I feel free to write again, prompted even. For about a year, all my writing has been ghostwriting, not personal. It has been very good though, and opened something back up. Here are some thoughts swirling in my head right now:
In The God Shaped Brain, Timothy R. Jennings writes about research from Dr. Newberg, a neuroscientist, who reports that any contemplative meditation is associated with positive brain changes.
Think for a second how amazing that is. A few minutes of “any” reflection or quiet mindfulness can promote healing in your brain and body.
However, his research showed that the greatest improvements he documented came from individuals who meditated specifically on a God of love. “Such meditation was associated with growth in the prefrontal cortex…”
Think of this in contrast to contemplating a God of hate and judgement who is displeased with you or indifferent to the world. Or spending all of your time contemplating how “all is lost”…the apostasy has begun…and the world is headed south. I don’t think all meditation helps.
I found last year when I couldn’t generate anything pure and lovely and my meditations were dark that I could memorize scripture instead. In fact, there was a season when I wrote out verses on 3X5 cards to say at night instead of praying because I could not find true and noble thoughts inside of me. Too many other emotions blocked them.
Jennings also describes this kind of block. He said we cannot think clearly when we are guilt-ridden, but other emotions can prevent reasoning as well. The reason for this is the way our brains work under stress; this is why I think it matters what you meditate on.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
I am simultaneously (and slowly) reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, and I find the correlations perfectly matched. Bessel van der Kolk describes, in detail and that’s why I’m slow, how sometimes reasoning and thought functions shut down so our brains can move blood from the thinking areas to fuel fight or flight functions. This keeps us alive in some circumstances. In others, like an argument, it just makes you unreasonable if you feel threatened.
However, remaining in a state of fight or flight has a long list of ramifications, especially if you can’t release the adrenaline or escape. It isn’t just living in actual physical danger that changes your brain and erodes your physical health—it can just be memory, perception, or fear of danger. This is one reason PTSD causes so much damage, it keeps you looping in fight or flight through a memory. It is why people in abusive relationships develop immune diseases.
So where meditation on love and hope can heal—circling thoughts about despair deteriorate your brain and body.
Van Der Kolk also writes about a Neural Love Code. He says that when we feel safe with someone, through voice and facial expressions, it promotes healing. (This is one automatic benefit to seeing a good counselor if you don’t have eye contact with someone who will hear you.) He uses it to describe that our brains need to be members of a community.
I feel like this connects why meditating on a God of love can heal us. What feels safer than believing the author of love is smiling down on you? (Of course, if you believe he hates you, this won’t be a safe place. If this is you—I pray you find the truth of his pursuit in scripture, instead of what you’ve been told by others.)
If you have a community, try speaking love into their life instead only bonding through despair. Not to pretend there is no pain—but to circle around and “finish your Psalm.”