Last week I had the privilege of traveling out to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology which was hosting this year’s conference for The Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion. I was asked by the OCAMPR board to present a workshop on the topic ‘Gratitude During Times of Suffering.’ My talk, which was recorded on Ancient Faith Radio, is available by clicking on the video below. It is also available for mp3 download here.
“The average person experiences thousands of thoughts every day, most of which flow into the mind without us even choosing like a fast-moving river. Most of these thoughts flow out of our mind as quickly as they come but not without leaving a residue on our unconscious. If even 15% of the thousands of thoughts that arrive in our brain every day are negative then that amounts to hundreds of negative thoughts in a single day. For most people the negative thoughts reach well into the thousands. Over a lifetime, this accumulative load of negativity can begin to have an effect on our health, our relationships with others and even on our self-identity.
We tend to think that a positive outlook results from external circumstances and forces that are outside of us. Though we might not actually express it so crudely, we intuitively assume that peace of mind results from getting what we want. While this may be partially true in some cases, it is more often the case that peace of mind results from the mindset we choose to adopt about our lives irrespective to what is happening around us.
Think of the brain as the theater of a constant tug-of-war between the positive and the negative side of us. The more our thought-life empowers the negative side in this tug-of-war the more we will be weighed down and actually make our suffering worse. The tug-of-war between the negative and the positive ultimately determines whether our life will be filled with joy, gratitude, and a sense of hopeful expectancy about the future, or whether our life will be weighed down by grumbling, stress, and a sense of anxiety about the future.”
I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Dr. Graham Taylor of the Taylor Study Method. The topic of our interview was brain fitness but our conversation ended being all over the map. We talked about educational reform, having focus amidst distractions, the importance of thinking outside the box, Common Core, emotional intelligence, ancient and modern memory techniques, the psychological insight of Homer, and much much more. Here are some observations I made during the interview.
I began this series in 2013 after reading Steve Wasserman’s comments in the Columbia Journalism Review on the disappearance of newspapers across the country, the erosion of book reading following the rise of the internet, and the shocking lack of coverage this crisis is receiving in the national media. I quoted Wasserman’s observation that “the…most troubling crisis is the sea change in the culture of literacy itself, the degree to which our overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture renders serious reading increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out the habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and the following of sustained argument.”
I’ve been doing some blogging recently about struggle, effort, will-power and the virtue of working hard (see here and here and here). I’ve also been writing articles about gratitude (see here and here and here). In this post I want to connect these two themes and explore the role that struggle and effort can play in developing a life of gratitude.
In talking about the role struggle can play in developing gratitude, I feel I’m going against the grain of so much popular thinking. In my experience at least, one of the myths that is deeply ingrained in our culture is that the more effort something requires, the less genuine or authentic is the result.
How can I be happy when everything in my life is going wrong? How can I be content when I don’t have everything I want?
Those were some of the questions I found myself asking last summer, after a couple projects I had been working on for years headed towards failure. As I faced an uncertain future, acute anxiety for certain people that I loved, together with some seemingly insurmountable problems in my personal life, I wanted to know how to find peace and contentment. As I went over and over the problem in my mind, it seemed that there could be only one answer: I can only be happy and content once God gives me all the stuff I want.
One of the fascinating things I’ve been reading about is that the wiring of our brain, even among the middle-aged and elderly, is not fixed, but is malleable, flexible, and constantly adapting to the choices we make about how to use our brain. Here are some resources about this topic followed by a fascinating video interview with Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself.
- The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge
- Virtue Reborn, by Tom Wright
- “The Neuro Transformers Culture & the Malleability of the Human Brain“, by Robin Phillips
- Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, by Michael Merzenich
- Taylor Study Method Posts on Neuroplasticity
In Chade-Meng Tan book Search Inside Yourself, he explains the stages a person passes through before a new state of mind becomes habituated and therefore natural.
In my Salvo article ‘The Neuro Transformers’ and also in ‘Sex & the Kiddies’ I explained just how flexible the human brain is and how the messages we are exposed to in our culture actually change the neuro-circuitry of our brains.