A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body

by Thomas Hersh, Ph.D.
Published in: Santa Monica Organic Garden and Nutrition Club Bulletin, June 1998. Volume 37, Number 2, pp. 1-2.

(Dr. Hersh, member of our Club, spoke to us on gardening several years [weeks?] ago. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from UCLA and a Ph.D. in psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology and has taught as an associate professor. He has been on the faculty of Cal State Northridge, UCLA Extension, and Immaculate Heart. He has had much experience as a clinical psychologist and currently is devoting considerable time to research. Editor's note.)

[July 27, 2011: The following are the Club secretary's published notes from the talk. I do not have a copy of the original paper, so the following is not a completely accurate outline. The goal of the talk was to raise, in dramatic form, the possibility that one's psychological attitude can cause illnesses and that, on the other hand, a stable psychological state can probably have a positive effect on some illnesses. This led to fantasizing about how long we might live if, somehow, we were all in a completely tensionless state throughout our lives.]

How big a factor in illness and cures is the mind? If serious illnesses can be caused by psychic pain and cured by uplifting experiences or hope, if the desire to raise a child can keep a mother with cancer alive until the child reaches a certain age, then is it possible that all disease is caused by psychic disturbances? Is it possible that, if a person were completely pure, spiritual, he would live disease free, able to resist any impurities, or germs, or out-side forces? Is it possible that death itself comes because of some lack of belief or lack of spiritual cleanliness? If we could become pure, if we could believe in immortality and not embrace the collective belief in the inevitability of death, could we live forever?

Short idea (59): If you have a camera whose pictures are getting more and more inaccurate — this is a good metaphor for getting old. Decaying tools can cause problems. There are additional problems if you don't know your tools are decaying. And still more problems when you insist to others that everything's fine when everyone can see it isn't.

Short idea (90) : Dying is not death. It is an experience (or ongoing experiences) within life. It often involves a long series of "Goodbye's."

Short idea (95): Every experience has a "tail," which is to say that a piece of every experience lingers on after the experience is over. For example, the experience of being in a severe thunder storm lingers after the storm is gone. The alertness, the feelings of fear and/or awe, etc. Tails can last a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours, days, weeks, months, years, and even for a whole life-time. As you get older you accumulate more and more of these permanent tails, and all new experiences you have are filtered through them. The thicker the web of old tails, the less of each new experience will get through, and, gradually, new experiences will all come to feel pretty much the same, have the same flavor, as it were. Experience will become stale.

Longer observation (13): Imagining Ourselves Dying (1): There are different ways to try to imagine we are dying. One way is to picture ourselves in the middle of our daily activities, and then to picture the same scene without us in it. And we think, "That's what it would be like if I were dead!"

Short idea (117): Whatever journey each one of us is on we can't slow it down, but we can't speed it up either.

Short idea (124): Even old wise men can have delusions, even many delusions.

Longer observation (19): Imagining Ourselves Dying (2): Imagining dying is different than trying to imagine death. Dying is a process; death a state. Here I want to write about a certain type of dying, one where there is no pain, no physical discomfort, and no inconvenience. Here is I am trying to imagine an unusual situation: You find that you will be dying, painlessly, in 30 seconds. I think most people, if they became convinced of this, would be upset. The question is, "Why?"

Short idea (150): Following his quadruple bypass heart surgery, former president, Bill Clinton, was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on October 28, 2004 for her program, Primetime Live. President Clinton spoke about his changed values with respect to the political "game," and he added, "I thought, you know, you've been given an unknown but substantial amount of extra time. And you should give it back. So, that's what I'm going to try to do.” On the one hand, it is nice that he has had some sort of conversion to wanting to devote his life to helping people. On the other hand, it would be nice to think of all presidents, including him, as being devoted to this during their presidencies.

Short idea (85): To the young, old age and death seem as unreal as a dream. To the old and dying, youth and life feel no different than last night's dreams.

Short idea (168): You can make two columns — one for all the things in life that are fun and one for all the things in life that are just work. For many people, as you get older and older, activities that were in the first column when you were younger have to be moved over to the second column. Towards the end of life, activities that were fun or so easy that they were barely noticed, like breathing or walking, can become labor and even labored.

"He died from old age" = "The Unrelated Symptoms Disorder"

People of all ages die of many different things, but it often happens that when an elderly person dies, the doctor can not give a specific cause of death. In such situations we sometimes say, "He died of old age," even though this means hardly anything. It is my goal in this essay, not to explain why these people die, but to put the whole problem in a context.

Short idea (198): To argue that evil doesn't exist because all it is, is the absence of good (privatio bono) is parallel to arguing that death doesn't exist because all it is, is the absence of life.