Switch on Your Brain

I’ve been reading such a fantastic book recently. I bought it for myself for Christmas. I’d been watching Caroline Leaf youtube videos, and finally decided I needed to try some of this “brain detox” stuff she was talking about.

Switch on Your Brainsource

Like any detox, it was quite nasty at first, and then it was quite wonderful.

The nasty part is that to begin with,  you need to learn how to become aware of what you’re truly thinking. Sometimes, negative, critical, stressful, or fearful thoughts just whip right through our heads without us taking enough notice of them to even be aware of what we’re truly thinking.

I was a bit shocked when I began to record my thoughts. I had no idea there was so much junk going on in my head. I just hadn’t ever stopped to notice. According to Dr. Leaf, it takes three weeks to get rid of a negative thought. Pick one, and just work and work and work at replacing it with something positive. The steps in her book are incredibly helpful, and I can honestly say I have experienced very positive changes since doing my first round of detox.

Dr. Leaf recommends taking 10 minutes a day to write down what you’re thinking, and then replacing the negative thought with Scripture, or some kind of positive thought or action. The first week, it seemed as though all my thoughts were negative, in some form, when I sat down to record them.

But during week two, I began to see positive thoughts popping up about things I used to think negatively about, and when week three rolled around, my original negative thought was gone. I just wasn’t thinking about it anymore.

The pull to return to old, bad habits is strong, but the longer a person resists, the stronger the new thought patterns become.

Another thing I love about this book is that Dr. Leaf shares how important journaling is – but not your basic, writing in straight lines kind of journaling. She says writing employs both the right and left sides of the brain, but the more colorful you make it, the more artistic and all over the place it goes, the happier both sides of the brain will become. It’s so much fun!

And it’s what inspired my work of art that I shared during one of my photo challenges:

Day 7

I have missed pencil crayons! It feels good to be coloring again.:)

To learn more about retraining your thoughts, you can check out Dr. Leaf’s books or Youtube videos.

One Emotion at a Time

Ann Voskamp claims you can only feel one type of emotion at a time.

When you feel thankful, you cannot worry or feel afraid.

That thought annoyed me when I first read it. I think it rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed too easy. I kept seeing those lists of thanksgiving everyone was making all over the internet, and I kept resisting from joining in, without even fully understanding why.

Looking back, I think it was because I didn’t believe I could have suffered through so much anxiety and fear, only to arrive at such a simple solution.

It just couldn’t be that easy.

And was it really true that you can only feel one thing at a time?

I finally gave in to the thankfulness list after reading One Thousand Gifts, and I started making my own list.

It’s been changing me, but it didn’t get rid of the fear in my life.

Where was my cure? I knew it had sounded too simple.

There has been no doubt in my mind that counting blessings makes a difference. It changes my thought patterns. It helps me to stop and notice the little things, the gifts I receive every single day.

But always, the fear remained.

I do not get worried and anxious about just anything. With me, it’s usually health-related. I first started experiencing health problems when I was 21 years old, and at a young age, I lost the ability to think I was invincible. I look around me, and see so many people who seem to think, “Those kinds of bad things don’t happen to me.”

But it does happen sometimes, and so at 21, I started to fear, because it all became real for me. For many years, it was the worst-case scenario for me, and I seemed to get stuck in the habit of expecting it.

But one spring day, I realized how unhappy and pessimistic I had become, and slowly, things started to change.  I decided to choose joy, no matter what. My mind changed, and my body changed, and very slowly, I saw answers to some of those prayers I’d been praying for years, begging God for healing.

But always, the fear remained. Always expecting the worst.

My thankful list didn’t fix it.

I’ve kept on listing my gifts, and I’ve added more joy to my life, and experienced more of Jesus, but this “taking every thought captive” has been slow in coming.

Then, a few nights ago, I joined my Bible study group at church, and I was reminded all over again of the idea that we can only experience one type emotion at a time.

This time it stuck. (This time it didn’t annoy me!)

The next day, I tried the idea out. Every time my mind wanted to go down a worried, anxious path, I mentally shouted out, “One kind of emotion!” I grabbed the nearest positive thought I could find, and hung on.

Over and over, I flexed my mind muscles, stopping the bad, and hanging onto the good.

By the end of day, I was mentally exhausted. It is hard to keep things on track!

But this “one emotion at a time” idea is making sense to me right now. I think it’s what I’ve been missing as I’ve listed my one thousand gifts.

It reminds me of forcing our girls to say “thank you”. I can make them go through the motions, but I can’t make them feel true feelings of gratitude, deep down. That’s up to them.

I was going through the motions of making my list, but I was still choosing fear instead of thanksgiving.

I’ve written about my attempts to control my thoughts, and fight back fear and anxiety, many times before. Things go good for awhile, but somehow, I get off-track, and need to be reminded all over again.

That could be discouraging, but every time, I think it goes a bit deeper. I learn and understand a bit more, and get a little farther along on this journey.

So I’ll keep taking one step at a time, one thought at a time, one emotion at a time!

It seems so small – how does one make progress when inching along like this?

But with perfect timing, I come across these words:

“Be not afraid of going slowly; be only afraid of standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

Slow is still progress. And small is okay.

I think it’s supposed to be small. Jesus says to think about today. Today only. Staying focused on what is right here, happening right now.

Oh, that is my challenge and my prayer.

Don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. (1 Peter 3:14-15)

Replace worry with worship. Fear with thanksgiving.

Obviously, I don’t do this often enough, because when I tried singing today as a way of focusing my thoughts, and choosing to worship, Kaylia looked over at me, and said, “Stop singing, Mommy. I don’t need music right now.”

Little steps, right?! We’ll get her used to it.

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What are your small steps? Do you think it’s possible to experience fear and thanksgiving at the same time?

What Happens When We Worry

I have a new massage therapist. His name is Nigel, and basically, I pay him money to beat me up.

I have no idea why he uses the word “massage”.

I lie on a table fully dressed as this huge man chops at my body, and beats me with those little hammers that doctors use on your knees to check your reflexes.

I experience pain like I have never known. Childbirth seems mild, in comparison.

And yet I go back, week after week.

Why??

Because it is helping my body in dramatic ways I didn’t know were possible.

Nigel says that sometimes, in order to help people, he has to take them beyond what they can bear. If he stayed within their pain threshold, the body would never heal.

And so I am repeatedly taken over my pain threshold.

The other day as I was lying there with the tears and sweat flowing, trying my hardest not to scream as he chopped away, the thought that remained stuck in my mind was this:

I did this to myself.

All of the pain which I have to endure, is pain that I have inflicted on myself. I don’t say that in a “beat myself up out of guilt” kind of way, but rather a “let’s get real about what’s going on here, and take some responsibility” kind of a way.

Because here’s the deal: Whenever my muscles hurt really badly and I ask Nigel what causes that kind of pain, he says…

Stress.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have struggled with worry and stress for years.

Worry is sin. And all sin has a consequence.

These days, I am being reminded in a very physical sense what the consequence is for my worry.

But it gets even more serious than that. I came across an article awhile back that offered the following statistic:

87% to 95% of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life.

I don’t share that to make you start worrying about what kinds of illnesses you are bringing upon yourself by worrying. I share it because it kind of amazes me that we’ve let it get to this point.

As Christians, we know that we’re not supposed to worry, or have negative, critical thoughts. But we continue to do it anyway, and it flows into every area of our lives.

I want to change. I’ve spent years trying many different things in order to improve my health, and yet what is becoming more clear to me all the time is that health is not the root of my problems, it’s worry.

Obviously, I do not have all the answers as to how to deal with that, because I’m still needing to get tortured by Nigel every other week.

But I have  found some really fantastic resources to pass on to you so that we can muddle through this together.  Be sure to check them out, and let me know what you think! (We’ll start a support group!) Or let me know if you have any other resources that would be great to share!

1) “Why Worry” – Sermon series by Andy Stanley (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three)

2) Thought Life” – Article by Dr. Leaf

3) “A More Excellent Way: Be in Health” – Book by Henry Wright

What I Learned From Staring at a Tree

When I think of the term “meditation”, one of the first pictures that pops into my head is of Rafiki the monkey in The Lion King, sitting cross-legged in a tree, humming with his eyes closed, and pressing his middle finger and thumb together in each hand. It’s a big stretch to get from Rafiki the monkey, to meaningful meditation as a spiritual discipline.

Meditation is a spiritual discipline that sounds a lot more mystical and intimidating than it actually is. Chances are good that most Christians who spend extended time praying have actually “meditated” without intentionally trying to do so.

Here’s how I found that out:

A few weeks ago, Ben wanted to do something special for me on one of his days off, so he offered to take care of the girls so that I could go down to the lake for an hour or two. He knows how much I love to do that – it’s my peaceful spot. I have spent hours and hours down there, enjoying the view, thinking, praying.

It was kind of a cold and windy day, and none of my usual spots were very comfortable, so I did something totally different, and went to sit by one of the cabins. I couldn’t see the lake quite as well from where I was sitting because of all the trees in the way, but everything is so beautiful here at camp that it doesn’t really matter what direction you look in, you’ll get a good view.

But something unexpected happened to me as I sat there.

I sat there for a long time, just unwinding. The day had been busy, and I had many, many thoughts crowded into my head. For about half an hour, I just kept releasing things, one at a time. A worry or concern would pop into my mind, and I would take it, pray it over, and surrender it to God. I would sit there for a moment, and then another thought would come, and I would do the same thing. After a long time of doing this, over and over, I felt much quieter, more at rest.

I sat there for a while, not really thinking about anything in particular, staring off at nothing. After a while, it started to register that I had been staring at a tree that was right in front of me. I started to study it more closely – I thought about the roughness of the bark, the patterns, the colors, and just let it sink in how beautiful bark is. I don’t ever really notice bark. But something about it got my attention that day. I can’t really put into words how impacted I was just by God’s creation of… bark.

photo © 2005 Mikhail Esteves | more info(via: Wylio)

Then I started to think about the other trees surrounding me. There were so many, all so beautiful. I started to think about how old they were, how long they had been growing there, part of camp for much longer than I have been. I started to feel very small – not in a bad way, just in a way that made me feel very much a part of all of God’s creation. So much has come before me, much will come after, and all of it with the purpose of glorifying God in whatever way He intended it to, all of it created by His hand, for His glory.

It was just me and the trees out there.

It’s really quite difficult to describe my thought process in all of this, or even to explain why it was all so meaningful. But it all come together in my mind to create this amazing experience of worshiping God, and enjoying His creation. Becoming aware again of how I’m just a small part of this huge, amazing plan in this beautiful world.

I sat there in the quiet, and the verse that kept coming to me was, “Be still and know that I am God.

Be still. Everything was so still. The trees were still and I was still. I kept wanting to be productive. I kept wanting to think up new things to write about. I kept wanting God to inspire me so that I could keep DOING. And yet I kept being reminded to be still. Don’t do anything, don’t accomplish anything, stop working, stop planning, stop writing blog posts in my head, and just be still. It can be so hard to just be in God’s presence. I know that I don’t need to earn His love, and I don’t need to keep trying to be good enough, but my actions would suggest otherwise. I need many more afternoons of meditating on the bark of a tree, remember to just be still.

I came back so refreshed, feeling like my thoughts had gone on a good wandering.

And then a few days later I read what Richard Foster had to say about meditation. And it turns out that all of what I had been thinking about had been….meditating. I wasn’t trying to. It just kind of happened.

I learned that meditating is basically emptying your mind of all the clutter of this world, and allowing God to fill it with Himself. It is possible to meditate in a way that isn’t specifically spiritual – it just ends at the emptying part. But because of my relationship with Jesus, the experience goes one step further, to the point where I am filled with the things of Christ.

God “speaks” to us in so many different ways – through His Word, through creation, through experiences, etc. This time, it happened to be the bark on a tree, but each time, He teaches me something new and different. Meditation happens whenever I quiet my thoughts and my heart, and allow God to fill me with Himself. Meditation happens when I sit there, “chewing” on His words – allowing it to soak in, really letting it rest in my mind, not just reading straight through a passage of the Bible without stopping to take it all in.

I realize that there are a lot of different opinions about meditation. There is a lot of information out there about how meditation is New Age, and that emptying your mind is dangerous, because Satan can disguise himself and control a person’s thoughts when they are in this vulnerable position.

But I don’t feel like meditation is something to be afraid of. I think that we should always be careful to “test” our thoughts – bring them to God and ask Him to convict us of anything that doesn’t come from Him, and hold them up against what the Bible has to say.

And if we do those things, then I think it’s okay to rest in God – to trust that He will guide and direct our thoughts, and bring us to a place where our perspective is put back in it’s proper place.

So those are my thoughts on meditation. Go find some verses or a great sunset, and do some meditating!

My new favorite quote on meditating : Muddy water becomes clear if you only let it sit still for a while. (No idea where Ben got it from, but when I heard him say it, the visual image stuck with me!)