Posts Tagged ‘meditation’


Ten Healthy Ideas – Day Four: Habit of Reflection

December 24, 2013


In 2006, a Stanford research team studied two groups of people. One group were self-described as heavy Internet users. The other group didn’t use the Internet very often. The researchers put both groups through a series of tests where they had to come to conclusions by analyzing a very difficult series of statements in a field none of them were familiar with. At the end, they had to make a decision about what course of action they would take. What none of them knew was they weren’t being tested for their decision-making ability, but their ability to mentally stay on task.

Not surprisingly, those who used the Internet a lot were more easily distracted. The researchers found that when they introduced noises, background smells, lights and people moving by the window, the heavy Internet users could not concentrate as well as the light Internet users. At the end of the test, each participant was scored by an independent panel regarding the final decision they came to. Overall, the light Internet users made wiser decisions. 

Here is what they concluded. The heavy Internet users had lost the ability to reflect, to ponder the possibilities. They were more easily distracted and could not keep their minds on one subject. In essence, the could not Reflect

Reflection is the ability to analyze and dissect the events of a person’s life, looking for meaning, purpose and possible courses of action. If a person cannot reflect, they will often act impetuously and unwisely. Unfortunately, most 21st century people no longer take any time to reflect. As Nicholas Carr says in his book “The Shallows”, that our

“online intelligence has weakened our ability to reflect, to examine, to imagine and to analyze. We can maintain more information in our brains and yet we have less ability to make good use of that knowledge”.

74 separate times in the Bible the word “Selah” is found. The word means to “stop and reflect, to see deeply into something”. Most often this word is employed in the Psalms after the writer has made a profound or troubling statement. He wants the reader to stop and reflect on how to proceed now that this truth is presented. This was not hard for someone who grew up governed by the slow pace of an agricultural society. It wouldn’t even be that hard for those who entered our world when there was no television, radio, newspaper or Internet. But now that we have all of those, who has the ability to reflect very long any more.

Ten years ago, I was asked to lead a seminar for young church leaders on the skills involved with meditation and reflection. There were 150 people at the conference and they had four options for their seminar. Only one person chose to attend my reflection teaching. I actually had expected this so my feelings were not wounded too deeply. I told the organizer that the only way we could get people there would be to rename it something that sounded more dynamic. The people of our world no longer desire to spend long moments in reflection. What good is there in completely stopping at various times a day? Actually, reflection and meditation are very helpful to all of us.

Health professionals say that time of reflection each day can lower blood pressure, regulate the body’s ability to fight off disease, eliminate the need for most anxiety medication, reduce the intensity of migraine headaches, help to heal overwrought relationships and reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis. But these are just the physical benefits.

When we have a time of reflection, we can clearly see the patterns of our lives. Recently, I walked a person I am mentoring through exercises where they had to reflect on their life. At one point, the person got agitated and wanted to stop. When I asked them why, they realized that anger was bubbling to the surface and felt overwhelming. I had them focus on what they were angry about. Soon, elements of their marriage relationship came to mind. Piece by piece, this person worked through their anger and sense of defeat. By the end of 20 minutes, they no longer felt the anger. The next day, my mentee called me and expressed shock about something else. They had been suffering with a sense of fatigue mid-morning for several weeks. For the first time in all those days, they felt energized in the middle of the day. They realized that the meditation time had alerted them to an inner anger that was robbing them of energy.

I usually suggest people have at least a ten minute reflection in the morning and the evening. This can be combined with exercises like the Well of Reflection or a few other exercises I am going to mention in upcoming articles. It is good to have a journal around to keep track of insights.

As Socrates so eloquently told us “the unexamined life is not worth living.” When was the last time you examined your life in any depth? Have you observed some subtle motivations that you need to get a grip on? Do you see how your anger and fears are with you more than you would like to admit? Are there dreams you have been shoving down because you haven’t taken the time to process them? How are your relationships really going? Have  you taken stock of your closest friends and loved ones to determine if  you are acting in a healthy way toward them?

All of these are questions that can only be answered if a person takes time to reflect. In order to accomplish a meaningful time of reflection each day, it is necessary to answer the following questions:

  1. What will stand in my way of doing this daily?
  2. What do I need to stop doing so I can reflect?
  3. What do I hope to get out of this?
  4. Why am I not already doing this?
  5. What would be the best time to do this so I will accomplish it every day?

Rewiring Your Plastic Brain – Part 1: Eliminating Dangerous Behavior

July 10, 2012

You have gone most of your life without hearing about the Sea Gypsies. This nomadic group  of tribes lives on board boats off the coasts of Burma and Thailand. They are born on those boats and most of them die there. They make a living by diving down for shellfish and other aquatic animals that mainlanders pay them money to harvest. While living this way, they have developed two incredible skills.

First, their heartrates slow down so dramatically that they can survive dives of up to 6 minutes without oxygen. If most people went that long without breathing they would have brain damage. Second, they can see deep under water where dim, refracted light should make eyesight useless. And they can see this accurately without goggles.

How do they do this? Their brains have adapted to their environment and have changed how information from the eyes is processed. But what is more amazing is what researchers in the Netherlands have done with this information. Using willing test subjects, teens who are guided through a six-month regimen of reading underwater were able to double their effectiveness of underwater sight; almost to the point where they matched the Sea Gypsies.

Our brains can be changed if we want them to be changed. In the landmark book “The Brain that Changes Itself” there are literally hundreds of examples of this. But the author, Norman Doidge, M.D. admits that most people will never adapt their behavior (even the most dire addictive behavior) for one reason: They don’t want to.

I have worked with drug addicts, alcoholics, child offenders, the chronically depressed, those who repeat bad relationship habits, people with eating disorders, violent, etc. All of these came to me wanting to change their behavior. Almost all of them had been in some kind of psychological treatment before seeing me. Very few of them saw any changes in their most unhealthy habit.

My observation is that only those who really want to change will change. I know that sounds trite and obvious, but it is nonetheless true. But there are people who really want to change who don’t know how.

So, most people with addictive, destructive or sinful behavior don’t change because of two primary reasons: First, they don’t want to. Second, they don’t know how to.

Most counselors deal with the second problem and give their counselees great tools that may never work. Most pastors and spiritual directors deal with the first problem and give their disciples great motivation that often does not seem to result in lasting change. Let’s examine why.

Spanning this article and the next two, I want to take three behaviors that at first glance don’t seem to be that bad or dangerous. But each of these affects countless millions in our day. People can actually change all three of these behaviors if they have a combination of motivation and brain modification.

The first of these I call Dangerous Flirtation: I define a dangerous flirtation as this: Flirting with another person with the intent to physically or emotionally attract them when the consequences of this attraction may be dangerous in some way. This may include a married person seeking to attract the attention of a single person, a professional trying to attract a client, an adult attracting the attentions of a minor, or a healthy person flirting with an undesirable individual.

I believe unhealthy flirting may be epidemic in today’s culture. Social media has only brought this problem to a fever pitch: It has been there for decades. Though there may be a thousand reasons for dangerous flirting, I think the major factors boil down to three:

1. Inaccurate beliefs: We believe certain things about ourselves and about others that we then medicate through flirting. There may be hundreds of examples of this kind of inaccurate belief structure. Here are a few examples:

  • I have no value unless someone finds me attractive
  • I feel better when someone pays attention to me
  • I am a loser…and I feel less like a loser when I feel like someone counts me as special; even for a moment.
  • I need to know there are possible alternative relationships when my current love interest abandons or rejects me.

There are many more examples of this. As I tell people during counseling, this doesn’t mean you want sex with the people you flirt with. It means they are fulfilling an emotional need associated with a particular belief.

2. The Drug of Choice: If a person took a hit of cocaine to relieve their stress, we would say “that person is medicating their problem“. But we often don’t see it the same way when we flirt to deal with pain or fear. Dangerous flirtation, like any addictive behavior, is just a pain reliever.

3. Basic Need: As Maslow amply shows in his hierarchy of needs, we all desire and crave good relationships. Even without the false beliefs and easy relief of pain that flirting affords, we would still flirt occasionally just to show that we are in relationship with the rest of the world.

Is it any wonder that people do not see flirtations as dangerous as they can be;  or why they will not stop doing it even when shown what damage they can cause?  I have helped pick up the pieces when  doctors, teachers, CEOs, pastors, counselors, dentists had their professional licenses revoked as a result of inappropriate behaviors that came out of dangerous flirtations. I have consoled people who have broken marriages, broken bones, trails of tears, sexually transmitted diseases, drug addiction, loss of friends – all because of dangerous flirtations.

How can we change this type of behavior? It is not easy as evidenced by the lengths people will go to flirt when it could cost them their jobs and even their lives. I have found there are three well-defined steps to rewiring such bad brain behavior.

1. Realize you cannot do this on your own. I think the solution must involve a combination of the following:

  • God – We must have input from Someone who understands our lies and inaccuracies
  • Counselor or Guide: Someone skilled to help us make changes. If we had an eating problem, we would go to a nutritionist; if a weight problem, to an exercise specialist. And emotional problems are much more complex.
  • A friend who will help us be accountable for our actions and attitudes.

2. Explore the belief system behind the flirtation. The best way to do this is to chart the events that lead up to the desire to emotionally connect in a dangerous way. You will begin to see patterns that lead to bad behavior (see the last article and the expanded translation of Romans 12:2). Once you have eliminated the lies that are fueling the behavior, the crucial step of rewiring needs to start.

3. Rewire Your Brain with New Behavior: I worked with a professional one time who had a constant habit of flirting with clients. We got down to the source belief: I am undesirable and need to prove my desirability to feel confident. God helped this person to realize they weren’t undesirable. This person accepted that new belief system. But there still were times when people would reject them and send them into the first stages of feeling like an outsider.

From a brain-side view, there was a neural pathway associated with this feeling of loneliness and isolation. They had always treated it with a shot of flirtation. Among these addictive flirtations were some of the dangerous sorts. But once a person begins to use flirtations as a way to feel better, there is less ability to differentiate which ones are safe and which ones are not. Therefore, in order to rewire the brain, one must see that the neurotransmitter, Dopamine, is critical to the change path.

Dopamine is produced to reward behavior. It is the chemical our brain uses to reinforce doing something desirable. The brain ties a belief (frontal lobes) with a behavior (half a dozen other areas of the brain) and cements it together with Dopamine. Unfortunately, many things produce Dopamine, including drugs like Meth and Cocaine.

What we need to do when getting rid of dangerous flirtations is to recognize the pathway to that behavior. It often starts with a bad experience or the fear of one. Then we feel anxious, angry or hopeless to overcome this experience. Then we resort to flirtations. But once we have dealt with the false beliefs, we still have not changed the Dopamine reactive state. We do this by replacing the flirtations with another behavior and keep doing it until we no longer automatically flirt.

Here are a few behaviors that help to rewire the brain:

  • Meditation and Prayer
  • Journaling and reflection on how one feels
  • Strenuous exercise (great for producing Dopamine)
  • Spending time with healthy friends. It helps if you choose locations you really enjoy.
  • Good food (not lots of it…you don’t want to develop a replacement food addiction)
  • Creative work: music, art, writing, drama, painting, scrapbooking, knitting, martial arts are all excellent ways to feed the Dopamine receptors when recovering from addictive emotional patterns.

Next time we will look at Controlling Actions and Depression and Anxiety and chart how we can revamp our brains to change these debilitating conditions.



September 23, 2008

Every movement needs a “poster child”. For those not aware of the concept, a “poster child” is someone who fits as a perfect example of a bad example. For instance, the poster child for bad parenting is Brittney Spears. Or the poster child for bad moviemaking would be “Heaven’s Gate” (watch it sometime…I dare you to stay awake for the whole four hours). The poster child for fiscal irresponsibility is this current Congress.

But I have a new movement to proclaim. The “Quietness” Movement. This is a movement I want to start where every person seeks some moment of quiet in each day. I believe it would transform society in a week. The poster child for this movement would be Mark Broder. He was picked up two years ago for driving on a Minneapolis freeway while he was practicing his violin. He was steering with his knees and had placed the car on cruise control. Amazingly, he was not able to manipulate his knees quickly enough to miss Read the rest of this entry ?

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