These ideas which Sam was presenting were getting traction with my symptoms right away. I felt better. My mind was clearer. I was leaning in to spending time with God again without fear of “losing it”. I was/am rediscovering joy.
Joy is all about attachment (to God and one another). Anger, Fear, Shame, Sadness, Disgust, Overwhelmedness are all part of life on a fallen planet. They are inescapable. BUT they are not our default condition and when they sow up, we can return to joy from them…if we know what Joy is, if we understand that it’s ok to return to joy and if we know the practices that achieve it.
The foundation of all this is neurobiology. Research shows that our ability to access joy is largely a right brain affair (supported by the left brain for sure, but joy kind of “originates” in the right). The right brain is the first stop for information as it comes in from the world through our senses. 6 times/second it is processing the sensations, the sights , sounds, smells of the world, the context in which we are living, and then other parts of the brain compare that information with the stories and the meanings we have collected. It tries to make sense of what we’re feeling compared to what we believe about the world, what we’ve been taught and what is expected of us by the others around us; what is considered “good” or “normal” behavior.
This is happening ALL THE TIME in fractions of a second, faster than conscious thought. In other words, you can’t will yourself to think differently because “will” is a slower process. Interestingly, early Christians seemed to know this.
God designed the brain to be constantly asking “Who am I, what is happening right now and how should I be relating to it?” all in the background of conscious thought. Examples of conscious thought are: “She was pretty mad at me yesterday, I should make sure I’m extra kind today…” or “The kids haven’t called in a week. They must have forgotten about me.” Those are complicated, conscious thoughts that take a LONG time and a lot of work to emerge, compared to the stuff the right brain does, even though is feels like those more complex thoughts just pop into existence.
There’s obviously a lot more to this, and I’m possibly misrepresenting parts of it in an attempt to be brief, but you can look into it more here. Or if you prefer podcasts: here. (This 30 minute first episode of the podcast is deeply meaningful for me because the interviewee (and co-author of the book) has walked a remarkably similar vocational path as me. If you want to grasp this story better, I highly recommend this.)
But here’s the take-away:
I (we) are very left brained. It’s our culture. The basic structures of our world depend on a left-brained emphasis. It’s a left-brained bias that allows me to type these thoughts on a computer sitting in a heated home. The left-brain is not bad. But the losses I was experiencing overwhelmed my “slow-moving” left brain where I had invested all my coping tools. My right brain, the place where joy originates, was sitting idle.
When I was in deep trouble at Mt. St. Helens, my right brain woke up because it had to (and because, in his mercy, God set-it up to work that way!). It spoke with the voice of a forgotten child. It spoke with the voice of someone simple, someone physical, someone brave but vulnerable.
My right brain had also awakened years before when I entered a state of deep rest and found myself in a joyously absurd wrestling match with Jesus…because God loves me, and delights in being with me. In that moment I knew Joy: someone bigger and stronger than me delighted in me because I’m weaker.
The other half of my brain is waking up. I don’t want to go back to sleep.