Monday, January 25, 2016

Brain trouble

We humans have sacrificed a lot for the sake of our enormous brains.

If you want to be puritanical in your reading of Genesis' creation stories, you might say we gave up our very intimacy with God in order to be cleverer. Wow!

A bit of introductory reading on Mindfulness will explain how todays' overactive minds cause us much stress and anxiety. We cannot prevent ourselves from thinking, even when more thinking worsens our plight. Ever worried your night away replaying the same fantasy loop about what will happen tomorrow? Exactly.

Need a more visceral example? Look at childbirth. See that ginormous skull pushing its way out of that vagina? See the emerging little blob of humanity that is incapable even of supporting it's great noggin on its tiny neck, let alone keeping itself alive? That is a whole lot of risk to accept for the sake of a disproportionately-sized brain.

I'm not suggesting we should shrink our brains. But somehow, we need to fight the temptation to let our minds drive our lives ALL THE TIME. Can we escape our addiction to thinking by letting our bodies and spirits take over every now and again?

This is in part about rediscovering the joys of the right brain, which the Western world has been belittling for decades if not centuries. My brain switches stations when I play music with a group, focusing entirely on bodily repetition and exercise in a creative, community context. Exercise, also, is brilliant. (Research suggests it works best when done out of doors.) When exerting yourself physically, your body requires your focus. Your mind can then drift into creative space.

Sex, too, is good. Too often in contemporary culture, the mind in isolation drives sexuality, via porn or individualistic fantasies. The bodily act made in communion with a real person is much better for us.

Silent prayer (or meditation, for the non-religious) can also be profoundly helpful. Much western spirituality is about ego-driven speech and agenda-driven activity. Oh, for more silence in church! I can escape my ego, plans, fears and unreliable impulses by letting go of what I think I know and letting something bigger get a foothold.

We will all be healthier if we create situations where our bodies and souls are not in thrall to our left brain. It's hard work but it's rewarding. And better than cutting your massive head off and throwing it away, as I think Jesus advocated. Right?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Boxing The Babadook

If you haven't seen The Babadook, you should.

(I mean, it's scary. You'll be scared. Bear that in mind. But watch it. There is a place in the world for scary movies.)

A little boy finds a spooky black book. His Mother ill-advisedly reads him the book. The evil Babadook character whose name she speaks becomes real. Thereafter, the more she tries to get rid of it (hiding the book; burning the book; giving her son tranquillisers to tackle his nightmares) the stronger its presence becomes. Eventually, it posesses the Mother completely and they are brought to a nail-biting, night-time finale.

It is an excellent horror movie. It is also a moving, intelligent and true tale about what happens when we try to repress the shadows in our lives.

The Babadook is the dark, hidden emotion in this little family's life. It grows in power because the mother tries to deny and destroy it. It cannot be destroyed. In the end, the only way to diminish its hold is to accept, integrate and let it live.

We all have darker elements of ourselves that must be faced up to. In the film, the hidden darkness is some fairly serious trauma. But even the most well-adjusted person has created little false selves to cope with the cruelties and vicissitudes of life; has painful memories; has flaws. You can go through your entire life believing that the desireable 'self' you present to the world is all there is. You can exhaust yourself fighting your shadows, flailing hopelessly. You can live with the lights off, drowning in the darkness but keeping the shadow at bay. But this is all folly.

The healthier way to mature is to continually undertake the difficult but fruitful work of what Richard Rohr calls shadow boxing. That is, sparring with your darker side. Your False Self. (A much better description of what many bible translations label 'Flesh'). It is there. It can be faced up to. It cannot be destroyed completely. But it can be worked with and exploited to make you fitter and truer.

So, keep an eye out for The Babadook. And if you see it, bring it in for tea, cake and boxing.

Monday, January 11, 2016

One Man in his Time Plays Many Parts

Have you noticed that adults' habits are usually credited to their personality, whereas those of children are labelled 'behaviour'?

Behaviour is something we see as changeable; personality usually not.

Common sense dictates that the older we are, the harder we find it to change. And of course, a person should gain more control over their impulses as they mature.

But, it seems most of our personality is actually determined by our genes, at birth, so even the youngest children are 'fixed' to a significant extent. And adults can respond and adapt in face of even great trauma and upheaval. They are not a slave to their very Self and history, however many years they have walked the earth.

My two-year-old son is much more of a daydreamer than his twin sister. It can be a battle to Get Things Done, with him. Socks, for example. Buggy boarding. But it is quite clear to me that this is about his personality, not his behaviour. If I strive to alter it, I cause everybody stress (especially him).

And when I dimiss out of hand another adult as grumpy, superficial, self-absorbed, I forget that they may be tired, hungry, sad, insecure and for any number of reasons, quite capable of behaving very differently tomorrow or next year.

I like personality tests and think it's important to be able to assess myself, critically. I also like considering ways I can better my childrens' behaviour. But I think it's wrong to view my Self as a fixed and unchanging thing. And I realise the only real power I have over my children is the power to overburden them.

I will try to carefully and respectfully listen to who people are, whatever their age. And allow for the fact we are all changing and perfecting, every single day of our lives, however many days we believe we have left.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Neither slave nor free.

So, I got around to thinking about the problem of the Master / Slave dialectic in relation to church life.

Probably originating with Hegel (at some point when I've become a higher being I'll try to understand what he wrote.....), Master / Slave ideas have been hugely influential.

In summary: people find it easier and even essential to become either a master or a slave when encountering an Other. Ultimately, this gets things all rotten. Slave is downtrodden. Master is isolated. Slave despises and inwardly turns against Master, who in turn gets dependent on slave. Messy. You can see how this might work in employer / employee relations but it's not hard to see in marriages, friendships, family dynamics, EVERYWHERE!


In church life, I came up with various examples. We might look to our leaders to give us answers and manage our spiritual lives. Or read the bible looking for 'infallible' instruction. Sometimes, we claim some have less right to power (women; homosexuals). We may even talk about an all-powerful Father who sacrificed a compliant Son. Our prayers can sound as if they are addressed to a cosmic genie of the lamp.

I know that coming up with these grand accusations is easy to do and not really the point. In perhaps the most important sense, I am the church. Therefore, in keeping with new yearly resolve, I shall endeavour to do my part and struggle against this stuff, refusing the bushel and expecting to be surprised by others' light. Because if there is one place we should fight for the right to relate to each other as equals, surely it's in church?

[Soapbox vacated.]