When I first heard of the herbal use of Saint John's Wort and read some of the common experiences with it, it reminded me of statements I had heard and read about Prozac. I had been interested in such drugs as Prozac but really had no desire to try it nor did I have access to it—without lying to a Doctor, getting it illegally, or whatever—generally not practices conducive to opening pathways to conscience.
I say I was interested in it, though, and that for two reasons. One reason was that I was curious about the fact that Prozac, and similar drugs, are so-called serotonin re-uptake inhibitors; that is, they are believed to influence our use of a product of the pineal gland. This gland was the one Descartes called "the seat of the soul", and Rodney Collin also spoke of it in interesting ways. Modern science generally admits it knows little about it, but all agree it is, for some reason, a light-sensitive organ functioning deep inside the brain.
The other reason such drugs interested me was in their time of action, or speed of effect—Prozac, for example, was typically stated to take about a month before the effects were felt, and this indicated to me it operated on a cellular rather than molecular time scale, as Rodney Collin might have put it. Some research into the matter determined that this was so—the time it takes for the serotonin re-uptake inhibitors to produce their effects is considered to be due to a long term alteration in receptor sites in neurons, the nerve cells of the brain.
In other words, unlike so many of the modern medicines that act almost immediately, say within a half-hour to an hour, because they introduce the chemical (molecule) directly to the receptor sites by either mimicking or duplicating a natural molecule, these serotonin re-uptake inhibitors had an effect, or at least used a technique, much more akin to the effect of herbal- or lifestyle-type approaches to health.
Now I was thinking last night about the effects of St. John's Wort. I should tell you that, unlike the situation with Prozac, I went ahead and gave Saint John's Wort a try. After 10 days or so, I first began to notice a subtle change in myself in that I had a little more resistance to characteristic irritabilities. When I first noticed this I realized it might not be the herb at all, of course, and thought maybe I was just in a good mood that day. But as I continued daily use, it became clear to me that the subtle change I had noticed was in fact caused by Saint John's Wort. But what came together for me last night for the first time was the realization that the particular areas of minor irritations and annoyances in which I noticed the alleviating action of Saint John's Wort were areas I had come to know quite well over many years of work on negative emotions.
Certainly Saint John's Wort may have other effects as well, but I am talking about the little daily annoyances and my own level of being in relation to them. It is as if Saint John's Wort gave a view of what having more being in that very area might be like—nothing so much gained as something so ridiculous becoming ignorable—but of course I do not mean to suggest that Saint John's Wort increases being. Being is a result of our work, the development of will, and comes from within, not from without in the form of a pill, an environment, or anything else.
What interests me is that St. John's Wort affected me in an area I work directly on in order to work on being, and that it works something like Prozac, that is, like a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. What this clearly showed me is that in working on these negative emotions, I was working directly with neural functioning, and with reasonable certainty with the function of the pineal gland. And it was also clear that work on change of being produces physical changes: in this case changes in neuron physiology, modifications of serotonin re-uptake (or total production perhaps), in brain cells. Of course it follows that any long-term repeated activity, for example repeated fantasy, anger, boredom, and so on, may cause changes in neurons—but the particular point in discussion here is that work on negative emotions appears to work directly with neural functioning known to be related to the pineal gland.
It need hardly be added that not working because we do not know what changes to our impressionable brains we are causing is absurd, because disuse, or any other activity, would also affect neural changes in knowable or unknowable ways. In a sense the issues haven't changed—the behaviors and states we want to encourage must be cultivated. It is only that now we are beginning to guess at some of the physical results of our behavior on our brain. And it is more than a little curious to me that the work on negative emotions seems to be directly related to the pineal gland.
An aside about this in relation to the six processes: What we are doing, or trying to do, is apply a form—in this case the technique of work on negative emotions; apply it to the matter at hand—us, what we are, our being, characterized by physical components including nerve cells and psychological components including negative attitudes; and bring something new to life—the transformation of negative emotions into higher emotional functioning. This is, in Rodney Collin's terminology, form-> matter-> life, the triad of regeneration.
So with much effort we can, with consistency of action, change a habit such that we acquire a new habit. In other words, somehow we change neural patterns by changing neuron behavior, or we change neuron behavior such that neural patterns change, and the brain's plasticity seeks to automate whatever most frequently occurs (this is analogous if not identical with the "imitation" of the moving center).
A physical theory of this might be that consciousness (light) affects electrons in atomic shells, creating ions that determine charge and hence affect neurotransmission. In brief, and to the point: sustained or repetitive attention, rightly applied, can mold our physiology to conform to our intent.
A key issue here is: How might intentional action be different in effect from "learning-by-rote", in terms of affecting the speed of neural molding? Because conscious learning—understanding what we do—is as G said "ten times" more effective. That should be demonstrable in rightly-conducted experiments studying neuro-plasticity with just these variables. We must perform these experiments ourselves, on ourselves, and move on, but there is nothing intrinsically denying more conventional scientific experiment, at least eventually, of establishing similar and even more exact practices.
But finally, regarding Saint John' Wort, I should say a few things. That it alleviates depression seems a godsend, and should certainly be recommended as a gentle means of doing that for those in need of it, fortunately not myself. A few minor side effects—a sensitivity to sunlight, mainly on my skin but somehow more general than that, is physically the main one and, for me anyway, minor.
I feel certain that I am less able to remember myself in terms of continuity or depth while affected by the herb, and one explanation for that may be in just that central importance of intelligent work on negative emotions in the fourth way. It has been about two months now, and while I cannot say I've never had a weak two months of working, I can say that I've learned something about the effort required to achieve certain modest results. That effort is curiously difficult to muster—I get more superficially distracted than usual, and don't really care much. I am unable to bring intensity to it, which seems to doom any plans to continue with this thing (I some time ago decided to see it through this first bottle of 100 pills which is now nearly gone).
And now it is a few days since I last took any Saint John's Wort, and I notice old annoyances returning, especially old negative imagination, arguing in my head with people, with friends. I had not done this for months. Back to work!
And, also today, I notice a certain numinous quality to some moments...
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