Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A plague of bored locus

Our Locus Acumbens, that part of the brain which registers pleasure, is over stimulated. Pleasure begets pleasure. What feels good guides action, and so the stress and variety, the emphasis on dynamic and novel experience, the accelerated pace of life, evokes a high with the overproduction of “flight” chemicals in the parasympathetic system (the same adregynic chemicals that correspond to violence and panic.) The door swings open to addiction (where addiction is the result of dis-regulation of the pleasure centers of the brain), and for the craving for the new and the novel. One example of this can be seen in the practice of Christian worship over the last few decades. The way we shape our worship services contributes to this ultra-excitation. That isn’t God. It is finally achieving a threshold of stimulation which actually stimulates one’s already stunned Locus Acumbens.

Indeed, with time the Locus Acumbens gets calloused. The resulting depression, not in mood but in affect--boredom, melancholia, carelessness, being numb--is called anhedonia. It is the new depression. Not sadness but listlessness, melancholia, boredom. People cease to feel anything. The “real pleasures of living” the green of grass, the smell of flowers, the simple enjoyment of friends, they fade. What’s worse, according to some neuropsychologists, this condition is so native to the Western lifestyle that everyone may as well assume they suffer from this to some degree. What can be done? How do we Westerners come clean from our Acumbens-addiction and reshape our appetites toward better, more meaningful foods?

The answer is in taking Sabbath. The answer is fasting. The answer are the liberal arts--yes, the liberal arts as a program for achieving a good and healthy life. The arts as real pleasure; fasting for the sake of real food; being God’s creatures in his good creation. Creation was designed for worship, to stimulate our proper system, the sympathetic system. Spiritual practice as eudemonic praxis, achieved as a reregulation of our pleasure centers, and using our minds instead of simply our Locus Acumbens.

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