Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Life is a Series of Steps

There is something very organic about solving a math problem.

Yes, geek alert. BUT STAY WITH ME FOR A MINUTE. I promise there will be a sweet surprise if you hang in there.

Numbers have their roots in nature, in creation, in evolution, in every part of life. We are made up of over 3 billion base pairs of information. The earth has been around for over 4.54 billion years. 

2 + 2 has always been and will always be 4. 

Looking at the following math problem, 

one who doesn’t like numbers will have one of two reactions: 

       Who cares?    OR        I'm about to

Yet I would argue that our lives are a series of unsolved math problems. 

When the problem in front of us looks overwhelming, unsolvable, or inconceivable, we often find ourselves ignoring it so we don’t hyperventilate. 

And for some reason, everything is magnified during the holidays…including our problems.

We all have those family members or friends who we struggle with. Perhaps the loss of a loved one haunts us. Things seem bigger than us and we hyperventilate at the thought of getting past what seems to be insurmountable odds. When the rest of the year we muster up the courage to say, “who cares,” this special season we seem unable to find anything but our old wounds. The internal hurts appear to be beyond our ability to solve.

I can’t help but think that this is the devil’s greatest triumph. At a time of year when we are supposed to be concentrating on the fact that Jesus was born into this world to save us, we choose to focus on our hurts instead. 

Instead of taking life step by step, as solving a math problem demands, we want to skip to the end. It is in those moments that we lose our organic nature, our ability to rise to the challenge. The effect is that we stunt our life’s timeline.

What would happen if we confronted the problem in front of us?

Just like solving a math problem, we can take it step by step. The first step is to write down the problem we are trying to solve. 

Look at it in a different way. 

Move things around both sides of the life equation. 

Get perspective. Then step by step, move. MOVE. To a different place. 

Many times the movement itself changes everything.

There were countless times I had to erase a step in a math problem I was trying to solve and rewrite it. 

What if we did that with life’s hurts? Could we try to “Be not afraid” to make mistakes and erase or start over? In the end, we might be one step closer to the answer.

And you can lie to me, but the reality is, even the math haters LOVED writing down the correct answer. It’s closure…right?

Confront the hurt that haunts you. Rise to the challenging problem in front of you. 

There is more grace to give and receive this time of year than any other time. Let’s take advantage of it and not shrink from what distorts the timeline of our lives. 

Henry Ford said, “Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.”

Really we are no different than math. We start out at one place and we end up in another. Physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally we are never who we start out to be. That in itself is as organic as math. 

Problems exist in our lives. They always will. How we approach them, though, makes all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Movement

Recently adult coloring books have appeared in bookstores and online. They seem to be everywhere. Journaling is becoming more popular again as well. 

Is there a reason for this?

Scientific research seems to say yes, there is a reason, though I’m not sure science completely understands the psychological or spiritual movement. 

One such article talks about how the brain learns in two different environments: the physical act of writing versus typing on a keyboard.

“An experiment carried out by Velay's research team in Marseille establishes that different parts of the brain are activated when we read letters we have learned by handwriting, from those activated when we recognise letters we have learned through typing on a keyboard. When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognise letters. This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, Mangen explains.” (Science Daily, January 24, 2011, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110119095458.htm )

This author posits that motor memory plays a role in learning. He gives this experiment as example: 

“Mangen refers to an experiment involving two groups of adults, in which the participants were assigned the task of having to learn to write in an unknown alphabet, consisting of approximately twenty letters. One group was taught to write by hand, while the other was using a keyboard. Three and six weeks into the experiment, the participants' recollection of these letters, as well as their rapidity in distinguishing right and reversed letters, were tested. Those who had learned the letters by handwriting came out best in all tests. Furthermore, MRI brain scans indicated an activation of the Broca's area within this group. Among those who had learned by typing on keyboards, there was little or no activation of this area.

"The sensorimotor component forms an integral part of training for beginners, and in special education for people with learning difficulties. But there is little awareness and understanding of the importance of handwriting to the learning process, beyond that of writing itself," Mangen says.
“She refers to pedagogical research on writing, which has moved from a cognitive approach to a focus on contextual, social and cultural relations. In her opinion, a one-sided focus on context may lead to neglect of the individual, physiological, sensorimotor and phenomenological connections.” (see above citation.) 

There is no doubt that for writers, the advance from a pen to a typewriter to a word processor has changed the way the writing world works. It is a tool that writers can use to form their ideas and then edit those thoughts to express their final views. 

But as a serious artist will tell you, the physical act of drawing or writing ideas down, allows the brain to fully accept and integrate the ideas into one’s conscious and subconscious brain. Therefore, it appears that the pencil remains an important tool as well.

As a child, I remember being directed to draw a simple cross at the top of each assignment. I remember as a college student there was a quiet solace when I continued that tradition. 

As adults we are bombarded constantly with electronic beeps, reminders, deadlines and every other interruption possible. This inhibits our ability to be at peace on just about any level. 

Perhaps it’s time to stop. Now that we know the impact of physically writing, maybe we need to purchase that journal or that coloring book and build into our daily structure fifteen minutes of peace that our brain and heart long for. 

My guess is that those fifteen minutes will lead to something else: that time you desire to find peace and solace with your Adonai who desperately wants to connect with you.