3 Conscious Dreams - Intra- and Interpersonal Relationships by Dr Daan Steyn
The better you understand your body, the more effectively one will be able to control your habits and live a more meaningful life. We regulate our own levels of serotonin and dopamine, and the flow of endorphins in our bodies, for example, in the same way that we control our walking - it is a learned, conditioned process.
As we have seen in previous chapters, another element has been added to the physiological and psychological factors that explain behaviour ─ the role of food and other chemical substances (such as drugs) and the biochemical effect these have on our bodies.
The better you understand your body, the more effectively one will be able to control your habits and live a more meaningful life. We regulate our own levels of serotonin and dopamine, and the flow of endorphins in our bodies, for example, in the same way that we control our walking - it is a learned, conditioned process.
We make ourselves happy or unhappy. No one can force you to be happy or unhappy, unless you allow it to happen. To develop such a degree of self-control, we need to know ourselves. This means that we should recognise the messages from our bodies, interpret them correctly and react appropriately to them.
Why are there fragile people? Why do some people suffer the way they do? Why are they so inconsistent and fragile? Because for them life is a ride on a wild horse which is constantly trying to throw its rider. Planning anything is difficult. For example, you may plan to go on a date, but you don’t know whether, when the time comes, you are going to be too tired or too aggressive, in the mood for sex or perhaps anxious. The future is so unpredictable because your own behaviour, your own biochemical processes, are so unstable.
The next step is to stop going out on dates altogether, or just to get married and get it over with. You can’t be yourself anymore, or act sincerely, because there always seems to be this unknown factor that unsettles you.
For those around you, it is just as difficult. They also never know what to expect. It can be upsetting to live in an atmosphere of unpredictability and insecurity, even though the person at the centre of it all might see himself (or herself) as interesting, exciting and creative, or even romantic with his constantly changing moods and impulsive decisions.
When this is the case, those around him often prefer him to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs for then they can also enjoy a little peace and quiet.
They say dreams are an illusion. Sometimes a project is planned with great enthusiasm, but the next day all the enthusiasm and energy have waned and, as Rosette Olivier says, you realise that you have once again failed to complete the job, and have failed yet again.
Discomfort remains part of the picture throughout. Alcohol, sex, exercise, eating, reading, praying, and so forth, are all examples of habits we may use to escape this thing we call “tension” or “stress”, and to feel normal.
However, we still realise that something is not quite as it should be, and the problem doesn’t go away. Sometimes it becomes worse as you grow older, For some needs (for nicotinamide, for example) naturally become greater and one tends to become tired of this struggle against “something”. As Wilhelm Stander says, for some it is easy to say: “use your will” and “just try”. But try what? And why?
This thing that is haunting you, this wild horse that wants to throw you, is neither an attitude nor a “weakness”, but mostly our own bodies. Actually it is not our bodies, but certain minor (but very important) processes in our bodies (as described in the previous chapters) that malfunction, causing discomfort and unpredictability.
Without our noticing it, the homoeostatic balances in our bodies change. For example, on Wednesday we feel good enough to arrange a date for Saturday. Come Saturday, our glucose level has dropped considerably and we lack the energy to go through with the date. Or it may happen that we suddenly act in an aggressive manner, or that we are overcome by anxiety. People (who are just as ignorant in these matters as we are) are then sometimes quick to say: “You are so unpredictable and unstable! Pull yourself together!”. Sometimes even professional people prefer not to become involved, because they don’t understand the problem and do not achieve good results (often because the problem is misunderstood and misdiagnosed as a "psychological" or "mental" problem).
While we are out of touch with our own bodies, and fail to keep our lives on track by taking care of the biochemical needs of our bodies, we will always be aware of the sensation that something “unpredictable” is looming just beyond the horizon. Unhappiness and frustration, helplessness, a lack of self-confidence and the games we play in trying to get on with our lives, all forms part of this picture.
What about children and learning problems?
Unstable biological and biochemical processes not only cause social problems, but also result in fluctuating attention and concentration, and learning problems. As the Nelsons pointed out, hyperactivity and poor academic performance can also be caused by such fluctuations. People often wonder why an apparently intelligent child is so "dumb" in class. Teasing and unnecessary failure may follow. As a child Andre Conradie, for example, also suffered from, among other things, energy deficiency and exhaustion.
As long as there is not the reality of stable bodily processes, dreams will always be fraud and there will always be fragile people. There is no behaviour without the body and no stability, predictability or self-confidence in the absence of stable bodily processes. Realistic dreams are build on a stable body. If the body is not stable, it will be difficult to live with yourself. For others it can be a nightmare of unpredictablity.
Body and behaviour are two sides of the same coin, and there can be no stability, predictability or self-confidence in the absence of stable body processes. As mentioned before, it is very difficult to live with oneself when one’s body has become unstable. For those around you it can be a nightmare of unpredictability and impulsiveness.
A positive side to the matter? According to Rocco van Rooyen, there is a positive side to this situation. He used to suffer from severe mood swings and would fly into a temper for no apparent reason. He controlled his aggression by drinking alcohol, but soon realised that this was not the way to solve the problem. His problem was not alcohol, but rather the mood fluctuations caused by biochemical imbalances. Then he started taking the NAD supplement. “Once you understand how it works and what type of person you really are, things become easier. The function of the medication is to keep your moods consistent. I know that the decisions I take today, will be the same as the ones I take tomorrow... The decisions I now take, are completely different from those I took before, I have a new perspective on things and I have been successful up to now”.
Like Rocco, Dries Joubert became tired of being referred to as an alcoholic, since alcohol was not his problem. The real problem was related to imbalances and changes in himself that were temporarily relieved by alcohol.
It should be added immediately that every one has to learn to use his or her body, regardless of its stability. Two things are important here, and they are the learning processes, which we will discuss shortly, and the attitude of others. How do you learn to respect and love yourself when you are constantly being humiliated because of your own tiredness, fluctuating performance at school, or your clumsiness and self-consciousness in the presence of others? Instability in the biochemistry of the body can cause one to acquire certain labels in society (such as the “village idiot”, an “easy lay” or the “local drunk”). Getting rid of such a label is almost impossible.
Let’s consider two examples that explain the principles of intrapersonal stability.
Who is involved? A man stays home after he has accepted a severance package. His wife is still working. He has no idea what to do with his life, he is depressed and his wife and children don’t know how to cope with him.
He receives a letter in the mail in which he is informed that his application for a certain position has been successful. All excited, calls his wife and tells her with a big smile: “I’ve been offered a job.”
A young woman also receives a letter. She reads it and begins to cry. For days on end she sits and stares, wishing her own life away.
Is there another factor that plays a role in behaviour? What is it that makes people behave this way? Something happened to these two individuals. Other people were involved, but basically everything happened intra- personally, or “inside themselves”. We are all familiar with the importance of psychological and interpersonal factors that influence relationships and also with the inner (intrapersonal) conflicts people experience. We all know what it feels like to want to do the right thing, but to do the opposite instead. Such conflicts are real. They are not just conflicts between ideas and expectations but are at the same time also conflicts between physiological states. We create these changes within ourselves. As our perceptions of the present and future change, so we unconsciously change our biochemistry to fit the new situation.
The man in our example's perception of the future became positive when he learned that he had a new job. He induced a flow of "happy endorphins" and so changed himself biochemically to fit his changed world. Similarly the young woman who lost a loved one perceived that her world was changed and not worth living. She too changed the flow of hormones and endorphins so that her body and body language, her thoughts and imagination, all of her behaviour, reflected this new view of her situation.
More precisely, we may say that an important factor in the mood changes that we experience, is the difference in the level of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. When the serotonin levels drop too low, we become morbid and tend to take chances and act aggressively. The young woman in the example read the letter, and the level of serotonin in her brain dropped. Actually she caused the level of dopamine to drop - that was her invisible and unconscious (intrapersonal) reaction to the letter. The man in the other example unknowingly initiated a rise in his dopamine level. What he consciously experiences is that he is smiling and feels good inside.
Who determines the process? How does it happen? Some scientists would cautiously describe the process to “substances secreted by the brain”. The next question would then be “How?” and “Who?”. Are we now back with Descartes who alleged that an homonculus, a tiny person, lived inside the head of every human being and controlled the limbs like a marionette master. A more modern image of him would be a tiny man who controls the flow of chemicals by means of a computer program, but this is obviously not acceptable.
We ourselves regulate the levels of serotonin and dopamine (and other biochemical processes). In other words, we make ourselves happy or unhappy. No one can force you to feel happy or sad, unless you allow him or her to do so. To develop such a degree of self-control, we need to know ourselves. This implies that we should recognise the messages we receive from our own bodies and interpret them correctly.
Is this a learning process? The way we learn to understand and control our bodies in childhood, is largely explained by the processes of learning and conditioning. How, for example, does a baby learn to walk? Through learning, and many hours and weeks of practising control over the muscles and balance mechanisms. Genetically we are all normally born with the ability to learn to walk, and we need not believe the story of the tiny man who lives in our heads!
In the same way we learn through a process of conditioning, imitation and the whole social learning process to regulate our own chemical states. We learn to play the internal organs and processes just as we learn to control our arms and legs. It is, for example, known that we can exercise a great deal of control over our breathing, and that we can learn to regulate our brain waves and body temperature. People learn that they can achieve certain effects, feelings and thoughts through the secretion of neurotransmitters such as the endorphins, dopamine and serotonin.
However, even though this ability can be acquired, at a biochemical level there has to be sufficient amounts of the so-called precursors available in the brain. The availability of these precursors is determined by the diet and also by what the body absorbs from the food we eat according to genetic instructions.
Serotonin and bad feelings.
Elsewhere in the book much has been written about the addictive effects of dopamine (qv) and it's importance in happiness will be discussed below. When depression is involved, serotonin is particularly interesting. When our bodies produce too much serotonin, it feels uncomfortable, as in the case of the woman in the above-mentioned example, and this state may be called "depression" and feelings of guilt are often part of these "bad feelings".
Guilt feelings are highly valued in our society. To feel guilty is an important acquired social skill, almost a religious ritual. There is, for example, a perception that people who display feelings of guilt have strong consciences and are honest people. We spend much time teaching children to "be good" and to feel guilty and the whole process is called “training in guilty attitudes”. Children and teenagers spend much time practising feeling guilty or shrugging off excesses guilt dumped on them by others by changing their perceptions and controlling the flow of endorphins, serotonin and other chemical substances in the body.
In the previous chapter we indicated how high levels of certain neurotransmitters can contribute to aggressive, impulsive and depressive behaviour.
However, these findings imply that knowledge of social and psychological factors in behaviour, your own behaviour, is no longer sufficient. Part of the responsibility of being human is also to know that you yourself to a large extent control the physiological processes and chemical levels in the brain and body (for example through your diet, what you drink, whether you smoke, as well as through the learning process). It is likely that a great deal of the insight and change acquired in psychotherapy includes both a relearning of intellectual perceptions and the control of biochemical processes in response to certain situations and stimuli.
Why is this important? Insight into the causes of your behaviour will enable you to get along better with yourself and to manage your life more effectively. The woman in the example didn’t know that her serotonin level was low because she had used so much energy and nutrients in an attempt to adjust to the bad news she had received.
All she knew was that she felt very unhappy and angry with the world. In a moment of irrationality she could have harmed herself. She could have taken alcohol to (unconsciously) rectify the imbalance in the brain. She could have eaten chocolate or smoked cannabis for the same reason. What she may have used to balance herself biochemically and intraspersonally would depend upon what she learned "works" for her, as Dr. Henry Davis puts it (Chapter 40).
What is important, is that she didn’t exercise her usual self-control because she had no idea what was going on inside herself. She didn't know what she was doing to herself (and where in our society could she have learned to know that?).
Actually, it is not too difficult to understand. It is mainly a matter of thinking about people and behaviour in a different way. Once you realise what you were taught and how you were conditioned to cope with yourself, it will be easier for you to shed old habits and acquire new ones.
The woman in question can, for instance, learn that the sensations of discomfort which makes her feel “sad and bad", is a message from herself to herself to do something to adjust the level of serotonin. Alcohol, chocolate or cannabis could be seen as solutions, but there are better solutions. There are more constructive ways to change your biochemistry, feel better and think more logically about the situation. One way could be a change of diet to provide the necessary precursors for the required endorphins and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Sometimes, particularly in addictions and serious behaviour problems, more specific steps need to be taken.
The moment Wilhelm Stander grasped the behavioural genetic basis of his alcohol habit, he was able to exercise better and more conscious control. The same applies to Rocco van Rooyen who was too aggressive. When he (or his employees) realises that he is becoming impatient, he goes for the NAD supplement. He plans in advance to prevent problems. This is one way to maintain inner stability through self-knowledge and self-control. Dries Joubert agrees with Rocco van Rooyen that it is necessary for people who are part of your life also to understand the situation and cooperate. However, it is your responsibility to understand the biochemistry of your body and behaviour, and to find logical solutions, as Karel Cilliers points out.
Understanding the messages you receive from your body is vital, to interpret them in a new way and act appropriately, should you wish to do so. To put it differently: the symptoms must become the signs which guide you intelligently (see also chapter 48). In the example the woman could have learned to take an energy supplement or something that would have supplemented the serotonin levels in a natural way. In the same way, Rev. Leon learned that periods of increased stress did not mean that he should work harder, or pour himself a drink, but that he may calm down and relax (preferably with his loved ones).
In Karel’s story (chapter 24), and the following notes, one reads how we learn to associate solutions with problems, and may come to an apparently logical but incorrect conclusion. . Here the conditioning process is described in somewhat greater detail since it forms the foundation for the development of insight and a change in behaviour.
One becomes aware of a certain discomfort or “craving” (B). By chance one learns that something like alcohol, drugs, etcetera, lessen the discomfort, it "works" for the person. This may be called "self-medication" and we will refer to it as C. Thus, when B is experienced, the person learns that C is required. B, the tension or need, is associated with C, the substance or habit, as the apparent solution.
B (discomfort, tension, craving) = problem behaviour
C (substance use/habit) = apparent solution
It seems logical. However, there is another element - the cause of B. It may be a metabolic deficiency, there may even be a genetic factor. There will always be a social or psychological (learning and conditioning) component. Whatever it is, It must be determined individually for each person by professional persons. We can call this cause of the apparent problem or B, factor A.
Let us say A, the cause of the problem, is an NAD deficiency which is experienced as a “lack of energy" or "chronic tiredness" or "depression". (NAD, as the basic form of energy, is also involved in the production of serotonin, dopamine and other chemical substances). The more direct and natural answer to the discomfort or craving (B), is to give the person the NAD either directly as a supplement and/or indirectly with an appropriate diet, if necessary. Medication may also be required to enhance the flow of natural energy and to stabilise the biochemical levels. This answer we may call D. There is then biochemically less need for the substance (alcohol, nicotine, drugs, chocolate etc.) which was the indirect source of the NAD.
Diagrammatically it may be illustrated as follows:
A = cause of B (discomfort, craving) which
C (substance use/habit) = (apparent solution)
D (a natural supplement) = (real solution)
What usually happens, however, is that the person’s answer to B (discomfort) is C (alcohol). C alleviates the discomfort to an extent as it provides energy which helps to restore, among others, the serotonin and dopamine levels.
Intellectually, and in terms of learning, the problem therefore is that the person has learned that C is not the problem but the solution. He or she now has to develop the insight that C is only an apparent solution and is actually a real problem and that A is the basic need or "problem". Because C is associated with a solution, or seen as a solution, for many addicts giving up C, the substance or habit, is the same as giving up the solution to "bad" feelings.
It is very important, then, to inform people that there are other, more constructive, solutions (D), that there are life and hope after "giving up". That one does not have to feel "bad" or tense if you don't have your "self-medication". Comfort, happiness, must now be associated with D, not C.
How well do you know yourself? Ultimately the most important aspect is the relationship one has with yourself. How well do you know yourself? The only person you must live with, is yourself. Getting to know yourself might be a pleasant experience, especially when you know more about the factors that influence your feelings and behaviour. Learning to interpret the feelings inside yourself and finding out what the problem really is and what the solution is, can enable one to manage yourself effectively.
Happiness is not a moral issue. Let’s take happiness as an example of what we do to ourselves biochemically.
Contrary to popular opinion, happiness is not a reward that is given when someone “has been good”. It is not a state that can be attained by good works. Happiness is not a moral issue or a reward. It, like the kingdom of God, is within ourselves.
Happiness is just an example of an experience brought about by the secretion of certain chemical molecules in certain areas of the brain (Depue, in Lang, 1996). But it has to be appropriate. Laughing all day without reason indicates a problem, as does unfounded unhappiness.
According to Ariane Barth (1992), research conducted in Germany indicates that the experience we refer to as “happiness” is mediated by endorphins secreted in certain areas in the brain. It is estimated that 100 of these chemical molecules have been discovered, and that as many as 1000 may be discovered eventually.
Dopamine is one of the better known messengers of the brain or neurotransmitters. The result of the secretion of dopamine is a feeling which is so pleasant that you can become addicted to the activity or substance that initiates the secretion of dopamine.
What happens is that dopamine is active for only about five minutes after secretion. However, the pleasant effect lasts for a few hours. Unfortunately, the habit must be repeated or the substance taken again to regain the effect. Because it is such a pleasant experience and because we are all searching for happiness, it soon becomes a habit or a substance that we depend on for our “happiness”. So it is easy to see why people become addicted to dopamine.
What causes excitement? What lies behind that almost magical experience we are all looking for, this state of happiness, tranquillity and satisfaction? Some of the habits (like exercise) which cause a release of endorphin is socially acceptable whereas others (such as drug abuse) are unacceptable. The effect brought about by all these is the same. A good sermon, an inspiring speech, pathological self-inflicted pain, a boxing match, a spiritual experience, winning the world cup, a wonderful dream, beautiful music ─ anything that excites you, can cause the brain to secrete the endorphins that give rise to feelings of happiness and peace.
Alcohol, smoking, and drugs also stimulate the flow of dopamine, and result in feelings of happiness and peace. In Rocco van Rooyen’s case, alcohol stabilised his behaviour, made him happy and calmed him down so that his aggression disappeared. Usually one alcoholic drink is enough to create this effect, but the problem is that the alcoholic drinks more than one and spoils the effect by overdoing it and becoming unstable.
According to George du Toit, the excitement experienced by a gambler may cause the secretion of dopamine and other substances in the brain for hours on end. Certain foods such as chocolate can also have a stimulating effect, and it is therefore not strange that people who are in love go out for dinner so often. (Interestingly chocolate contains a substance which is apparently also found in dagga, but in larger quantities.)
Exercise and gardening wouldn’t work for George, and Rocco is not interested in playing games. In other words, each to his own. What causes one person’s brain to secrete endorphin, won’t have the same effect on another person. Even people who take part in the same activities, do not show the same reaction (probably due to physical differences). Not all runners experience the so-called “runner’s high” also caused by the secretion of endorphins and encephalins (Noakes, 1994).
Well-known anti-depressants work on the same principle - they stimulate the secretion of a calming neurotransmitter, serotonin, which also enables a person to sleep well, as mentioned previously. Is it not logical that the anti-depressants cannot work effectively if there is a deficiency of serotonin or the substances from which it is produced in the brain? It can also not be produced if there is too little NAD. Then the missing substances have to be provided (in a supplement or diet).
What works for a specific individual is probably a combination of biochemistry, a leaning process, social norms, nutrition and also the (transpersonal or spiritual) influence of the group.
What is it that we become addicted to? It is important to realise that we do not become addicted to chocolate, alcohol, dagga, buying or sex, but that we become addicted to the effect that any one of these may have upon us - the secretion of endorphins, encephalins and other neurotransmitters or neuropeptides.
To repeat: It is a misconception that any of these substances have some kind of power to make us come back to them repeatedly. That is what it appears like but it is not scientific. What we come back to time and again is inside us - a kind of cerebral masturbation with which we release endorphins and other substance in the brain which make us feel good, happy, relaxed and satisfied.
How important is sex? Sex also induces the secretion of neurotransmitters and endorphins in the brain, but in small quantities.
Barth (1992) refers to German psychologists who interviewed 3 693 married men and women. Eighty percent of the women and sixty-one percent of the men did not feel sexually fulfilled. According to Barth, the sexual revolution has not produced a "big bang" but rather resulted in unrealistic expectations and disappointment.
Is there perhaps a pervasive sense of disappointment in our culture (and a resultant search for meaning) because it is simply not possible for human beings to live in a constant state of excitement and happiness as some movie makers, advertisers and preachers would have us believed? Have we as a society created inappropriate goals and ideals which depend upon a secretion of endorphins and other neurotransmitters for ourselves? Is this perhaps why so many people are turning to drugs and other addictive behaviours?
Is romantic love yet another modern myth? Perhaps these unrealistic expectations and the search for an ideal partner who can “let the dopamine flow”, have contributed to the high divorce (and addiction) rate. There are indeed people who are addicted to sex, or involved in a number of toxic relationships. This does not necessarily lead to fulfilment; for the basic drive is a recurring biological "itch" so that these driven people remain unfulfilled and often live in shame and guilt, as we are told by Kurt Viljoen and others.
Do endorphins have anything to do with pain? When we talk of endorphins we are referring to a whole family of chemical substances which mediate or influence our experience of pleasure and also of pain. The very name "endorphins" refers to a kind of "morphine" in the body or "internal morphine" which is secreted by the brain to relieve pain. The more pain one experiences, the more endorphins are secreted in the brain, and, as mentioned before, these are the same endorphins which produce a peaceful, pleasant sensation. In this way pain also produces a pleasant sensation.
Violence Some people are more aware of this connection (because, for example, they have more receptors and are more sensitive to the action of the endorphins) and learn that pain will lead to a pleasant sensation. It is therefore logical that one may inflict pain on yourself to produce a happy, pleasant feeling. To put it differently: you can hurt yourself (or find someone else to hurt you) for the sake of pleasure and this combination of pain and pleasure is part of a natural biochemical process.
Problem behaviour is likely the result of some faulty learning processes - the person learns to obtain pleasure in a socially inappropriate and unacceptable manner - but the basic mechanism is biological.
The term masochism refers to the practice of deriving pleasure from self-inflicted pain. The term sadism refers to the practice of deriving pleasure from inflicting pain on someone else. The pleasure derived from the experience of power and pleasure as a result of the flow of endorphins that occurs while inflicting pain upon another, is possibly a motive in serial killing. Wouldn’t it have satisfied Freud to know that pleasure is indeed the (biochemical) motive behind so many forms of behaviour?
Biochemical independence Much has been written on the connection between interpersonal factors and addiction. Here it must therefore suffice to say that an addict and those close to him, live in a complete, whole relationship. Friendship, marriage and family form an ecological unit, and this coexistence also becomes visible in the biochemical interdependence of people.
Certain forms of co-dependence also originate from such a symbiotic relationship in which one person depends on the other to inflict pain, while the other cannot exist without someone to hurt. Neither can live easily without the other. Erich Fromm in his book The Fear of Freedom described this interdependence, also on a national and political level, in detail and these power games will not be dealt with here.
This interdependence may also be the reason why the co-dependant (the husband or the wife of the alcoholic) sometimes develops a drinking problem after the alcoholic has overcome the problem.
Apparently the co-dependant experiences a flow of endorphins and other neurotransmitters as long as the partner remains addicted to alcohol, and thus never needs to use alcohol him or herself. Once the partner overcomes the problem, the co-dependant is left with a need that he or she now has to satisfy on his/her own. It is therefore understandable that the co-dependant often (albeit unconsciously) causes the addicted partner to cling to his/her addiction. It has also been found that the sufferer who manages to overcome the addiction, often leaves the relationship in order to escape the hold that the problem has had on him/her at all levels: biochemically, intellectually, transpersonally and interpersonally.
There are various intra- and interpersonal psychodynamic factors in such a relationship, and they deserve attention, but the question remains: “Could we ever ignore the biochemical or biological basis of behaviour?” Doesn’t it also have an influence on our spiritual experiences?
The extent to which the ties between people are multidimensional, and the number of levels at which cooperation takes place, is illustrated by the sexual relationship between people (see also chapter 46).
Pheromones and interpersonal completeness People who are in love, stimulate the secretion of endorphins and dopamine in one another. They feel good, also because each finds the smell of the other attractive. They are reacting to pheromones, hormones which are picked up through the sense of smell, and which stimulates the brain to secrete endorphin. (Lyall Watson wrote extensively on the subject of communication between plants as a result of the action of pheromones).
People who are “attractive”, are often people who secrete the “right” pheromone. They have a natural, stimulating fragrance but the rest of us have to rely on commercial deodorants. (One joke has it that the most popular deodorant smells like money)
People who live together not only form a social unit, but also a biochemical one for the pheromone leaves the skin of the one person, drifts through the air, enters the bloodstream of the loved one through the nose and stimulates the secretion of satisfying endorphins in the person's brain.
So the statement in the Bible that “ the two will become one" may be taken quite literally. We may, in other words, hypothesize that, without even touching one another, a couple can create a wonderful, peaceful atmosphere to live in, because even in restful periods they activate in one another the secretion of serotonin which, in the right quantity, serves as a tranquilliser.
The importance of such a unit is often only realised after the death of one partner, or a separation. The person who remains behind, suffers a biochemical deficiency because the partner who used to induce these secretions, is no longer there. The pain and suffering are just as real on a physical level as it is on a spiritual and socio-psychological level. It therefore stands to reason that all aspects should be addressed during the period of mourning. Antidepressants may help but they also bring the possibility of unpleasant side-effects, because they don’t rectify specific deficiencies and may create other biochemical imbalances.
Now that we described how important we may, in a biochemical sense, be for our mutual well-being (also spiritual well-being), it becomes clear why a lasting sense of satisfaction and security lies in companionship rather than in more exciting romantic relationships.
One of the most basic needs of people is to experience belongingness, togetherness, security and appreciation. It is therefore not difficult to understand that the flow of endorphins, dopamine and other neurotransmitters is optimal when a person experiences friendship and the stable security that go with it. The reason for this may be the fact that under these circumstances the brain does not need to secrete other substances (like cortisol) to manage stress. It has also been found that good relationships and mutual trust in the workplace, serve as the best defence against stress (Barth, 1992).
Is happiness conditional? Although these findings may not be in line with our expectations and stereotypes, there is some good news. The much sought-after experience of happiness and satisfaction (and the meaning it gives to our lives), is established biochemically by means of secretions in the brain, and is not dependant upon the circumstances or persons involved.
A poor man given something to eat, experiences the same pleasure and happiness as a rich man who has just bought a new car. In jail, or in church, in bed or outdoors, everywhere, the mechanisms and experience of happiness, peace and contentment are always the same for everybody and are always possible.
This is why the powerful and the famous, as well as the least among us, may fall prey to addiction. We all like the secretions in the brain that make life more bearable and even pleasant. This also means that deficiencies that result in addiction, may in all cases be supplemented (for example with the NAD supplement, corrective dietary measures, etc.).
Do hereditary factors play a role? Genetic factors largely determine how sensitive a person is to the effect of chemical substances such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and encephalins. Genetic factors also determine how much of the substance the person needs or the rate at which a deficiency will develop. For example, some people have more receptors in the brain to receive these substances and therefore they have a larger need and capacity. Others have less powerful needs because they need less of the substance to feel calm and contented.
However, all people experience relaxation and contentment once the need for these substances has been satisfied. This explains our initial assertion that happiness is not a moral issue. The experiences we refer to as “happiness”, “contentment”, “peace”, “euphoria” or “romance”, and which we describe with adjectives such as “good”, “wonderful”, “heavenly” and many others, all refer primarily to a physical experience. In other words, “happiness”, “peace” and “meaningfulness” are not mystical experiences, but experiences that are as natural as breathing.
Do we live at levels of stimulation that are too high? Why do we not experience more happiness and contentment if it is that simple? Is the problem perhaps that we do not understand what happiness is, and that we cannot get enough of it in our everyday lives because we have become too addicted to excitement as, for instance, portrayed by the mass media?
Do we all not perhaps live at a level of addiction to our own endorphins and chemical neurotransmitters that is simply too high? If this is the case, it will literally become more and more difficult to find something which will provide sufficient stimulation to produce the secretion of endorphin. In other words, to experience happiness will increasingly require a major effort.
It is nevertheless important to know that all experiences cannot be reduced to a biochemical process. A spiritual experience is still as pure as it has always been, and the spirit has always functioned through the body. Paul referred to the body as the temple of the spirit. How else will the presence of the Spirit become visible?
Are there different levels of excitement? One last important aspect of intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships that will be discussed here, is our search for optimal excitement - not too much and not too little.
Just think of the level of excitement (in other words the secretion of dopamine, etc.), we are exposed to these days: radio and television from the very first day of our life. This is followed by stimulating foods and programmes to stimulate intellectual development. Compared with previous generations who lived peacefully on farms whose only excitement was the odd lion that came too close and had to be driven away, we may be in a state of over-excitement most of the time.
Is it not logical that we suffer from sleep disorders and that we are bored with sex after a few months or years of marriage? We live in the era of “disposable relationships” - when you become tired of someone, you simply replace him/her with someone else. It could be exciting, the hormones react positively to the change. Is our search for romance anything but an addiction to our own hormones? Does our freedom of choice not to a large extent represent the compulsion placed upon us by the endorphins and dopamine in our bodies because we are not aware of we are doing to ourselves? Maybe the prayer: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" applies to many of us on a biological level too.
Anxiety On the other hand, when the level of excitement becomes too high, it scares us and we feel anxious. Then we look for something that will stimulate the flow of those endorphins that calm us down. So we ride a seesaw of biochemical or homoeostatic balances.
It seems we are constantly trying to maintain the homoeostatic balance in ourselves. When the level of excitement drops too low, we become restless and bored. Then we find something which will stimulate us. The levels of excitement must be pushed a little higher every time, otherwise we are bored.
It is when someone surrenders to this urge for more and more excitement, that things tend to become increasingly complex. Some people move from sex to drugs, and from drugs to something more exciting. In the end, what is left to satisfy man the “hunter”? Another human being. This is where murder and serial killing may come into the picture. The combination of sex and murder tops the list of exciting activities.
The importance of playing Children induce the flow of neurotransmitters by playing, by scaring one another, by running around, by screaming, and so on. How many adults can still play or have ever become totally absorbed in some form of play?
Is the enormous existential vacuum or need for excitement in our society not also the result of the fact that we no longer know how to play? Isn’t it this that increases our dependence upon drugs and “adult habits” to satisfy our needs (also for endorphins)? In other words, do we not suffer from all these problems (also with ourselves) because we no longer know how to play? Playing purely for the fun of it, can be a very wholesome experience, which also strengthens family ties. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more of us could once again experience the pleasure of playing? More is said about this in later chapters.
What about religion? The search for excitement has not left the church untouched. The more sensational the sermon, the more people attend. This was already the case in the time of Jesus. Jesus himself warned people against the search for sensation or signs. He himself spent a great deal of time on his own in quiet places. He never deliberately delivered exciting sermons or performed sensational rituals, even though the people around Him at times became very excited.
Summary Self-knowledge is a very important element of all behaviour. The terrain of self-knowledge has become very extensive with the expansion of the world of biochemistry and increasing knowledge of the biological basis of behaviour. We need to acquire self-knowledge in order to be able to develop effective self-management in the chemical world we now live in (as we shall see in chapters 45 and 46).