Random Blog Clay Feet: September 01, 2008
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Monday, September 01, 2008

Living in Front or Back

Something I heard Jim Wilder say a few days ago in his series called Joy Bonds has ignited a lot of questions in my mind as I have pondered it and thought about the enormous implications of it in my own life. To properly understand it one must allow themselves to become familiar with the context in which he said it and how the brain develops and operates. If this is not appreciated properly then to just hear his statement out of context might sound like something bizarre or even like heresy.

Much of what Wilder teaches revolves around the immense importance of developing the right orbital pre-frontal cortex of the brain or what he often refers to as the “joy center” or the “banana”. This part of the brain grows mainly in response to being stimulated from the outside by being around people who genuinely desire to be with that person, who are glad to be with them, who consider them to be the sparkle of their eye. When face to face communication of this feeling is experienced then this part of the brain can grow and increase in size and deep bonding takes place. The amazing thing is that this can happen at any age. Unlike most of the other parts of the brain, this part maintains fetal tissue that always has potential to produce new growth under conducive circumstances. But there are periods of time in a person's life when growth is much more likely to accelerate.

As he explained the difference between this part of the brain and the back of the brain where things operate very differently, the implications began to take on ominous significance. The front of the brain that is developed by joy is where our creativity thrives, where our sense of freedom and true identity and uniqueness is cultivated and where we can bond with other people in joy-bonds that are rooted deeply at the heart level.

Jim says that if you want to stop a person from acting like themselves, then the easiest way to do so is to scare them. When we operate from the back of our brain we are usually reacting in fear. When we live in fear from the back of our brain it operates in ways that are purely problem-solving with no interest in the values cherished in the front of the brain. The back of the brain cares little about our real identity or our morals or even what it might be like us to normally do to act like ourselves. It is only concerned with making the problem go away that is causing our fear or threatening our safety, and it will do so with whatever means will work as quickly as possible. When a person is in extreme fear and through a lack of maturity is thrown to the back of their brain temporarily under intense circumstances, they will often do very strange or unusual things that is very unlike them that may surprise and even shock those around them as well as themselves upon reflection later. This is most likely what happens under the condition called temporary insanity.

The part of the brain that chooses whether we live from the front or the back of our brain is called the amygdala. It is something of a clearing house for incoming information and decides which part of the brain to send the information first. If it decides that what it sees might be dangerous it will attach a warning tag to the information which will immediately alert the brain to activate different parts of the nervous system for action. If the brain has little joy capacity in the pre-frontal cortex and has not practiced how to act like its true self under stress, then the person will easily move to the back of their brain and will become blinded by fear and will remain in a mode of problem solving and doing whatever it takes at any cost to make the problem go away.

The part that really impacted me was when he explained that if we find ourselves always looking for results instead of learning how to act like ourselves, that is a sure sign that we are operating from the back of our brain. He gave the example of people involved in ministry for others who come up to him during seminars with questions about things that seem to stump them in their work with difficult cases. They come to him in hopes that he can solve their problems that they have run into in dealing with people that seem stuck in their emotions. But the very attitude of hoping that Jim can solve their case on the spot indicates that the people in ministry are trying more to solve a problem than to learn how to act like themselves. This is a sure sign that they are likely operating from the wrong part of the brain than what is needed under those circumstances.

When I heard this I realized something very significant. If we approach ministry with an attitude of problem solving instead of using our joy strength and the joy center of our brain, then we will always run into difficulties because the Spirit of God cannot work well with us while we are living from the motivation of fear. We will be sucked into the trap of trying to fix people's problems or focusing on eliminating their pain instead of listening to the heart issues and being willing to be glad to be with them in their problems.

Perfect love casts out all fear and God is love. Jesus stated very explicitly that He promised to be with us always. That is a statement of joy, for the brain's neurological definition of joy is someone who is glad to be with me. So when Jesus states unequivocally that He will always be with us He is addressing the most important and basic craving and need of our brains to thrive and grow and be healed back into our original design and purpose for life.

But if we try to help other people by trying to solve their problems or take on their problems as our own and get into a mode of problem-solving, then we are trying to do something the hard way that God has never asked us to do. For our greatest need is not to make all of our problems or other people's problems go away, but to learn how to act like ourselves under any circumstances by learning to live in joy with each other. This is why a sense of community is so central to the kingdom of heaven. Without others glad to be with us no matter what circumstances or emotions we find ourselves in, we will often lack the strength to endure or the capacity to know how to respond correctly.

Instead of focusing on how to solve every problem as we are usually taught by the world's system of thinking, we much more need to discover our true identity as implanted in us by our Creator and then joyfully live out that identity with our unique style as God designed us to do. In short, we need to learn what it is like us to do, how to act like ourselves all the time. It is God's job to solve problems and our job to live in trust that He can handle His job.

Learning to act like ourselves is at the core of the process of maturing, and maturity can only effectively take place within community where we live in association with others who can help us learn how to act like ourselves by example and encouragement. When we feel the acceptance of others who are glad to be with us even when we malfunction, who are willing to believe in us even at times when we don't believe in ourselves, who are there to love us, to respect us and even to confront us when necessary and hold us accountable, then we can grow and thrive and blossom and mature. For the most important way that we learn is by imitating the example of a more mature mind by watching how they respond under similar circumstances that we experience.

As I thought about the implications of all this I began to realize how much of my time I spend in fear and problem solving instead of learning how to act like myself by tuning in to the Spirit of God to learn my true identity. Over the past few days I have increasingly been asking God to show me who I really am, to reveal to me my true identity as He sees me. I also find myself asking Him to help me see others in their true identity instead of the typical reactions that my brain uses to analyze and evaluate them. This is a whole new experience for me and as yet very unfamiliar. I cannot say that I have had any dramatic breakthroughs yet but this is the direction that I realize I must move if I am to make progress in getting out of living from the back of my brain.

I am also becoming shocked at how many things I approach in a problem solving mode instead of a basis of joy. As I become more aware of this I realize why it is so difficult for me to help other people who are in emotional difficulties. To compound the difficulty I am a male and males are typically wired to be more of a problem solver than just a caring listener. I have been working hard to address that too but am not sure that I've made very much progress. I find it somewhat baffling to know just how to listen to a hurting person without letting my mind rush off into figuring out how to offer suggestions or plunge into the middle of their situation to fix the problems that appear to be causing their pain.

But as I have become more aware of what is really going on inside and what part of my brain I am functioning in, I have had more awareness of my option to choose to switch to a different mode if I am willing. I can turn to God in my mind and ask for more perspective, for more compassion, for more focused attention on what is going on in another person's heart without being so distracted by trying to solve their problems that are frankly beyond my ability to solve anyway. I am realizing that it is not really my job to solve other people's problems – that is God's job. And if I try to take on God's job in other people's lives I will certainly get very bogged down in discouragement and frustration and will end up with a great deal more problems in my own heart that I won't know how to solve very soon.

What I have also realized is that my own fear of entering into more active ministry with others is exposed in what I am learning. Because I am afraid they won't experience dramatic change from my ministry I am secretly afraid people will think less of me and that would be a problem I wouldn't know how to solve. Because I am more focused on getting results than in being willing to be with them and come to God alongside them, I am really living in fear instead of joy and thus am incapacitated for effective ministry.

But as I have chosen to let go of both my problems as well as other's into God's hands I have also begun to sense a feeling of peace and freedom which I suspect is what I am supposed to feel as I move more into the front area of my brain. That is encouraging to me and gives me hope that maybe I too can learn to live more in joy instead of fear and shadows. I want to learn much more how to be genuinely glad to be with people who are hurting as well as those who are rejoicing, while knowing how to act like my unique self. For a true sign of maturity is coming to the place where I can act the same way no matter what emotion I am in or what circumstance threatens me. When I can remember who I am at all times and my connection with God can be alive and real under any circumstance, then my maturity will be to the point where I can become a mentor for others to be attracted to and learn from. I can then show by example how they can connect with God and learn how to act like themselves with their own unique style and personality. And that for me will be a most satisfying and fulfilling source of joy.