My inner eye

I have spent the last 24 hours in Newcastle studying anxiety disorders, in particular how people keep living according to their own internal logic because in some way this makes sense to them. For example: consider the person who has had three panic attacks a day for ten years (that is 10,000 attacks) and yet stil believes the next time they have an attack that they will die. 


How come they are unable to learn from the previous 10,000 times when they didn't die? - because there is some kind of internal logic operating that means they can't. eg, they may believe they only didn't die because they breathed in a certain way or because they had their lucky rabbit's foot with them.

From the point of view of the 'internal logic' of the person with an anxiety disorder, their behaviour and persepctive on life MAKE SENSE. It is only when we are able to stand back from the situation and gain a wider perspective that we can see it only makes sense in the short term or used to make sense but no longer does so. This, then, is the essence of cognitive behavioural therapy: helping someone reflect on the appropriateness of their current behaviour, make new conceptualisations about how they want to be and then plan and carry out experiments that will result in lasting change.

It was on the way home from Newcastle that I had a brainwave - this is what Paul is talking about in Romans 7 and 8. Romans 7 is all about being inward looking, being aware at some level that things are not right, but being effectively powerless to change the situation because inwardly looking doesn't provide enough of a perspective. It ends with the words, "Who will save me from this body of death?" - literally, who will help me get away from this inner eye I am cursed with and help me live again!?"

This is beautifully illustrated in a poem by Michale Quoist based on Romans 7. I can't find an electronic version of this, but here is a quote:

"Lord, I can no longer find my door. I am in too much pain, but noone has ever heard me for no-one has ever come in. Lord, do you hear me? Show me my door."
"Son, I have heard you. But it is you who locked the door and not I. If you open it, I will come in. But it is you who, from the inside, persist in keeping it solidly barred."
Now would be a good time to read Romans 7, even if it is familiar to you. The Message version of this passage illustrates best what I want to say.

This 'inner eye' is what is responsible for keeping much mental illness going. In depression, it means a stream of negative thoughts is all we ever pay attention to, it means we will gloss over any evidence to the contrary that comes from outside, it helps us be a self-fulfilling prophecy that confirms what we feared about ourselves is true - that we are worthless, that we are aware of how tired we are and so further restict our activity. In anxiety, our priority becomes to keep ourselves safe, we scan our bodies for weaknesses and our environments for threats - and find many, and we never learn despite 10,000 panic attacks.

It is into this way of thinking that I have seen with new clarity how Romans 8 speaks: read this now. Let me take you through some of the things it says about the 'inner eye' and how we can change. Again, please read the Message version.

v2: Jesus takes us out from under the black cloud - this passage isn't just about eternal life or freedom from sin
v3: He cleared the air and freed me from a 'fated' life of the cyclical behaviour of chapter 7
v4: we can't get out of chapter 7 by trying or 'redoubling' our efforts - I can't TRY not to panic the 10,001th time - anxiety doesn't work like that as I am retainning my inner focus and so remain trapped
v5-8: don't look down/in but look up/out. This is the key to escaping chapter 7 - to realise that the answer doesn't lie within chapter 7, within the body of death. The most beautiful verse to me is verse 6 which dramatically compares the two mindsets of chapter 7 and 8: "obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious and free life." This has to be followed with some comment on the limitations of what is called 'intra-psychic therapy' - those therapies who think that you can solve life's problems from a counsellors chair without ever venturing out into the world or up to God's perspective.
Keep reading in chapter 8 from the point of view of the person who has escaped the curse of the 'inner eye':

v19: we are being revealed now as we were always meant to be, and as we do so the whole of creation rejoices!
v23: we may be capable of no more than groans at this time, so used are we to looking in, but God's spirit descends to graon with us and journey with us
v28-30: when we arrive we discover that we had always been named to be in this place anyway and that this is no suprise to our souls. we have become who we were born to be
v38-39: and God with his majestic power is guaranteeing that this journey is possible, that leaving the prison of chapter 7 IS worth it, even though it is scary as it means leavning behind all we have ever known.
v33-34: along this journey satan will accuse us and encourage us to return to the state of chapter 7, for (especially for the depressed or anxious person) chapter 7 seems to be what we deserve or what is safest, but God is not accusing us - He is calling us onwards.
This reminds me of the great scene in the film Braveheart when Mel Gobson shouts Freedom. The Scots had been in the grip of chapter 7, knowing something was wrong but yet staying subservient to the English. But now they are free from so much more than just their sin - they are free from themselves and noone will ever make them slaves again!
 

Rob Waller, 24/07/2008