What makes our tough decisions tough?

Kind of a deep subject on my mind today. Hope you’ll read through this anyway, in case it touches an area of your own deeper questioning or wondering.

There is a wonderful Catholic theologian named Richard Rohr whose writings are gaining in popularity among folks engaged in 12-step recovery programs as well as those who simply like to read new ways of looking at Jesus as the Incarnation of God’s all-inclusive love. I’ve come to personally admire so much about how Rohr frames his own understanding of God’s Spiritual presence within us, and about our own human potential to discover that presence.

There is, however, one small disagreement I find myself having with at least my own understanding, possibly misunderstanding, of Rohr’s theology. Some might say my disagreement is my own defense of some core modern notions about dichotomies, call them “either/or” decisions, against their rival post-modern understanding of what Rohr calls “non-dualistic thinking.” Quite frankly, Rohr and all post-modern believers prefer the “both/and” approach to decision-making. So do I for the most part, except for one area in which I feel “stumped” in how to deny the existence of an “either/or” decision we all, I think, are forced to make throughout our lifetimes.

This one “either/or” decision is the toughest of all tough decisions. In fact, I believe it is what makes our tough decisions tough.

The best way I know to frame my own theological, and also psychological, opinion about this issue is to picture a line of continuum with the mortal human body on one end and the immortal divine soul on the other, the human mind being caught in the middle. So far, I sound quite like Rohr himself. Although, for my own part this idea of Incarnational theology is my own Trinitarian theology, set in the belief that we all share with Jesus the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit as what we call “soul.” Jesus (body), Holy Spirit (soul), and Father (mind and the maker of God’s tough decisions) forms the backdrop for my own thinking about God’s Incarnation within us as well as within Jesus. Again, Rohr would probably approve of my thinking so far.

Where psychology comes in to play here is that the mind’s decisions, and our body’s behaviors, point in one of two very opposite directions. No going both ways, in my way of understanding. One has to do with the body’s information for our mind’s decisions based upon emotion. Our bodily senses, to include what we see and hear of the world around us, inform our minds of the need to be in control. “Take control,” the body’s desires and fears shout to our minds. Our bodily senses of a world gone haywire around us triggers such intensity of emotional desire and fear that our minds cannot help being driven by our bodies to, in fact, decide upon taking control over the world around us. Our minds are thus tempted, to say the very least.

Where our spiritual battle comes in, I would contend, is that the Holy Spirit is devoid of these physical desires and fears through our bodily senses of sight and sound. The Holy Spirit does not read social media through our eyes, or hear the evening news through our ears. The world, no matter how haywire, does not drive the Holy Spirit within our souls to seek any control at all. Rather, the Spirit informs our minds to decide quite the opposite, that being to give influence.

Give influence?

You mean love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? That kind of influence? (See Galatians 5:22-23.)

At a time like this????? A time when the world is going haywire and we need to be taking control over it?

Within my own times of more prolonged meditation this past year since my retirement, I seem to hear the Holy Spirit saying to me that it is precisely when the world is going haywire that I need to give influence, and to manifest …..or incarnate, if you prefer that word……the fruit of God’s Spirit in the world around me. And God’s message to my mind through my inner soul continues: for if I instead surrender to my bodily emotions or “drives” and “take control,” I will lose all ability to “give influence.”

When I try to take control over what others around me are thinking, feeling, or doing, I will only be joining the rest of the world in appearing, well, haywire to them. I will, with my decision to “take control,” appear just as crazy, as frightened or anxious, as UNLOVING (special emphasis here on I John 4:18), as the rest of the world. By taking control, I will unwittingly drive others to do the same with their own minds and bodies. Thus, evil has its own eternal or perpetual incarnation in our world that gets more haywire by the day, instead of less so.

The flip side of this notion soon becomes obvious. For if I cannot “take control” without then losing my ability to “give influence,” if I must surrender all positive influence in our world by my attempts to take control over it, then I must also surrender all control over our world by my attempts to give influence within it. I must give away my right to have control if I’m to claim, and protect, my right to have influence.

I simply cannot have it both ways. I must decide between either and or. I must accept the inevitable dichotomy, dualism, or “tough” decision about how I can, in all reality, relate to the world around me.

Told you this was a rather deep subject. A tough one to think about. A tough decision to make. And the reason our tough decisions in a world gone haywire are so very tough!!

Standard

Common sense vs. nonsense

When I started this blogpage with the idea that mental health and Christianity were essentially the same thing, I did so hoping to share what little expertise I may have acquired from these last 40-50 years. I’d hoped to apply my graduate degrees and professional credentials in some useful way while in my retirement years. Having taken a crack at understanding people and understanding God as best my education and practice could afford me, I hoped that I might have an answer or two to the questions folks often raise in response to common life events or even crises. If all those years of hearing the same questions repeated countless times really mattered, there may be a chance I might still help someone else along life’s way.

Not to say my hope was unreasonable, but most folks reacting to crises of different sorts in life have their own answers for their own questions. They’re not so often shopping for anything more than an affirmation to the answers they already have given themselves. The human mind, after all, spends relatively little time being indecisive. We react quite quickly in deciding things, it seems, and we seem most ill content with our own unanswered questions. We make up our minds and our answers rather quickly when it comes right down to it. Even if we get the answers wrong in that process.

Which brings up a different question altogether.

What if we took a bit more time in answering our own questions in life? What if we gathered more information before reaching our problem-solving decisions? What if we explored more options and weighed more consequences before making our choices? What if we did something my wife is good at but I’m loathe to do inside the store: shop around some more before buying?  What if we tried a bit harder, a bit longer, to get it right before hitting the check-out lane?

The human brain knows how to do this. It just doesn’t come all that easily to us. At the base of our brain we gather our senses from within the body of what is happening in the world. Toward the back of the brain are the stored memories of when such things have happened before and what we decided to do about it then. We feel as if something is wrong, we remember what we have done about it before, and we repeat that solution. We repeat, repeat again, and then repeat some more. And we get to be pretty good creatures of habit this way.

Think I’m kidding? Then think again about how you have personally reacted to the news from Orlando yesterday. Tell me if it’s not been for you the same old same old.

Fortunately, there’s more to our human brains than all this. We do have a frontal lobe capacity to reason and to develop new understandings, process new information, create new solutions and new answers and make new decisions. It’s just that this process takes longer. It requires shopping around instead of just heading for the check-out lane. It means doing more shopping instead of just buying the first thing we like.

Aaaargh! I’m a guy. I hate to shop. I just want to buy it and get out of here.

So here’s what is going on inside my own mind as I process events like the most recent mass shooting yesterday a.m. This time it happened in Orlando, Florida, where the world comes to play…….and has done so ever since Mickey Mouse first came to the area. And at the base of my brain I gather the news with feelings of horror, first for the victims, then their families, then the larger community of Orlando including its first responders in police and fire departments. And the hospitals, doctors, etc. now attending the wounded. And then on to our nation. To our voters in this fall’s elections. To our government. By which time all of my memory function has pounced on the questions and problems that the same answers and solutions as always. Support more progressive candidates for office. Fix the laws. Stop the NRA. Pray. Beg God to do something immediately, if not sooner!!!

If only that default answer in my memory bank actually worked.

So far in my own mind it’s only nonsense.   But this time my mind refuses to head for the check-out with my hand-cart full of nonsense.  Nonsense answers to nonsense questions.   Insane decisions about insane choices.    I can do better.  We can all do better.  We’ve heard from our bodies.  Now it’s time to consult our souls.   We know how our bodies fear.  Now let’s slow down, explore and discover how our souls love.   Let’s learn from our souls how to love God and neighbor as self, how to love even the unlovable, and how to finally………….finally………cast out fear.    Breathe in.   Breathe out.   Slow down.  Keep on shopping.   It’s not time to check out yet.

If I can do this, so can you. So can we all. We all have a soul. And God is waiting to consult with each one of us through the Holy Spirit dwelling within our souls. That’s right. Each one of us has direct access. We can wait upon the Lord. We can gather new information through a power higher than our own bodies, our own ears, eyes, senses. We can all get this help. Which is why it’s called common sense. Spiritual sense.

You see, our first reaction to nonsense is more nonsense. Only if we wait, slow down, seek the divine…….not with our physical senses or from the back of our mind, but from that part of the brain God has given us with which to reason new solutions, understand new answers, even ask new questions. Not our first reaction, but rather our second response. Our God-given responsibility. Our common sense in answer to life’s all too frequent nonsense.

Common sense vs. nonsense.

Standard

My name is Dan and I’m an addict

I am a Facebook junky, and here’s my story.

Social networking begins much like social drinking, social gambling, or social anything else. Only it’s easier. And cheaper. And so when I began to use Facebook to keep up with my friends who were also using social networking in this way, I found it an easy way to gather information on an entire gamut of things. Some things were of little interest, yet mildly amusing. Other things I could chuckle at LOL….or smile or feel whatever at    ………and, before long, I was commenting, sharing, and posting on a somewhat regular basis. Over time, I found myself using more Facebook. Not only at the end of the day, but in the middle. Then in the beginning of the day. And to not have access at times during the day or through an entire day and night began to irritate me. I felt a sense of unease, or disease, knowing I did not have my Facebook fix when I wanted it.

Then I knew it. I was hooked. All I needed was to just get on line for a while and get “caught up” on my “personal” stuff that would be about me. And, when that would happen, I’d check out the new posts I hadn’t seen yet about others; just enough to know what my friends were thinking. And then what their friends were thinking.  And then one more. And just one more. And another. And I’ve lost count. And maybe I’ll quit after this one. And then it was no longer social but personal networking. I would tune out the memes I didn’t resonate with personally. I would look for those validating my own opinions. I would seek out my own echo chamber. I would share what made me feel good. I would get high on what others liked of my own shares, and not so much what I liked of others’ shares.

So here I am today, amidst my own daily prayer journal where each morning I write out my honest thoughts and feelings with the God of my own understanding, only to fight yet again this twinge within me to hurry up and finish so I can check Facebook before going on with my morning. Coffee always comes first and even God knows and accepts that. But Facebook? Really? Ahead of God? Ahead of prayer? Honestly, yes, for me most mornings.

Then why am I writing this?

For starters, I’m doing it for myself. I have to help myself in this way. I have to be honest first with myself and then be honest with you.   As a therapist over these last 40 years, I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of addicts. They come in all sizes, sexes, races, classes and creeds. I know what they look like.

And that’s what I look like.

An addict looks like any other human being. And like God, in whose image we are all made. We are all three in one.  We are all Trinitarian in the same way, but only God’s Trinity is Holy.   We all have a body that drives us, a soul that draws us, and a mind in between that chooses what to believe and how to behave. The human mind operates from within the body and the soul operates from within the mind. God’s Holy Spirit, as I’ve learned to understand it, operates from within the soul. But the body serves as a catalyst of information for the mind’s decisions and choices, shouting out its instructions much as a child cries out to its parents. The mind of an addict hears what the body craves in words ending with “I need it.” Truth is that “I want it,” but the mind can be fooled into believing the lie just as a parent can be fooled into believing the child’s cry. “I have to” demands what “I want to” only desires. When the mind hears a demand, it goes into stress mode and by means of fight or flight takes action. The mind of an addict takes the same action in response to a desire as it does to a demand, because it fails to note the difference. It believes the body’s lie, the craving, the cry of “I need it” or “I have to.”

And that’s what I look like when it comes to Facebook.

Yes, that’s what many people look like when it comes to today’s social media. Amidst this “information age” in which we live, our bodies easily learn to crave information as a “have to” that shouts, or cries like a baby, where only a “want to” speaks in normal voice. Informational addiction feels like a demand when it is only a desire, a “need” when it is only a “want.” Social information becomes a drive. The drive becomes a stressor with a life of its own to account for. And the stress becomes like a toxin in the body, and in the mind.

And that’s what many of us today look like when it comes to Facebook.

So today I will detox. My mind will stay off Facebook except to post this blog I now write as my most important share of the day, my one and only “have to.” I will want to stay on FB long enough to check out the day’s full load of information, “just one” after another after another. But my mind has chosen to detox and de-stress in this way today. Jump on line.  Post this.  Jump off.

Why? Better yet, how?

I’m in recovery. Recovery mode is where the soul comes in. And the God of one’s understanding that is present within the soul within the mind within the body. The God who draws us when the body and our world around it drives us. The God who speaks truth as counter-information by which the mind is empowered to see better options and to choose healthier consequences. The God who re-minds me to understand the “I need, must, or have to” of my Facebook/Information craving as the addictive dis-ease that it is. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is only an addiction. It is only a secret. It is only a stressful toxin. I am a treatable addict. I can choose to detox one day at a time. And I can live long into recovery if I’m willing to share my truth with others, one person at a time.

That, if you are still reading this, is where you come in.

I’m Dan and I’m an addict.

Standard

Cravings vs. Carvings

Just got home yesterday from our 49th wedding anniversary celebration, a cruise to our 49th State of Alaska. Long before its statehood, of course, Alaska was purchased by the United States back in the year 1867. Russia needed money to supply its Army in the Crimean War, so we got a big discount!!! Sue and I were married in 1967, on May 27th of that year, and had saved our money for this trip that would include a helicopter ride to walk for about an hour, 30 minutes longer than our actual wedding had been, on Alaska’s Meade Glacier last week. On May 27th. Meade Glacier is itself a place of extraordinary beauty which, if on anyone else’s bucket list, must be visited within the next 49 years….assuming it is then even large enough to land a helicopter on https://glacierchange.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/meade-glacier-rapid-retreat-1986-2014-alaska/.

An Alaskan cruise, I will now testify, is an experience for the body-mind-soul Trinity in which we are made in that same image as God’s body (Jesus)- mind (Father)-soul (Holy Spirit). Some of you know for yourself that cruise ships supply a great many bodily temptations when it comes to food. Food cravings within our bodies can, upon a cruise ship, drive the mind to choose foods such as ice-cream now rather than later for dessert. Which is when you can then choose the pie and cake to go along with that additional ice cream. Instant gratification is the norm on a cruise ship. If the sight and smell of pizza, or anything else, should trigger a craving, the temptation is to eat it now. Anytime. Twenty four hours a day one can get another slice of pizza or another dip of ice cream on Carnival’s “fun ships.”

In my own experience, food was often on my mind last week as my body’s cravings drove me to choose instant gratification daily. It was, for me, a time of Temptation on Steroids.

At the same time, my mind was quite aware of a very different reality. This one was coming from my soul. Offering me a very different option, mostly involving the learning about glacial carvings. That’s right. Carvings. The appreciation of how in God’s creation by means of evolution glaciers of ice are used to carve mountains and fjords and canyons and to produce rivers, beautiful waterfalls and such over a period of many years. Delayed gratification.

All this beauty to be experienced as a result of carvings.

Glacial ice doing its evolutionary miracle over many millions of years. Wow!!!!!! It was as if all that lay beyond the cruise ship itself was drawing me to the postponed gratification of carvings. Not driving me as my body’s food cravings did. Not shouting at me with the word “now” but rather whispering to me with the word “then.” Not my body seeking to take control over my mind, but my soul offering to give influence within my mind. Not my own cravings, but God’s carvings.

And so in my mind there was this question to ponder. Should I choose to be driven in this life by my body’s cravings or drawn by my soul’s carvings? Should I make my decisions based on the body’s information or my soul’s extremely different information? Shall I choose instant or delayed gratification?

For me this wasn’t just a mental choice between the ship’s buffet line vs. the theater where a naturalist was teaching about the glaciers beyond the ship. This was a choice between what the Bible itself refers to as man’s ways vs. God’s ways. Perhaps you are familiar with such verses as Isaiah 55:8 that read: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” Or this one from Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” And then from I Corinthians 3:19, we read, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”

So I began to think about the words of a former Alaskan governor, “Drill, baby, drill!!” About the instant gratification that comes from drilling for oil in order to turn a profit in the fossil fuel industry. We can meet this quarter’s projections for shareholder profits is we just apply more fracking, more drilling, more mining for coal or whatever. After all, fossil fuels are like a ship’s buffet line waiting to be exploited. Now!!! Cravings that drive us. Cravings that lie to our minds about cause and effect. Cravings that question what difference it makes anyway if the heart attack comes 10 years earlier or the glacier melts 1000 years earlier than otherwise. That’s a long way off. Who cares?

Again, in my own mind, there is this question to ponder. Should I choose to be driven in this life by my body’s cravings or drawn by my soul’s carvings? Instant or delayed gratification? Look out for me, me, me, or for those who will want to see these glaciers in future generations?  Our ways or God’s ways. Cravings or carvings?

Death or life?

It’s my decision to make as I journey through this world. And it’s your decision as well. It’s the work of the human mind in relation to our body that drives and our soul that draws. One informs in shouts and the other informs in whispers. Our minds must make our choices that determine our consequences.   It’s what happens along our cruise through this life.

Bon voyage!

Standard