A Scaffold for the Mind
Copyright 2019 Brian Davis - CC-BY-NC-SA
Work in progress
Over the last few years I've thought a lot about how I think, exploring the connections between thoughts and feelings, mental and physical health. I believe that my concious mind is one of the ways I can control my emotions, and through controlling my emotions control myself.
This is an attempt at documenting some of the ideas I've discovered in my explorations.
Note that I am a Christian and my philosophy is deeply rooted in the Bible and my relationship with God. If that's something you share or are curious about then the below may interest you. But if you believe that God is a fairy tale or a crutch, there probably won't be much of interest.
Patterns of Thought
Thought patterns are habits of the mind. Response to familiar stimulous becomes ingrained and habitual. Like habits of behavior, habits of the mind can be altered, nudged into new tracks. I've found that being mindful of which thought patterns are becoming habitual, and attempting to feed some and starve others is a very powerful tool for self control, and improving quality of life. However, observing these patterns in the moment is very difficult.
My specific goal of the moment is to improve my own emotional resiliency in the face of difficult circumstances. I sometimes visualize the person I wish to be: calm, strong, reassuring, confident, wise, empathetic, etc. To try to become this person fully I am examining my physical and mental habits and reshaping them in this image. To borrow a line from a Jedi Master, "Your focus determines your reality." I think there's a fair bit of wisdom in that. Too bad the midichlorians distracted from that part of Anakin's struggle. There is some good philosophy there!
So far I've identified six thought patterns that contribute to resiliency.
- Invincible self-worth
- Optimism about the future
- Assume the best of people
- Realistic expectations
- Detachment from ego
- Pride in suffering
If I accept that Jesus' atonement for my sin "once and for all" was sufficient, I must view my own worth (and the worth of other people) in a very unnatural light. It means the things we do are not what define us. I am not defined by my failures (or successes) but by His sacrifice.
If the reality of His love is eternal and enduring and proven once for all on the cross, then my circumstances, present suffering included, cannot change the fact of my being loved by God.
Agree with God (my creator)
- I am a failure, rebel, sinner
- Rom 3:23
- Jer 17:9
- Is 64:6
- He loves me still, despite, even though Rom 5:8 John 3:16 Rom 8:38-39
- He has good plans for me Rom 8:28 Jer 29:11
- I am a failure, rebel, sinner
When the devil attacks my worth
- Accept the truth: I am a sinner
- Add the missing counterpoint: I am redeemed
- Reject the lie: counter with truth
Optimism about the future
How can I let go of past failures and look to the future with hope and realistic expectations? I mean, I'm going to screw up again and will everything turn out ok? I suspect there are a couple components to right thinking here.
- Everyone screws up. Sometimes a lot. But every day is an opportunity to do something good.
- Looking back to past times when bad things have happened, and I've come through it.
Letting go of the past is not giving up.
Oddly I've found a kind of optimism in grim contemplation of the worst possible things I can imagine. I don't recommend this as something to dwell on. But I occasionally ask myself, when I feel like I'm starting to get stressed and worry, "What's the worst thing that can happen." I have a vivid imagination and it's pretty good at conjuring up worst case scenarios. So I observe that and say, "Ok, what would I do in that situation? How would my ideal self respond?" And then I imagine that. Now I've confronted my worst fears and made a plan for my behavior. If I ever say, "I don't know what I'd do if..." then that is a dark corner I want some to shine some light in. I'm not leaving any places for bogey men to hide in my mind. Besides it usually puts the anxiety of the moment into perspective.
Assume the best of people
TODO: Flesh out
TODO: Flesh out
Detachment from ego
TODO: Flesh out
Pride in suffering
Fighters have to kind of like getting hit.
I don't remember where I heard the above quote but it stuck with me. Something about it bugs me. I don't like getting hit. I don't like suffering. But there are verses in the Bible that indicate my attitude of avoidance might be the wrong apporach.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. - Romans 5:3 (NLT)
I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! - Philippians 3:10-11
Paul is saying here that suffering has a greater purpose, a purpose that makes the suffering worthwhile. I donate blood on a semi-regular basis despite really hating needles. Why? Because I know more than one person who is alive today because they could get a blood transfusion. I see the purpose that makes the hardship worthwhile. When pain has that greater purpose I can endure it better. But what about when it's not so clear? There are a lot of cases where suffering seems so senseless and pointless.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. - Romans 8:28
Often I don't see the greater purpose but God's promise is that there is a greater purpose. This is something of a recent revelation for me. When I'm really having a hard time I naturally think things like, "Why God? Why would you do this? I thought you loved me." But I've been convicted lately that this doubt is the result of an idol. I value my own comfort (as the opposite of pain) and more specifically the sense of rightness I feel when everyone I love is feeling good more than closeness to God. I want to make everything all right for everyone I care about. If they are sad or hurting, I feel helpless and powerless. Natural feelings for sure. But I ought to take these feelings to God and draw closer to Him. Point my hurting loved ones to Him, not accuse Him of being heartless. Realise myself that this suffering can actually effect good in all our lives. That is a hard truth to accept.
Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see. - Hebrews 11:1
By faith I believe that God has a good purpose in all my suffering and the suffering of those I care about. I can be sad and hurt with them, and with Him. We are not farther away from His love because we're hurting. We are closer to Him because of our suffering. I will believe that suffering is worth it because it brings us closer to Him.
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. - John 16:33
Finally there is a truth in one of my favorite movies: Life is pain. Suffering is a constant and I'm fooling myself if I think I can avoid it. The truth is, it's better to face it while believing in a loving God than to face it while angry at Him. If I have any strength of character it comes from knowing Him and so I will choose to know Him better through my pain. And the final truth of all is that Jesus has overcome it all. There will be an end to suffering, a great and final healing and rest. No matter how much it hurts now, it is only temporary. Wholeness and resurrection will be ours in Jesus for eternity.
TODO: Do I have one? :-)