11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection June 25, 2017
Brain Health: A Happy and Healthy Brain
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
On Wednesday, June 28, I’ll be leading a discussion on “Brain Health: Strategies for a Happy and Healthy Brain.” This presentation will take place from 11 am until noon in our air-conditioned parlor (with refreshments!) and then again from 7:00 pm until 8:00 PM at Beverly Unitarian Church (103rd and Longwood). On Thursday, July 6, from 2:00 until 3:00 pm, I will offer this same presentation at Smith Village (everyone is welcome to any of the three lecture opportunities!)
Much of what I present will hopefully come from an all-day workshop on brain health that I’ll attend on Friday, June 23, in Tinley Park. (I need 30 hours of continuing education credit every two years to keep my state license as a professional counselor.)
I’m hopeful this presentation will aid all of us in learning how to keep our brains in the best possible working order. As the Book of Proverbs notes: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Proverbs 23:7 (New American Standard) In other words, what we think has a great impact on who we really are.
Our thinking is intimately connected with the physiological workings of our brains. We, humans, possess large brains (3 pounds on average) but we are not the biggest-brained creatures on the planet. Sperm whales have brains weighing 18 pounds. Then come elephants (12 pound brains) and dolphins (3.5 pounds). Humans are number 4 on the “big brain” list.
It is very easy to damage our brains. Falls - hits to the head - car accidents - playing tackle football (especially as children) - drugs - alcohol and many other factors contribute to brain damage. When our brains are damaged - we wind up thinking in ways that are not healthy. A damaged brain leads not only to damaged and dangerous thinking but also to perennially-damaged and destructive lives.
As Dr. Daniel Amen writes in Healing the Hardware of the Soul: Enhance Your Brain to Improve Your Work, Love, and Spiritual Life: “Healthy character and moral development are highly dependent on healthy brain development and function … Who we are, in large part, is shaped by brain function ... Damage to the brain from infection, trauma, malnutrition, or exposure to toxins such as alcohol or drugs can damage our moral character.”
Amen goes on to discuss many of the difficulties afflicting so many in our society. He points out: “Due to poor activity in the PFC (prefrontal cortex portion of the brain - the most important section of our brain for healthy thinking), people with ADD (attention-deficit disorder) tend to unconsciously seek conflict or look for problems where none exist as a way to stimulate activity in this part of the brain.”
When various sections of our brain become either under-active or overactive, problems arise. For example, “an overactive anterior cingulated gyrus can cause problems with rigidity and inflexibility … People who suffer from an overactive anterior cingulated gyrus may become very upset when things are not done exactly as they wish or when plans are not followed precisely as defined.”
Our thoughts provide us various options - including the vital option of empathy - sensing what another feels. But when we “get stuck” - we become incapable of empathy. We get stuck within our own ideas, our own beliefs, our own ideologies.
I believe people driven by inflexible ideologies become incapable of healthy thinking. This is true in religion as well as in politics. It matters little if a person is caught in a web on the right or a web on the left. Caught is caught!
Many are trapped in “a spider’s web” because of intolerant thinking. “I am right - you are wrong” can easily lead to damaged and dangerous thinking. I suspect hostility and hatred damage our brains and make hostility and hatred even more likely.
“Flexibility (in thought) and cooperation are vital to being able to empathize with others. Empathy is the foundation for a well-developed moral character. Without empathy, we can’t feel how others respond to our actions, or we may not care. With empathy, we are able to sense vicariously what others feel when we connect with them and in so doing build lasting emotional bounds.” (Dr. Amen)
Now I certainly feel better when I’m around people who think as I do. I’ve admittedly grown weary of people insisting I believe as they do. In my former denomination, those in charge, those in authority, demanded I believe according to set doctrines - set dogmas - set creeds. I feel so much freer as an American Baptist where I can believe as God’s Spirit leads me to believe.
This, of course, doesn’t mean I cannot be wrong in what I think - in what I believe. We’ve all been graciously given free will - which is God’s gift to be wrong! I vigorously defend my right to be wrong. I vigorously defend your right to be wrong. This, I believe, lies at the core of our beloved Baptist “Soul Liberty.”
It’s my hope that at this up-coming workshop on brain health, I’ll be able to supply us with very practical advice on keeping our brains happy and healthy. Our brain health matters!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor