness.  So to the devotion to God, simplicity could serve this function.  These ideas came from people in cultures that had reached their limits.  Our culture thinks it can still keep expanding – in the 500 years since Columbus found this virgin land, it has been transformed into a place where it is hard to find even a few acres that does not show the clear signs of alternation by human beings.  Coming to grips with the limits of the environment leads people to look within and set new goals and visions.  As it turns out, those who choose to get more out of what they have rather than to get more of what they don’t become more deeply satisfied, fulfilled – genuinely happy.

The pathway out of our dependencies, addictions, etc., at some point depends upon us learning this truth.

When I was a kid, I had a small allowance and therefore, couldn’t buy much candy.  I loved candy, however, so to make it last I always bought hard candy so that I could suck on it for hours.  I could never understood people who immediately chewed everything up and swallowed it like dogs do.  Later, when I had enough money to buy all the candy I wanted, I indulged myself and learned to wolf down the candy, giving rise to a huge taste-rush.  Now, many years later, I am training myself to get content with less – reclaiming the wisdom of the poor.