Would You Zap Your Brain to Live More “Sabbathly”?

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Originally posted at The Blue Room.

Yesterday I listened to a Radiolab podcast about trans-cranial direct current stimulation, tDCS. From the show’s description: 

Learn a new language faster than ever! Leave doubt in the dust! Be a better sniper! Could you do all that and more with just a zap to the noggin? Maybe.

In the last couple years, tDCS has been all over the news. Researchers claim that juicing the brain with just 2 milliamps (think 9-volt battery) can help with everything from learning languages, to quitting smoking, to overcoming depression. … [We] think through the consequences of a world where anyone with 20 dollars and access to Radioshack can make their own brain zapper. And finally, [we hear] about the unexpected after-effects of a day of super-charged sniper training and wonder about a world where you can order up a state of mind.

Access the entire twenty-five minute episode (called 9-Volt Nirvana) at the Radiolab website.

The show features science writer Sally Adee, who went through a sniper-training simulation, first without the benefit of tDCS, then with it (with an electrode attached to her temple and the other to her arm). The first time, she scored a paltry 15%. The second time? 100%.

Adee reported feeling relaxed, present and fully awake during the tDCS exercise. A twenty-minute training simulation seemed to take three minutes. She described her experience as one of “flow”—that state of mind in which things feel effortless, even graceful. And that feeling continued even after the tDCS was disconnected. (Others on the program cast doubt on this—the effects are usually short-lived, and there could have been a placebo effect.)

Many folks are interested in tDCS because of the potential for learning skills more easily. I’m more interested in the state of mind stuff. I talk a lot about flow in my Sabbath workshops, because that’s what living Sabbathly is all about. Jesus was a master of flow—the stories we have of him show a man who moved fluidly in time and space, who seemed to know what each moment required, whether it was contact with the crowd, healing someone in need, enjoying food and drink, or rest.

So I listened to the Radiolab episode with great interest, and great ambivalence. For me, living Sabbathly is a lifelong endeavor. I get it wrong all the time. Is it a cheat to zap our brains into a more balanced or receptive state? And if we do think it’s a cheat, how is that different from a person who takes anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications?

One might respond, “Well, those medications are for diagnosable mental illnesses.” Fair enough. Then how is tDCS different than aromatherapy, or massage? How are those things not “cheats”? (For the record, I think there is a difference between tDCS and massage. But what is it, exactly?)

It should be said (and was said in the podcast) that tDCS is waaaaaay in its infancy in terms of scientific study. People are experimenting on themselves with DIY kits and YouTube instructional videos. I’m not anywhere close to jumping on this bandwagon. But if we could live more Sabbathly with $20 of spare parts? Would we want to? What would be gained and lost?

~

Image is from an Intro to tDCS website.

~

After a three-month hiatus, a shiny new edition of my e-newsletter went out earlier this week. Don’t miss the next one! Sign up!

 

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The Work of Sabbath: Do Things All Together

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What a month it’s been! This past weekend was the first weekend in four that I’ve been home. We made sure to take things slowly and Sabbathly, with lots of quiet lounging-around time in addition to chores and errands to catch up on. (The house was in fine shape, but when there’s only one parent in town, things go into batten-down-the-hatches mode.)

In the Sabbath book I wrote a series of sections called “The Work of Sabbath”—twelve different ways to think about observing Sabbath beyond the standard “don’t work” command. There are sections about seeking novelty during Sabbath, saying yes, fasting from one aspect of your work, etc.

This weekend we stumbled on another: Do All Things Together. 

We had the standard Saturday errands to complete: Costco, grocery store and the like. Rather than dividing and conquering with an eye toward efficiency, we decided to tackle them all together. (“All together” meant everyone but Caroline, who is away with her grandparents.) Costco in particular is a fun time for our family. (Free samples! Admiring the bounce house hanging from the ceiling! Hiding in the giant shed! Begging for the jumbo box of Apple Jacks! OK, I could do without the last one, but you take what comes.)

I remembered fondly a family from a church I used to serve, who decided to make it their Sabbath activity to take the dog for a walk all together, rather than leaving it to whoever drew the short straw. The mother described the excitement on the dog’s face the first time she saw all five of them standing at the door ready for the walk. What joy.

How’s your Sabbathing going this summer?

~

photo credit: daviesg via photopin cc

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Beyond Busy

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My friend Jan posted a question a few weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since:

How do you respond when someone says, “Wow, you’re so busy.”

It makes me wonder:

  • Do I give off the appearance of being harried or crazed or wiped out or so-incredibly-important-that-I-have-no-time-for-you? (I don’t think so, but – faithful friends – please do me a favor and let me know if I’m sending “I’m constantly overwhelmed” vibes.)
  • Do people expect that we (my colleagues and I) are just hanging out waiting for someone to call or show up?
  • Do men get these comments as often as women? (i.e. Is there a subconscious expectation that female employees should always be available to help?)

I’m about as busy as everyone around me seems to be. But how would you respond to comments like this?  Just curious.

What do you think?

As Tim Kreider writes in “The Busy Trap,” people of a certain class and privilege bring our busyness on ourselves. Folks who are working multiple jobs to make ends meet may talk about being exhausted. But busy has become a status symbol.

I think a lot about the language we use to describe time. Folks who’ve been in my retreats or other gatherings have seen this video:

I’m still on the lookout for language that communicates a sense of fullness but that gets out of the one-upmanship of “busy.” Right now, my schedule is as crowded as it’s ever been. I’ve been calling it my “too muchness.” But it’s not something I take pride in. I mis-estimated my own limits and am working on finding a different rhythm over the summer and into the fall.

Yes, even the author of a book on Sabbath has recalibrate constantly!

What about you? What’s your reaction to “busy”?

~

photo credit: Cheng I via photopin cc

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What’s Done Is Done

Originally posted at The Blue Room

What Has Been Done Has Been Done

I use this quote in Sabbath in the Suburbs, and I have it posted on the bulletin board in my study. I try to let go of the unfinished work of my life when it is time to rest, or play, or sleep, or simply go to the next thing. Sometimes I feebly succeed.

I’m in a busy season of travel, which also sadly coincides with a couple of kid events: concerts and the like. I often feel some sadness and guilt when I leave town—Robert is a full and capable partner, but his work schedule is not as flexible as mine—and this time those feelings have been compounded by the missed concert.

I am thankful beyond measure for the privilege of being with congregations and other leaders, whether as a preacher, conference keynoter, or retreat leader. It is my joy and my vocation. But I do miss my family when I’m away.

I deal with these feelings (or not) with a pre-travel ritual that I call “guilt cleaning and overcompensation laundry.” I was in the midst of this flurry last week and said to Robert, “I always feel a little bad about leaving,” and he responded, “What’s done is done.”

I stopped for a moment, because I didn’t know what he meant. My initial interpretation of his statement was, “Well MaryAnn, it’s a little late to worry about that now. You’re committed to these events.”

I thought he was judging me, or expressing frustration. But actually, he was quoting the New Zealand Prayer Book to me: What you finish, you finish. Don’t feel bad about it; we’ll be fine; let it be.  

Huh. The dude actually listens to stuff I say!

Now if only I would listen…

~

Image: The Episcopal Church Facebook page

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Shepherding the Family through Social Media

maryannphoto“Mommy, can I have an Instagram account?” my daughter asked from the back seat of the van. We were on our way home from a retreat I’d led for a church in South Carolina. I’d decided to bring the family with me—the retreat was in Myrtle Beach; enough said—and they’d had a great time. The kids met all kinds of new friends and made plans to keep in touch. Apparently Instagram was the preferred method.

Unfortunately, my daughter is 11, and the Instagram terms of service specify a minimum age of 13.

What’s a rule-following mother to do? I don’t want to give her the impression that it’s OK to bend the rules, even in a trivial matter. And maybe this matter isn’t so trivial. Does an 11 year old need an Instagram account yet? I’d love to nurture these fledgling friendships, but can’t I keep her young and social-media sheltered for just a little while longer? Whom is she likely to encounter on these sites? Friends, of course, just like I happily do. But what about people who might do her harm?

I am confronted with these questions even as I work on my next book, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age, which is an attempt to examine this digital culture we all swim in. As I write, I’m trying to discern some spiritually faithful patterns and practices for engaging with technology. How much is too much? What does it mean to be “authentic” online? How can we be mindful of personal boundaries? What does meaningful community look like?

One of the challenges in writing the book is defining what I mean by spirituality, as opposed to the psychology or sociology of digital culture. Other authors have explored quite thoroughly the ways the Internet has changed the way we work, play, and relate with one another. What I’m after is something simultaneously deeper and broader: a holistic approach that integrates body, mind, spirit, and community.

But the other challenge in writing the book is that I’m so very confused and ambivalent myself about our technological age and how it is changing us.

READ THE REST at the Practicing Families website.

Photo credit: MikaelWiman via photopin cc

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More, More, More: A Sabbathy Call to Worship

 

 

 

 

More More More...

Originally posted at The Blue Room.

My time at Myrtle Beach with First Presbyterian Church, Sumter SC, closed with a wonderful worship service, planned and led by the pastoral and music staff. I preached, but as is sometimes the case with these things, we did not coordinate a huge amount. Still the Holy Spirit wove everything together.

I was particularly taken by the call to worship, which pastor Ray Fancher says he adapted from another source.

Sabbath confronts the culture of relentless production and our fears of scarcity… and this responsive call to worship captures it perfectly:

Temptation surrounds us:
do more, take more, have more.
More food, more money, more power, more life!
‘What could it hurt?’ we hear—from friends, the media, our own souls:
More hunger, more suffering, more need, more fear, more anger.
So we gather in God’s abundance and remember: God rested. We were slaves.
God gave us Sabbath for renewal. In Christ we have everything!
Let us drink deeply from God’s spirit. God gives us all we need to
Live fully, love deeply, and serve faithfully. Thanks be to God!

~

My blog practice during Lent is to Rest in the Words of Others. Interested in original content? I will be writing short reflections each week on my email list through Easter. 

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

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Ideas to Spark Your Sabbath Time

Originally posted at The Blue Room.

This past weekend I was in Myrtle Beach with the good folks from First Presbyterian, Sumter for their annual congregational retreat. They were a fun, lively group of folks who got it.

As I often do with groups, I shared the ten principles of the Sabbath Manifesto (things like light candles, drink wine, avoid technology) and asked people to get in groups and offer additional principles. They wrote these on post-it notes and we put them on a flip chart.

I find the list inspiring and joy-filled. Some are activities; some are states of mind.

Which ones resonate with you?

  • Dance!
  • Solitary time
  • Find balance
  • Remembering God is a focus for our day intentionally
  • Involve the world outside the family
  • Find your quiet place to pray and meditate
  • Quiet
  • Cup of coffee
  • Stay attentive to your family and children
  • Communal/family meals
  • Celebrate life–past, present, future
  • Avoid negativity–push F9 to “refresh” and renew
  • Incorporate the church family in Sabbath practice (covered dish) alternate classes as servers
  • Devotion–scripture
  • Finding joy in the day
  • Prayer–meditation
  • Take better case of ourselves; as a result we take care of others
  • Give back
  • Simplify transportation
  • Place priority on our personal relationships… church, personal, familial
  • Volunteer
  • Turn off TV
  • Walking
  • Gardening
  • Read Bible and other spiritual material
  • Keep spiritual journal
  • Identify what restores you. Be conscious of it and realize it is a gift from God and to God
  • Don’t get “overchurched”
  • Turn off TV
  • Study the Bible
  • Family dining time
  • Find a resting place

~

P.S. I’ll be light on blogging for the next few weeks, especially in terms of original content. However, I will be writing short reflections each week on my email list

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