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.

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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

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?

 

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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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Unplug Next Friday!

Originally posted on The Blue Room, my author site.

I’ve written before about the Sabbath Manifesto folks. I love their whimsy and style in promoting a practice that’s deep and ancient, yet ripe for a reboot. Check out their ten principles for Sabbath-keeping:

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undologoNext Friday evening, March 7, begins their annual Day of Unplugging, a 24-hour period in which folks are encouraged to switch off the devices and connect with family and community in a spirit of recreation and joy:

We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerry’s, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of “silence” that our earphones create.

If you recognize that in yourself – or your friends, families or colleagues— join us for the National Day of Unplugging, sign the Unplug pledge and start living a different life: connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child.

The National Day of Unplugging is a 24 hour period – running from sunset to sunset – and starts on the first Friday in March. The project is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto, an adaption of our ancestors’ ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.

Next Friday and Saturday, the Danas will be in Myrtle Beach as I lead the good folks of First Presbyterian, Sumter SC in their annual church retreat. What a fine place to unplug.

Interested in taking the plunge and signing the unplugging pledge? You’ve got a week to think about what your day of unplugging might look like. Peruse some of the photos on the site for inspiration:

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Photos and images from the Sabbath Manifesto/Day of Unplugging website.

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Busyness is Not a Virtue

Here’s one of the videos I use in group presentations on Sabbath in the Suburbs. (It’s also available as one of the Sabbath Supplementals study materials.)

It’s short, just a couple of minutes, but usually enough to get people talking about the theology of “busy” and what’s at stake when we use that kind of language.

Here’s a resource that came to me today that goes deeper into “busy”—what it means and how we can escape it. It’s an excellent article from the iDoneThis blog, called Busyness is Not a Virtue.

Thanks to my friend Alex Hendrickson for sharing it. Like Alex, I love the transformation from FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, to JOMO—Joy of Missing Out.

I also resonated with the bit about something “not being a priority.” I use that language all the time with my kids, when they ask why we haven’t done something: “It’s just not a priority.” And just as the article says, that phrase serves as a great mirror for how you’re aligning your life:

“Mommy, why is our yard brown?” “It’s not a priority.” Check.
“Mommy, my shoes are getting worn out and tight; why haven’t we gotten new ones?” “Not a priority.” Oops.

What are you tricks for taming and reframing the busy?

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Mindful Parenting: A Book Review

17910356Originally posted at The Blue Room.

I was recently sent a review copy of Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World by Kristen Race. A self-proclaimed “brain geek,” Race has a PhD in the “neurology of stress.”

Race speaks as an authority on what’s happening in the brain in today’s high-stress world—and especially what happens in children’s brains when they are overscheduled, short on sleep, and inundated with technology. But she also speaks as a parent and as a classic overachiever, who sadly developed an autoimmune disease in the wake of the stress of working on her doctorate, remodeling their house, caring for a toddler, and gestating a baby. (Oh Kristen, my sister… let’s you and Brené and I have virtual coffee.)

You can view Race’s TEDx talk here:

I appreciated the mix of solid brain research as well as stories and anecdotes about the consequences of what Carrie Newcomer has called our “culture of perpetual motion.” From the book’s description:

Research has shown that mindfulness practices stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Regular stimulation of this part of the brain helps us feel happier, healthier, calmer, less anxious, less stressed, and makes it easier for us to concentrate and think clearly—the very behavior we are hoping our children will display.

Race’s work is informed by folks like Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MD and practitioner/proponent of mindfulness meditation, and includes lots of exercises and practices that you can implement right away with your kids—or by yourself. She points out that if we want our kids to be grounded, centered and free of stress, we have to start with ourselves. I say this all the time to parents who want to incorporate Sabbath into their lives but can’t figure out how to convince children (especially teens) to go for it. Don’t let that stop you from doing it.

The exercises in the book are categorized for different ages of children, which is a nice feature. I liked the sections that model how to talk to small children about this stuff. She also addresses some of the naysayers in effective ways (“But I watched tons of TV as a child and I turned out fine!”)

There is a real spiritual dimension to Race’s work—it would be a good companion for families of any religion, or no religion. For those interested in something more explicitly Christian, though of the monastic flavor, I happen to have recently read and can recommend The Busy Family’s Guide to Spirituality: Practical Lessons for Modern Living From the Monastic Tradition by David Robinson.

I’ve sent some short interview questions to Race’s people and I hope she will respond so I can post her thoughts here.

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