Two days after I wrote this post I found myself sitting on my couch, crying.
A bunch of little things had gone wrong that week, and checking email in the morning to find that some plans I’d been counting on fell through left me feeling depressed and overwhelmed. Though the situation was certainly frustrating, my own reaction took me by surprise. It was out of character for me to feel so low about events that weren’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.
And then I remembered: the junk food detox!
This was the third day of giving up sugar and processed food and, as I’d anticipated, my body was re-learning how to function without tortilla chips and PBJ on white bread. My brain was operating in a different, “GIVE ME PRETZELS OR GIVE ME DEATH” sort of way. And it wasn’t pretty.
It reminded me of something that used to give me pause when I was an atheist.
For quite a few years in my late teens and early 20’s, I struggled with depression. It was clear to me that there was some kind of chemical imbalance going on in my brain, and it permeated every aspect of my life and thoughts. I would sometimes lament the fact that I just wasn’t “myself” anymore…yet I was never comfortable with that idea. In my worldview, the human person was nothing more than a collection of molecules; selfhood was nothing more than a unique set of chemical reactions firing in the brain. In that case, how could the current set of chemical reactions be less “me” than the chemical reactions that were going on a few years before?
I tried to explain this sense of a lost self by looking at the idea that the “self” is some sort of baseline set of chemical reactions, the most typical pattern of interaction among the neurons over the course of a person’s life. Yet, since I was dealing with depression at an early age and my brain had been rapidly growing and changing since childhood, it was hard to imagine that the “happy” interactions of the chemicals when I was 15 were somehow more authentically me than these “depressed” chemical interactions I’d been experiencing for 100% of my life as a matured adult.
Eventually things changed, and the depression lifted. I was grateful and relieved to finally be myself again. And yet, this “selfhood” that I had “recovered” clearly had a rather different set of chemical reactions and patterns of behavior than the version of me the last time I’d felt like myself, when I was a young teenager. How could this be? I knew that it defied logic to claim that the new set of reactions that I’d experienced for only a fraction of my adult life was more “me” than the ones I’d experienced the rest of my post-childhood years. Yet somewhere inside I knew it was true.
Years later, this was one of the things that led me to truly open my mind to possibility that there might be something more to life than the material world at hand. The undeniable truth of the existence of one objectively authentic version of myself, an encompassing essence that was intertwined with yet something different than the chemical reactions in my brain, piqued my interest in exploring the spiritual disciplines.
In other words, I started to think that I just might have a soul.
When I read about the concept of the soul, universally acknowledged in some way or another in almost every culture throughout history, I knew it was true. And, as I’ve said before, I was surprised and delighted to find that one result of being a Christian is that it puts you on the fast track to discovering the real you by acknowledging this soul and putting you in touch with the One who created it.
So, on those days that I find myself crying on the couch about things that don’t normally upset me, or in moments when, say, I’m trying to type a blog post on a Wednesday morning but insufficient coffee has left me feeling like what could only be described as “a grouchy snail on quaaludes, ” I feel again that peculiar sensation that the chemical reactions in my brain are oddly out of sync with the real me. And now I know why.
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