You can get the audio for a seminar I did at New Wine LSE this summer on the latest neuroscientific evidence for contemplative practices changing your brain for the better from www.essentialchristian.com .
How God changes your brain for the better audio seminar (click on this link)
‘The words English owes to India’ is a title of an article in the BBC News Magazine, reflecting on a programme due to be broadcast today on Radio 4 about a lexicon of words of Asian origin used by the British in India called ‘Hobson’Jobson: A Very English Enterprise’.
One of those words is verandah which is defined as an ‘open pillared gallery around a house.’ Some of my happiest moments have been sitting on verandahs in Africa as a child. I think we are also meant to have a verandah of the mind, although we often don’t.
A verandah opens up a house to what is going on in the environment in a 360 degree way. Many houses are designed in a closed way, there is no gallery around them, no openness to the world around. In the same way our minds should be open and aware of all that is going around in the environment, there is architecture there to enable this – but this architecture has often been buried away behind defences and walls and double-glazed windows.
Another word psychologists use to describe this lack of awareness and openness is automaticity or being on auto-pilot; as if we are sleep walking through life. A shuttered existence. A house, of course, only comes to life, when the shutters are thrown open.
Neuroscience says that contemplative/mindful practices create beneficial shifts in the architecture of the mind, the mind which is neuroplastic in design. You become more empathic and relational with others and less defended and fearful. A verandah of the mind is created where you can meet people, the world, and even God in a new way.
The pillars of silence, stillness, meditating on Scripture, memorising the living Word create a living memory within us of how to live life in all its fullness – as Christ did, creating an open gallery of goodness around us. A verandah of the mind.
Many access anger too quickly, and others try to suppress or avoid the feeling altogether. For some it has become an ‘Angry Bird’ icon in their minds which is too easily pressed and accessed. They need to slow down the process of thoughts and feelings that make up that hot button. Others need to face their anger and not hide from it.
Jesus recognizes that anger might stream inside us but says that it can be transformed and that we shouldn’t direct it on to others(Matthew 5:21). If we are slapped round the face our automatic response is to get angry. By telling us to turn the other cheek Jesus is challenging our automatic response(Matthew 5:39). In others words we need to be mindful of our anger.
Jesus reveals himself through his words to be the first neuroscientist (not surprisingly). In their book How God Changes Your Brain, leading neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman explain how anger is humanity’s greatest enemy. When we get angry the rational, social and compassionate parts of our brain close down…meaning no communication is possible.
John Cassian a fourth century monk says anger is a ‘deadly poison…that must be totally uprooted.’ Some researchers believe that anger is a coronary-prone behaviour that damages our bodies. But it’s very useful isn’t it for getting our own way…
I was very encouraged last night as I led a seminar at church on the latest neuroscientific evidence for how God changes our brain for the better through contemplative/mindful practices. We had over 30 people, with folk from churches, neighbours and friends. The discussion was really helpful, especially as people shared their insights about anger.