Tag Archives: Brain

Ruminating

Ruminating (CaD Ps 140) Wayfarer

Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer,
    you shield my head in the day of battle.

Psalm 140:5 (NIV)

Ever since I was a kid, I have been one to excessively ruminate on conflict or personal problems that I encounter along life’s road. When this happens, I can’t stop thinking about it, mulling it over, replaying things again and again in my head. When it’s really bad, my ceaseless ruminations can steal my sleep and paralyze me from effectively managing other important things in life.

The word “ruminate” has only been a common part of the English language since the 1500s. It derives from a Latin word that refers to animals, specifically cows, who can dredge up already chewed and partially digested food from their stomachs in order to chew it again. This is commonly referred to as a cow “chewing the cud.” I realize that’s a rather gross word, picture. But, it is an apt word picture for the thing my mind does with problems and conflicts.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 140, is another song ascribed to King David. Like other songs of David, he is lamenting unnamed enemies who are bent on his personal and political destruction. What is interesting about the lyrics of this song is the multiple physiological metaphors David uses:

  • stir up war in their hearts
  • sharpen their tongues
  • poison on their lips
  • hands of the wicked
  • trip my feet

As is common with ancient Hebrew songwriting, the central stanza of today’s chapter provides the main theme for the song. And I couldn’t help but notice that David asks God to “shield my head” in the day of battle. Of course, head injuries in human battle can easily be fatal, but as I read it I immediately thought about the conflicts, problems, and relational battles I’ve encountered along life’s road and my seemingly endless ruminating when they occur. I have found that me regurgitating an issue and chewing it over, and over, and over can be as much a spiritual and emotional threat to my well-being as a warrior going into fire-fight without their helmet.

I love that David asks God to shield his head. It’s my own brain that so easily works against me in times of trouble. I also love that David poured out his heart, his conflicts, and his problems in musical and lyrical prayers. I have to believe it was a healthy form of expression that helped him get things out so that they wouldn’t be bottled up inside where rumination can easily lead to unhealthy places.

In the quiet this morning, I’ve thinking back on circumstances that have led to ruminating in the last year or two. I have gotten better at recognizing when I’m doing it and addressing it sooner. I’ve gotten better at getting it out in conversations with the inner circle of confidants I’m blessed to have in my life. I’ve also learned that expressing things in handwritten prayers in my morning pages can be a really good antidote for ruminating.

Along life’s road I’ve observed that my natural temperament, personality, and bents lead me to certain patterns of reaction to negative stimuli I encounter along the way. Some of these natural reactions are both unhealthy and unproductive. Being a follower of Jesus, my relationship has motivated and challenged me to actively address some of my less than stellar traits, like my ruminating. By choosing to get out my ruminations, I make room for my heart and mind to meditate on the things with which Jesus asks me to fill them.

Captive Brain

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How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Psalm 36:7 (NRSVCE)

One of the things I’ve learned about myself on this life journey is that when I get anxious about something it is possible for my mind to dwell ceaselessly on it. Others don’t see it, and may have no idea that my thought life is myopically focused on the conflict I’m having with another person or the uncomfortable meeting I’m scheduled to have with a client. My brain gets fixated and I struggle to think of anything else.

Of course, that’s not healthy, and in learning that I do this I’ve had to subsequently learn how to stop myself. When Paul wrote to Jesus followers in Corinth he told them that he “takes every thought captive,” and I’ve realized that I have to do the same thing with my anxious mental myopia. I have to catch myself obsessing. I have to consciously choose to turn my attention elsewhere, and then I have to deliberately give my mind something positive on which to dwell.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 36, David does much the same thing in his lyrics. His song starts out being focused on his treacherous enemies. But, then after a couple of verses, he shifts his focus. It’s like a completely different song as he begins describing God’s goodness, faithfulness, and steadfast love. As I got to the end of the song I’d kind of forgotten all about the heinous enemies back in the first verse until in the last verse he asks God not to allow those treacherous enemies he’d been focused on get the better of him. David’s mental focus was not on his enemies, but on God’s faithful protection and provision.

In the quiet this morning, there are so many things on my plate, so many tasks on the list, and so many things on which my mind could spin into its manic myopia. I confess, I almost skipped my quiet time this morning, but that would have been a big mistake. I needed to consciously allow my mind and spirit to read and meditate on these good words and the important lesson of which I desperately needed to be reminded.

Some days, I just have to take my mind captive and allow it to be captivated by goodness of God.

Lost in Thought

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus….
Hebrews 3:1 (NIV)

Whatcha thinkin’ about over there?” Wendy asked me yesterday in the car.

It’s a common question that gets asked back and forth between us. It happens often in the car when time driving in confined space allow for long periods silence. Usually the question comes out when one of us seems lost in thought.

Lost in thought.”

It’s funny how we have these phrases we use all the time without really pondering their meaning. How often am I “lost” in my thoughts?

Lost (adj) [lawst] having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction, etc.

My brain is constantly thinking, pondering, and ruminating. It never really stops in my waking hours and when I go to sleep it continues to process in my dreams. I wrote last week about my brain sometimes being like a runaway train. The truth is, my brain is always a runaway train unless I train myself to control.

In this morning’s chapter the author of the letter to the Hebrew followers of Jesus encourages them to “fix” their thoughts on Jesus. The word picture is to consciously think about or give consideration. It makes me think about the difference between spacing off in class (runaway train!) and actively listening and taking notes on the teacher’s lecture. The writer is making a simple yet profound point. If I’m following Jesus, as I say I am, then my attention needs to be fixed on the One I’m following. It’s hard to follow if I’m lost in thought.

I learned along somewhere along this life journey that my thoughts will be lost and wandering if I am passive about it. My thoughts can also be corralled, controlled, directed, and “fixed” where I choose. I am either in control or I relinquish control to let my brain wander around lost in thought. It requires the development of a certain amount of self-awareness to what my thoughts are doing, and self-discipline to direct them where I choose.

 

The Runaway Train of My Brain

we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5b (NIV)

When I was in 8th grade I learned how to diagram sentences in English class and how great stories were structured. In high school I learned how to break down stories and characters into their component parts and how to construct a cohesive presentation. In college I learned how to critique, how to “beat” a script, and how to storyboard an idea. In my personal work with multiple counselors I’ve learned how to recognize my own patterns of thought and the conversations I’m always having with myself. I’m still a work in progress but I’ve been learning over my entire life journey how to meta-communicate. That is, to think not only about what is being communicated but how it’s being communicated.

I happen to be married to Wendy, who does the same thing. It makes marriage interesting.

Thus it was that when I came across the phrase above from today’s chapter what initially struck me was not the spiritual meaning of this phrase, but the fact that it is a recurring theme in conversation between Wendy and me. “Taking every thought captive” comes up regularly in our discussions as we process through patterns of thought and behavior. So, I’ve been thinking about that in the quiet this morning.

I’ve realized along my life journey that my thoughts are often a runaway train. My brains neurons, synapses and transmitters got wired a certain way like a set track and when particular situations or circumstances present themselves my thoughts mindlessly follow where that track leads. There’s no meta-communication. There’s no thought about my thoughts. I just follow the tracks and end up at the same stations of words, emotions, behaviors and situations.

When “taking every thought captive” comes up in conversation between Wendy and me, we are essentially referencing the process from the old Westerns of riding fast to grab control of the train engine and pull on the hand brake. We’re forcing ourselves to think about our thinking and then do something about it.

Wait a minute. I keep going to down this ‘train’ of thought and I never like where it leads me (or us). Why am I thinking this way? What situation/experience/circumstance/word triggered my brain engine to take off down this track? What assumptions have I made in thinking this way? What am I not considering? What am I afraid of? What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about what it is I really want or desire? What am I not seeing in my limited view of the situation? Is my perspective skewed, and, if so, by what?”

Forcing myself to consider and answer these questions put the brakes on the runaway train, take the mindless thoughts captive, and begin the process of choosing new paths of thought toward better places in life and relationship.

This morning I’m thankful for God-given brains that are naturally powerful at learning, adapting, and changing. I’m grateful for God who is infinitely gracious with this wayfarer’s life-long journey of chasing down runaway thoughts and laying down new tracks. I am equally grateful for the spiritual power that assists in the mental processing. I am reminded that Jesus great commandment includes loving God with all of my mind as well as my heart, soul, and strength.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a train to catch.

Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain!

A Little Brain Workout. It's True!
A Little Brain Workout. It’s True!

I’ve gotten a lot of interest over the past year or two for my post 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success. Now scientists are lending credibility to the fact that theatre may just be the ultimate fitness exercise for your brain! Check it out:

http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2007/04/12/is-theater-the-ultimate-brain/

 

Maintaining a Healthy Spiritual Heart

English: Arthur Saxon performing a bent press....
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah,
    as they did at Massah in the wilderness.
Psalm 95:8 (NLT)

We all know the basics of cardiac health. A healthy heart depends on what you consume and exercise. I have found that the same parallel pertains to the spiritual heart. Our spiritual hearts can get just as easily gummed up with the plaque of anger, hatred, negativity, doubt, fear, or anxiety.

To avoid the hardening of our spiritual arteries, we need to regulate what thoughts, messages, books, stories, posts, images, audio and videos we feed to our heart and brain. We also need to regularly engage our spirits in the conscious exercise of gratitude, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, goodness, and grace. A little strength training of prayer and worship helps, too.

Health is not only about our physical condition, but also about the conditioning of our hearts and minds.

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

E is for Eyes.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a fascination with eyes. When I am struck by a stranger, it almost always their eyes that, well, “catch my eye.” Eyes have been a consistent motif in my artwork. I’ve heard it said that science has been able to replicate almost every human aspect in the form of robotics, but the eye  and it’s coordination with the brain and body has been virtually impossible to replicate in its complexity, sensitivity and rapid response.

I love that God created the eye to be the lamp of the soul. Eyes speak so much. They are so expressive. Eyes captivate.