Your Day to Break Limits

IMG_0055Freedom – it’s a powerful word, implying limitless possibilities, empowerment, the wind blowing through your hair, the sun shining on your face, the ability to choose, to act, to take responsibility.

Today you are free, and freedom means you are fully responsible. In other words you have the freedom to respond to the voice of God. God’s word says that it is for freedom that He has set us free. Are you taking advantage of your freedom?

True, walking in freedom can be difficult; in our world it requires faith, but so often we build our own prisons. We create habits and believe lies that restrict our freedom. It’s not easy to say why we relinquish our freedoms. Maybe it’s because it’s easier, safer, more predictable to reside in our small confines. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not where it’s meant to be.” WE WERE BORN TO EXPLORE THE OPEN SEA, to ride the waves, to explore broad horizons. Have you relinquished your dreams? Have you given up your freedoms?

I don’t care how old you are or where you are in life; today is a new day. As a human being you have the ability to choose how you will respond (you don’t just have to re-ACT to your surroundings). Even if you were physically bound in chains, you would still have the power to choose your attitude, whether to love or hate, to forgive or condemn.

Today I encourage to break limits, especially the ones you’ve set for yourself, but also the ones society has set for you. What areas do you need freedom in? What New Years Resolutions have you set for yourself? God has provided the means and grace to obtain it through Jesus. He said, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Luke 17:33

Originally posted 2013-01-30 20:15:00.

Body Image and Standards of Beauty

“Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
This quote from an age-old fairy tale strikes the most common notion of beauty at its core. In this question, the antagonist, the witch, defines beauty in her comparison to others. As in the fairy tale, the question in real life isn’t “Am I beautiful?” It’s almost always “Am I beautiful compared to others?” or “Am I more attractive/desirable than others?” In other words, beauty/attractiveness is most often defined by our culture and sustained by envy or covetousness of others. Think about it, why are advertisements for various products so effective? They almost always appeal to an image that is held by our culture as ideal. We covet after an image; we want to be like that “beautiful” girl or that “manly” guy. If we purchase the product they are selling or wear the clothes they are wearing, perhaps we will be as desirable as they are.

The same is true for physical ideals of beauty and body image. We can instantly imagine the stereotypically beautiful people of our culture. If not, look no further than the toys children are given to play with, like Barbie and Ken. Yet, the standards of physical beauty implied by these images are not universal standards, nor are there any. Over time and across cultures, people have established various standards of beauty: small feet, plump women, tall skinny men, medium height muscular men, pointy teeth, large noses, the list goes on. Many people go to great lengths to conform to the culture’s standards of beauty, from unhealthy dieting to plastic surgery (this is becoming wide scale on a global level), yet doing so is vanity. It is primarily motivated by envy of others, rather than out of contentedness and thankfulness for how God made us, or out of any true standards of beauty.

The standards of our culture are unhealthy and over sexualized, and trying to obtain them can be part of a vicious cycle. There is freedom in caring more about what God thinks than what other people think. True beauty comes from inward confidence. Confidence is related to knowing who you are in Christ and being content with who you are; godliness with contentment is great gain. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that its not important to take care of yourself, to eat healthy, to exercise, and to get sunshine, but don’t do these things to conform to an ideal image — do these things to be healthy, then look however you will. One of the biggest health focuses for many is losing weight. Yet, while losing weight can be an important part of good health, beware of extremes or impure motives that can put a damper on your joy. Research has shown that it’s possible to weigh far more than the standards established by our culture and yet have an athletic level of health. Let the pursuit of physical health be for the sake of living a full life, not for the sake of vanity or out of insecurity and envy. Focus on modesty and establish an inward beauty or attractiveness, rather than superficial outward beauty. Have freedom by not conforming to the standards of this world but by being transformed by the renewing of your mind, by changing the way you think about beauty.

Originally posted 2012-02-27 16:30:00.

Measuring quality of life

Everyone wants to happy, and most probably wouldn’t mind being happier than they are right now.  Yet, happiness goes up and down with the situations of daily life.  Perhaps a better way to define a stability of happiness is “satisfaction” or “well-being.” These are the terms researchers are using to try and figure out what really gives people a high quality of life.  Traditionally, politicians and researchers have equated quality of life with quality of living, but now they’re starting to realize that these are two different things.[1]

Despite an overall high level of material well-being (plenty of food, clothes, comfortable shelter, etc), people in American and other economically wealthy countries don’t necessarily report the highest quality of life.   Quality of life isn’t solely dependent upon Maslow’s hierarchy of needs being met, it’s primarily dependent upon our perceptions of those needs being met as well as immaterial factors like meaningful relationships, social activities, and holistic health.  Surprise! Studies show that it’s possible to have a high-level of satisfaction in life and yet have a low income, a low-level of education, a severe physical handicap, few material possessions, etc.[2] In other words, quality of life is something that’s primarily subjectively, rather than objectively, determined.  

In a comparative study that gave overall quality of life ratings by country (completed by The Economist), it was found that countries with the highest ratings didn’t have the highest GDPs per person, but they did have a good balance of basic needs being met and traditional communities, like families and churches, remaining intact.  Interestingly, these same countries also had poor health ratings.[3] This is the problem of modernity: it’s solved our food security and basic material problems through the mass production of poor quality foods, but people are spending less time with family and friends, less time outside, and less time with God.  

The apostle Paul addressed a similar problem nearly 2,000 years ago when he said, “Godliness with contentment brings great gain.” -1 Timothy 6:6.  Did you know that people who regularly watch television have higher levels of dissatisfaction (thanks to the vain materialism promoted in commercials) than those who don’t?[4]  Go figure!  How many Americans do you think watch TV on a regular basis rather than spend quality time with friends or loved ones?  Quality of life isn’t dependent on what we have, it’s dependent on how we live and perceive our lives.  Thankfulness, contentedness, godliness, relationships – these are the marks of a high quality of life.

[1] The quality of quality of life measurements – JAMA
[2] Distinguishing between quality of life and health status
[3] Quality of life index – The Economist
[4] Television viewership and quality of life

Originally posted 2011-09-23 17:35:00.

Critique of the Lyrics in Lorde's song "Royals"

Lyrics-critique-lorde-royalsEarlier this year, the song “Royals,” written by sixteen-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor, reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list. Ella, who goes by the stage name “Lorde,” is from New Zealand and is the first solo artist from her country to achieve such popularity in the United States. When Lorde’s popular song, “Royals,” first played over the airwaves of my car’s radio, I was immediately struck by Lorde’s smooth, rich vocal qualities and her song’s fresh melodic beat. At the same time, perhaps like other people, I was initially a little skeptical about the value of the song’s lyrics. At first listen, lyrics about “jet planes, islands, tigers, on a gold leash” sounded like another shallow line written by another base materialistic hip hop artist, but a closer listen reveals that “Royals” actually contains a not-so-subtle criticism of the MTV glam culture that many of today’s youth aspire to.

Read the lyrics for yourself below, with a few of my thoughts interposed after select lyrics in brackets:

Lyrics from Lorde’s “Royals”

Verse 1
I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom

[I love the above line and transition. It seems to say, “Really? The materialistic fantasy promoted in the media doesn’t align with how I grew up, and I’m supposed to want that?” Her choice of what to portray as representative of the pop culture (decadent gold teeth, drunkeness, drugs) highlights just how grotesque these desires are.]

Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.
And we’ll never be royals (royals).

[Equating these desires with a love affair is a perfect metaphor for the covetous and rapturous nature of the materialistic/sex-driven nature of today’s culture. I love that she takes a stand and says that she won’t get caught up in it — I hope she won’t!]

It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.

[Yes! We were created to love life, to love freedom, to crave something different. We don’t need the “buzz” being pushed on us by pop culture, AKA Big Media]

Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

[From what I can tell, here Ella’s turning pop culture’s esteem of ruling in an air of superiority  and turning it on its head, saying “Follow me to something different. I’ll lead you to a different fantasy.”]

Verse 2
My friends and I—we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,

[The above three lines reveals Ella’s priority: relationships. She and her friends have recognized the lie of consumerism. Instead of taking a “Benz” to the party, they’re riding in a train.]

We didn’t come for money.But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affairAnd we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

Ooh ooh oh
We’re bigger than we ever dreamed,

[The alternative to “luxe” is so much better.]

And I’m in love with being queen.
Ooh ooh oh
Life is great without a care

[So true — wealth, materialism, coveting riches — all bring bondage.]

We aren’t caught up in your love affair.

And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

Is the “fantasy” or vision Ella alludes to in “Royals” something  we can encourage other young people to pursue? From what I can tell, Ella’s lyrics contain some important truths that pose a stark contrast to the dark myths promulgated by many of today’s “artists.” The lingering question is does “Royals” really contain a thoughtful critique of culture or is it more a reflection of youthful innocence combined with teenage angst? Only time will tell, but I’ll be praying for Ella and hope that her criticism of popular culture will only deepen as she matures. Our worlds need an alternative, a healthier fantasy than the one offered by MTV.

Ella, thanks for reminding us about the vanity of materialism, that people are more important than things, and that there is an alternative to the dominant message communicated by pop culture.
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Originally posted 2013-11-01 09:48:00.

Ditch the news for a better life?

Reading the papersThere are a lot of reasons, real and imagined, that we watch and read the news. Perhaps the loftiest and most common reason given is to stay up to date on current affairs with the hope of making informed political or business decisions. A less noble reason for following the news, one most wouldn’t readily admit to, is the pure entertainment it provides. For whatever reasons we watch or read the news, its popularity is immense. The news industry is a multi billion dollar industry, and has a vast influence on the American population. It’s estimated that approximately 84% of Americans get the news every day in one form or another (PewResearch).

The question is whether or not watching the news on TV or reading it in a newspaper is really a valuable habit. Outside of providing some sort of dark and depressing entertainment that makes us feel better about the relative ease of our own lives, can it help us make better decisions? I would argue that rather than making life better or helping us gain a clearer understanding of the world, watching the news on TV or getting it from a newspaper can actually cloud our understanding and cause us to become more passive. On top of that, at least one study indicates that watching the news can be bad for our health. Read on for a few more in-depth arguments for not getting your news from popular media sources.

Watching the news prevents critical thinking: The way news is televised prevents viewers from actually having time to critically evaluate the news. Our thoughts are constantly interrupted with different news clips, streaming headlines, and commercial breaks. If were not able to think critically about the news, can it really help us make informed decisions?

A constant flow of news, whether televised or in print, prevents intentional response and leads to passivity. The information overflow and entertainment approach used by most news sources results in an endless state of “the next big thing.” Before we’ve had time to process or respond to one story, it’s already gone and the next big story is being aired. Politicians are known to use this phenomenon to sweep mistakes or unfavorable events under the rug. As long as another big story surfaces quickly enough, a less favorable story will be quickly forgotten. The tendency of news to promote passivity, rather than action, undermines one of the main arguments people make for watching the news.  Can you honestly remember the last time any news story had a real impact on your decisions?  

The news distorts our understanding of reality. While it’s generally known in this day and age that all news can’t be trusted because of propaganda and the spins that news sources are guilty of, there are greater underlying distortions that aren’t always as obvious. The amount of time and space news sources give various types of events can have a significant impact on how we perceive the importance of a topic. For example news broadcasters might direct nationwide attention to a relatively isolated hostage situation, while state-wide arsenic levels in water sources might be having a more significant impact on the welfare of most viewers.

Watching or reading the news can be bad for our health. Studies indicated the watching the news has a negative impact our our psychology, causing negative feelings, pointless stress, and possibly exacerbating depression. Why submit ourselves to this psychological torture we call “following the news” when it’s really not having any positive effects to offset the negatives?

Constant news about tragic events without the ability or opportunity to respond can cause callousness. Nothing surprises us any more; we hear or read the worst representations of humanity on a daily basis. But what do we do? How does it help us or the community in a practical way? After watching the news or reading the paper, most of us simply finish our cup of coffee and head to work, becoming that much more calloused and despairing about the conditions of the world. Instead of having an optimistic outlook or believing in the possibility of a better world, we give up hope and accept the world for how it appears in the news — messed-up.  

Meaningful alternatives for a healthier life and community: So, if we really want to stay informed, but don’t want to be sucked into the system of news propaganda, what do we do? There are a actually a number of ways to stay informed other than by watching TV or reading the paper, sources of information that can promote positive action in one’s personal life and in the surrounding community. Here are a few ideas:

  • Read a journalistic style book on a relevant or interesting topic. Books usually list verifiable sources for important facts and provide the opportunity to think about the topic being addressed.
  • Get involved in a neighborhood association
  • Attend local Board of Supervisors or City Council meetings
  • Talk to neighbors and family members, discuss what’s going on in the world and ways to problem solve
  • Use less cluttered and more meaningful news sources like scholarly journals

Using the above sources of information for current events wastes less time, is less distracting, provides more relevant news, and is more likely to foster creative and hope-filled thinking. With better information and more time to think about it, we can engage our world and focus on the things that matter. One might even see an improvement in his or her health!

Recommended reading: Propaganda by Jacques Ellul

References: PewResearch; “The Negative Psychological Effects of Watchings News on Television,” The International Journal of Behavioral Medicine
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Originally posted 2013-11-01 14:31:01.

Re-Perceive Stress to Lower Risk of Disease and Death

The Perception of Stress as a Factor of Disease

perception of stress disease factor mortality cuaseIncorrect knowledge is often worse than no-knowledge at all, but it’s the risk we take in the pursuit of better living. This axiom couldn’t be more clearly demonstrated than by the insight I’ve recently gained that’s completely changed my way of thinking about stress and how it affects the human body. You see, I bought into the mainstream idea that mental stress is inherently unhealthy for the body. Well, I didn’t think mental stress was completely bad, all the time (I recognized it serves a purpose and is a normal part of life), but I was convinced that good health depends on eliminating as much stress as possible. I was shocked to learn that current research strongly indicates that it’s precisely the belief that stress is unhealthy for the body that makes stress so unhealthy!

Two Types of Responses to Stress: Threat or Challenge

Here I’ve been trying to be part of the solution to disease by telling people that stress causes disease (and therefore it should be avoided), but this advice was most likely just making things worse. It turns out, stress, in and of itself, isn’t harmful to our bodies. There are two primary ways that we can experience stress physiologically — psychologist call these two responses, threat or challenge responses. While there are overlaps in the way our body responds to what we perceive as a threat or challenge, there are also significant differences that can have a direct impact on our health.  

The primary difference between the two response types is that during a threat, the body begins to shutdown in order to protect itself: the blood vessels constrict, cutting off blood flow, and the heart becomes less efficient. By contrast, during a challenge response the blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to the brain and muscles. Whether the mind solicits a threat or challenge response is determined by one’s beliefs, experiences, and perceptions relative to a given situation. 

The Harvard Social Stress Test and the 30,000 Person National Health Interview Analysis

At this point you might be thinking, “What’s new? We already knew that perception affects stress.” The difference is that the effects of perception on stress were previously always studied in regards to external conditions, not to the perception of stress itself. Two recent studies provide compelling evidence that how we think about stress can cause an automatic trigger of the threat or challenge response, regardless of the external circumstances.

In 2011, researchers at Harvard and UC San Francisco performed a social stress test comparing a test group to a control group of volunteer participants. As part of the study, all of the participants in both groups were required to submit to a simulated stressful interview situation, in which they performed a 5-minute presentation while two evaluators provided negative feedback. After giving the presentation, participants were required to complete a series of analytical questions. Before the interview, the test group was told that stress was not harmful and that it would actually help them perform the presentation. The control group wasn’t given any instructions. When the mental and physical responses of both groups were assessed after the interview, the test group had a significantly healthier cardiovascular response and a more positive perception of their completion of their presentation than the control group.  

In another study, researchers analyzed survey answers and fatality rates from about 30,000 people over 8-years.  Unfortunately, stress had a significant affect on the health of a large percentage of the population but only for those who believed it would! The analysis found that those who experienced stress in the previous year and answered the questioned, “Do you believe stress has a negative impact on health?” with a “yes,” had a 43% increase in the risk for early mortality! By contrast, there was no correlation between stress levels and early mortality among those who did not believe that stress has a negative impact on health!

The Take Away: What we see from these studies is that believing stress is bad for health can promote an automatic physiological response that negatively affects cardiovascular health and can even lead to early death. While the implications of this study are tragic for many, they are also exciting. It’s amazing to see how well God designed our bodies. So much of the disease we face as humans is merely “user error.” Our bodies are designed with a built in mechanism to help us rise to the challenge and overcome difficult situations. If we maintain this positive, faith-filled attitude and believe that physiological stress can actually be a good thing, then many of us will be well on our way to better health!

References: “Mind Over Matter: Reappraising Arousal Improves Cardiovascular and
Cognitive Responses to Stress;”
Harvard University; Kelly McGonigal: “How to Make Stress Your Friend,” TedTalk; “Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality,” Health Psychology; “The Upside of Stress,” Kelly McGonigal.
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Originally posted 2013-10-03 13:15:58.

Take Control of Your Weekends

Central Park

I’m sure everyone knows the 1981 song “Working for the Weekend” by the quintessential 80s band Lover Boy. This song outlines the lives of countless Americans: working hated jobs for five days straight, followed by two days of “new romance” and “second chance[s].” While most people simply view this song as a party joke and a common occurrence in movies and television, I view this song as a window into the detriment of many peoples’ lives.

While working at a physical therapy clinic in South Portland, Maine, I walked to the post office to send our patients’ progress notes to their primary care physicians. I walked passed two homeless men who asked me for money. The Portland area has a large homeless population for a small city, so I was used to saying, “Sorry; no cash,” and going on my way – Maine has the highest percentage of opiate addicts per population in the entire country. A couple hours later I walked down the same street to eat lunch and I saw those same two men reveling in the fruits of their labor: cheap 40 ounce bottles of beer, sharing a pack of cigarettes. They looked ecstatic. Through toothless smiles, they clinked their bottles and mumbled in strong northeast accents. I then realized, when I passed them in the morning they were “working,” now I was witnessing their “weekend.”

As I ate lunch I felt very disheartened. It was a harsh realization that most of the people I surrounded myself with day to day don’t act much differently than these two homeless men. They work for five days straight, followed by two days of drinking too much, eating terrible food and forgetting about their exercise programs; all in the name of “the weekend.” They have homes, jobs, 401Ks, goals and dreams, but still use they weekend as an excuse to act like a completely different people. Between Friday and Saturday night parties and Sunday afternoon football games, these upstanding citizens transform into lazy, self-indulgent people; a far cry from the hard working, focused coworkers I surround myself with the other five days out of the week.

I made a pact with myself that day that I would take control of my weekends; I would not work for the weekend. I would work for the love of work and serving others, and treat my weekends as sacred. Here are my top tips for taking control of your weekends:

  • Wake up around the same time. Your body’s biological clock does not understand a five day work week, weekend parties, and day light savings. It wants to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Don’t be an alarm clock admiral, but don’t sleep 3-4 hours later on Saturday than you did on Friday.
  • Explore new healthy meals. I love using the weekend as a time to try out new exotic meals. I’ve found that cooking something new can be too taxing during the week, but weekends offer extra time to hone new cooking skills. Make it a goal to try out one CBH recipe every weekend.
  • Set clear workout goals. Don’t set outrageous goals – that’s where most people go astray. It’s too easy to set lofty, unreachable goals. Start small, and work your way up. For example, if you’re new to taking control of  your weekends, set the goal of taking a walk Saturday or Sunday if the weather permits.
  • HAVE FUN! It’s the weekend! Don’t mope around and be a slave to your to-do list and BlackBerry… or iPhone… or whatever else we’re slaves to these days. Turn your phone off; it’s liberating. While you’re at it, have fun with your workouts too. Set a goal, but don’t have a plan. Tell yourself you will perform 20 sets; it can be two sets of 10 different exercises, five sets of four exercises, or five sets of four exercises. If it’s difficult, you’re doing it right!
  • Be quiet. Read. Pray. Meditate. Practice yoga. Go for a bike ride in the wilderness without any earphones. Do whatever necessary to reset your mind and soul; the following five days will be much easier and much more fulfilling.

Originally posted 2013-09-30 14:33:58.

Mental Health — What Freud Got Wrong

was sigmund freud rightMuch of modern psychoanalysis, the methods by which we judge mental health, is based on the ideas established by Sigmund Freud during the 1920s.  The term “Oedipus complex” might come to mind, as it should, for Freud’s thoughts about the “Oedipus complex” form the core of his theory and legacy. Few people, however, really know what the Oedipus complex is or how it shapes the ideas of so many of the therapists and psychologists that we blindly trust.  So what is the Oedipus complex? And is the premise of modern psychology an accurate or useful way to analyze the metal health of individuals or society as a whole?  The present state of mental health in America, the West, and many other parts of the world seems to be in dire straits, making this an important issue.

The Oedipus Complex and Modern Myth

For those who aren’t familiar with the story Oedipus Rex, it’s a Greek tragedy by Sophocles, written in the 5th century BC.  The basic plot of the story is that King Laius has a child named Oedipus, but the child is abandoned because of a foreboding prophecy that the child would kill his father and take over the throne.  Then in a twisted turn of events, Oedipus survives into adulthood and kills his own father (like the prophecy predicted) on a country road (not knowing it was his father that he killed). Oedipus is then made king in his father’s place (still not knowing it was his dad he killed) and takes the hand of his own biological mother in marriage. The theme and underlying meaning of the tragedy, along with many other similar tragedies and myths, is the nature of rivalries between close relationships. Freud’s interpretation of this rivalry and the violence between father and son, as told in Oedipus Rex, is the basis of his psychoanalytic theory.

Basically what Freud tries to answer with the “Oedipus complex” is the question of the origin of desires that cause human conflicts. For example, why is it that a child desires the same objects that his parents desire?  In the exaggerated case of Oedipus, the underlying implication is that a boy desires his own mother. But why? In his earliest works, Freud places the origin of this desire with the child’s identification with his parents. In other words, a child learns desire based on seeing what his parents desire and wanting to be like them. Later, however, Freud hypothesizes that desire arises from innate, physical desires, rather than from imitating a model (such as a parent). Ultimately Freud comes to the bizarre conclusion that at some point, a boy will suddenly become conscious of an innate desire for his mother, which he will then suppress in his subconscious mind. This suppressed consciousness, however, is supposed to influence other aspects of life and desire.

The upshot is that modern psychology is built on a couple of underlying Freudian assumptions:  For one, it’s believed that desires, even desires beyond basic biological functions, are primarily innate and focused purely on an object. A healthy, socially-adjusted individual then is one who successfully recognizes and suppresses his or her desires for socially inappropriate objects (whether actual objects or people). Secondly, innate desires are considered highly individualistic, and individualism just so happens to be highly praised in Western society. Scholars, businessmen, artists — we all strive to be unique individuals, and we tend to deny the dynamics and influences of the group. Such denial, however, makes us even more susceptible to group think, advertisements, and propaganda.  Personally, I’m convinced that for those in therapy, these two assumptions can also cause a deterioration rather than an improvement in mental health!

Mimetic Desire and Ancient Knowledge

In his work Violence and the Sacred (which this article is largely based on), the renowned scholar Rene Girard argues that the real origin of desire and the cause of human conflict (whether mental or physical) is something he calls mimetic desire.  While the idea of mimetic desire isn’t really new (it can be argued that it’s something the Bible refers to as sin or covetousness), Girard provides a scientific explanation of the formation of desires, rivalry, and even what might be referred to today as “poor mental health.” Essentially, mimetic desire is as old as Adam and Eve or Cain and Able.  

Ancient stories, such as Cain and Able, teach us that desires come from an outside source, from a model, someone that can be imitated (hence the word mimetic in Girard’s theory). In other words, our desire for a particular object isn’t innate and doesn’t come from the appeal of the object itself, rather an object is made desirable by the person that possesses it. If you don’t think that’s accurate, think about any of the most effective television commercials. They’re never really selling an object; they’re selling the appeal of who one could become by acquiring possession of a particular object. For example, with the right luxury watch, any man might become as successful, rich, and handsome, as the man in the commercial.

The next truth stories like Cain and Able teach us (and human history will attest to), is that desire creates conflict. The reason desire creates conflict is because we don’t just desire the same object that our model possesses, we desire to actually become the model. The problem is that there are two obstacles to becoming or becoming like the model: the model himself and the model’s possession of the desired object. Mimetic desire, fully played out, thus results in depression, jealousy, rivalry, covetousness, and ultimately murder (all consequences of a disturbed mental state). In order to become like the model, the subject has to either steal the object from the model and/or murder the model; the model is the chief obstacle preventing the subject from obtaining the model’s elusive state of being.  

The psychological implications of mimetic desire are paramount. If our desires are not innate physical whims but formed by the imitation of role models, then more often than not our desires are neither fixed nor reasonable.  They’re not fixed because a role model’s possessions and interests may change over time, and they’re not reasonable because one can never obtain the state of being of another human. These two obstacles result in continued frustration, depression, high and lows, violence, and generally “poor mental health.”  Thankfully there is a solution to the primary cause of most our mental dis-ease.  

The Real Cure to Many of Our Mental Health Problems 

Girard argues that there are essentially two solutions to mimetic desire, though the first solution is really more of a band-aid than a cure. First, the relational distance between a subject and his role model has a direct affect on the amount of mental stress and physical violence that might result from a given relationship. Relational distance might explain why the fiercest jealousy or violence often occurs between the closest friends or the most intimate lovers. If one chooses role models that are at a greater distance, however, like a sports hero on a professional team instead of a high school teammate, the tension caused by mimetic rivalry is lessoned.  Our society tacitly acknowledges this benefit by constant emphasizing the importance of positive role models for children.

The second solution is receiving and following in the steps of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love.  Instead of turning to violence and being controlled by the crowd, Jesus revealed that laying down one’s own life brings freedom and escape from the mimetic cycle. The ability to lay down one’s life, to surrender one’s desire (formed by imitation and ultimately resulting in a hatred for others), is only obtained by believing in the unconditional love of Jesus.  Love, which is sacrificial, can only be given after it is received.  In other words, those who believe, Jesus sets free from a mimesis that spirals towards death and leads into a mimesis towards life. Sacrificial love brings freedom from mental anguish, fear, jealousy, narcissism, concern over what people think, anxiety, depression, and a plethora of other mental health problems.

This isn’t to say that all mental health problems are solved by escaping mimetic desire, or that we’re ever fully free from mimetic desire. Looking to others for the cues for our desires is a constant struggle, one that requires daily returning to the love of Jesus and remembering his sacrifice through sharing communion with others. It’s also important to note that some mental health problems are caused by biology or the physical environment, such as when depression is caused by being inside for too long or when bi-polar disease is triggered by a nutrient deficiency.  But this brings up another point, most mental health problems, in one way or another, are  a result of not living the way God created us to live. The first and most important aspect to life and good mental health is love, after that, exercise, sunshine, fresh-air, and healthy foods all have a substantial impact on mental health.

The take away: It’s a Western myth that we are complete individuals with innate and unique desires. While the idea of the “stalwart individual” might be appealing, our mental health is intimately tied to our relationships with others.  We get our desires from the people around us (whether friends, family, peers, advertisers, movies, etc), and our ability (or inability) to realize these desires is the principle cause of mental dis-ease.  The only way to escape the bi-polar high and lows of desire is unconditional, sacrificial love.

What are your thoughts on mental health? 

Do you have any questions about mimetic desire?

Primary Reference and Suggested Reading: Violence and the Sacred, by Rene Girard.

Violence and the Sacred by Rene Girard recommendation review 

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Originally posted 2013-09-26 16:03:06.

The Benefits I've Gained from the Online Health Community

benefits of online running community health livingThe benefits of community are numerous.

A community is basically a network of people that can form a support system that benefits the entire group. Sometimes when you are living in a way that is out of the ordinary, a community like this is just what’s needed to help make good choices that fly in face of the status quo.

Although I wish it were different, trying to live a healthy lifestyle is out of the norm. I love learning about nutrition, trying new foods that are good for me and staying active, but not everyone in my immediate family or among my friends share this same passion. When I happen to stumble upon a group that does have an excitement for healthy living, I was over-joyed.  Where did I find this group?  Online.

This “virtual” healthy living community I’m now part of (that I found in the blogging world) has taught me so much.  For one, I’ve learned that “healthy” is a little bit different for everyone. While in the medical community, “healthy” means “not at risk for disease,” for the average individual it could just mean eating veggies and working out a few days per week. I’ve learned to be less judgmental about foods that people eat as well as to be more open to trying what I used to think of as “weird” foods. I’ve learned that no matter the size or shape, that most people have insecurities with their bodies.

I learned to love running through the online community.

I was also introduced to running through community. Yes, I had heard of running. Yes, I had trudged through the mile run we had to do in high school to assess our fitness level. But through the online healthy living community, I’ve found people who have a passion for running. These people actually like lacing up their shoes and running for miles at a time. They sign up for races, paying money to run distances I couldn’t even fathom of running.

I learned to love pulling on my Asics and pounding out frustration on the pavement. I learned that I could have some really awesome moments of worship during these runs. I learned I could spend time with my Creator and be grateful for the ability to have use of all of my limbs.

[See my running articles: 13.1 Reasons to Sign Up for a Half-Marathon, Ladies’ Guide to Warm Weather Running Clothes, 5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners]

I have also had the opportunity to meet some of the people who have inspired me over the years in person, and I can hardly describe what happens when we all come together. The feelings of community and mutual understanding are overpowering. There is such peace in knowing that we are no longer the oddball but part of a group of people that shares similar beliefs and past-times.

According to the Mayo Clinic, being a part of a healthy community can reduce stress and depression. It will help you feel less alone in tough times. Being part of a community also provides opportunities for mutual learning and new ideas shared. The support and encouragement gained will motivate you to do things you would have never thought of doing. A community like this will benefit you in ways you never imagined.

The importance and value of community is also mentioned  in the bible. It’s called the church. There’s a reason that we are told to be part of a church — we were made to be around people and to have the love and support from like-minded individuals.  We were created for community.  

So if you feel like you are the only one in your immediate group who cares about your health and well-being, seek out those with similar interests. Find a group, whether it be at a gym, a church, or online, that shares your passions in life. Believe me, you won’t regret it.

Questions:

Are you a part of a healthy community?

What are benefits you find from gathering with like-minded individuals?

Links:

References: Mayo Clinic: Support Groups

Originally posted 2013-09-24 17:00:22.

The Vital Difference Between Truth and Reality

In our culture, words like “truth,” “lie,”fact,” and “error,” are used on a constant basis.  These words are heard in the news, in the classroom, at the job, in church, and in the courtroom.  We insist on seeing the evidence and getting to the bottom of things.  This desire for a clear understanding of the facts or of the truth is found in both the secular and religious world.  In fact, it’s often a disagreement over the “facts” that causes irreconcilable differences between Christians and atheists, christians and other christians, creationists and evolutionists, or scientists and other scientists.  

While there are undoubtedly some important disagreements around “the facts,” I’d like to contend (along with the philosopher and sociologist Jacques Ellul) that the disagreements that exist in our society aren’t as much a result of inaccurate “facts” as they are a result of a fundamental confusion between the concepts of “truth” and “reality.”  This confusion is a product of the Scientific Age.  

Scientism, the belief that the only things that have merit are the things that we can “observe, measure, and repeat,” is pervasive in our culture.  The result is that everything that depends on words for explanation is looked down upon, while everything that can be seen (photos, videos, artifacts, repeatable research) is prioritized and given legitimacy.  The priority given to the visible even influences how people read the Bible.  Instead of seeking to understand the meaning of a passage or the moral lesson, emphasis is often placed on the literal reading of the text.  Looking at Biblical texts literally, as if they were science reports, can result in missing the primary purpose of the texts.  

Here’s the kicker, reality, that which can be seen, touched, or heard, has no meaning without truth.  Truth is the realm of the spoken word, the realm of meaning, purpose, love, faith, hope.  These are the spiritual aspects of life that can never be proven with a scientific experiment.  Truth and reality exist side by side.  Truth gives value to reality.  The realm of truth (which can be contaminated by lies, hate, doubt) also has a powerful impact on the real world.  For example, when we care about someone, that care can be seen and felt by others.  On rare occasions truth and reality fully intersect, like when Jesus came to earth, “the Word made flesh,” or when God’s kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven.” 

At this point, you might be wondering what “truth versus reality” has to do with health.  Well, to start with, the emphasis on reality is part of the reason the health industry is so focused on image, rather than holistic health.  The health goal portrayed by the media is that we should look like super models and that we should live a really long time.  Hardly anything is said about quality of life, spiritual well-being, or overall health down to the cellular level.  Mainstream health is all about getting “ripped,” having “a six pack,” “looking young,” or completing some obstacle course race for bragging rights on social media.  

Then there’s the lack of purpose in the health movement.  And what’s the point of having good physical health if you don’t have some greater spiritual purpose in life?  Purpose is something that doesn’t come from the physical world (reality) or science — it’s something that comes from belief or faith, which belong to the realm of truth.  According to the scriptures, abundant life comes from living with a purpose.  We were created to live freely and to live in God’s love! 

The next time you here someone talking about “truth,” ask yourself, “are they really talking about truth or facts?” If what they’re talking about gives meaning to the world around us, then they’re discussing something within the realm of truth.  If what they’re saying merely describes the world around us, then they’re just providing facts.  

For further reading on truth versus reality, I highly recommend The Humiliation of the Word by Jacques Ellul.

 

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Originally posted 2013-09-16 20:38:41.