Chronicles in Ordinary Time 83: The Search for Meaning, Part Two

I meant to send this out later in the week; I just watched a movie that changed my mind.

Della's BrainDella’s Brain

We can change the way we think.

The flashes of light in the above image represent the electro-chemical signals that cross between connections in our neurons. The flashes of light represent thoughts in Della’s mind. What those thoughts are, are known only to Della…

Our brains contain thousands of neurons, and tens of thousands of connections between those neurons. Dr. Eagleman, quoted in Chronicles in Ordinary Time 82, comments that about twice as many connections are created in our brains in the first two years of life than we normally use as adults. I don’t think these connections disintegrate, they simply stop being used. The fading of memory isn’t due to degradation of the nerve cells that make the connections; it’s simply due to the fact that we aren’t using those connections very often. The pattern, the map, between those connections and our conscious mind is still there; it just takes a while for the connections to be made.

We have the ability to make new connections between the neurons that register ideas, and we have the ability to think in new ways. During the teenage years we start questioning our parents’ beliefs; we can choose to follow them, or not. We can make new connections between our ‘stockpile’ of past experiences and sensations, and come to new conclusions. These new conclusions can change our lives.

We can change the way we think.

Prejudice starts in the mind.

Hatred starts in the mind.

Healing starts in the mind.

My appendix ruptured in 1988, and I came close to dying from peritonitis—an infection of the membranes that hold our internal organs in place. The docs pumped me full with antibiotics, and killed my immune system while killing off the bacteria. A ‘napalm process’—while killing off the bacteria that was damaging my body, the bacteria that aids my body was killed off as well. For the first few months, I caught every germ that entered the Portland Building.

I did a lot of research during the 6 months it took me to fully recover; I discovered that adult-onset appendicitis was frequently a result of stress that had occurred in the patient’s life. For most of the year before the appendicitis attack, I was heavily involved in the fund-raising for, and the care of my sister, who needed a liver transplant. I firmly believe that the circumstances around her transplant were miraculous—I perceived the working of the Creator in the events that took place, and soon the events began running ahead of us.

I realized that if Donna’s new liver was connected to the Miraculous, then my appendicitis was in some way an extension of that miracle process. I don’t believe in coincidence. I don’t believe in accidents. I gave my life to my Creator 40 years ago, and asked [Him] to direct the events of my life. Therefore, the appendicitis wasn’t a surprise to the Creator; it was only a surprise to me.

In the early weeks of recovery from the peritonitis, it became clear to me that there was a ‘connection’ between my experience of a diseased appendix and past anger that I had toward my Dad; the anger wasn’t so much about the man he was, or what he did, but the reality of the father he wasn’t; the father I had wanted. He wasn’t very good with Grace; I doubt that he’d ever experienced it. I could be wrong—we never talked.

I realized that the anger I had felt toward him was gone—the burst appendix was like a boil that had been lanced. New connections had been made while I slept for days. I believe I was Healed. The healing of my anger did not remove the patterns of behavior I had learned while protecting myself from my Dad’s loud behavior. Changing many of
those patterns became part of the work of bringing my own children into this world.

I realized that my Dad was probably very much like his father, and that family of wheat ranchers—he didn’t know how to do things differently, because he hadn’t had a different role model. I decided, with the help of a lot of books and tapes, that I could cause myself to become more like the father I had wanted. I could change my life. It required the making of a lot of new connections in my brain.

I grew up without a concept of faith. The Creator wasn’t a part of my thinking until my college years; and the change of thinking mostly came from religious people who got in my face… And then the Creator ‘hit me upside the head’ in my third year; and I started making a serious change in the direction I traveled. It was at least a 45-degree turn, maybe as much as a 90-degree turn. I began looking at the circumstances and emotions of my life, and started seeing them in a new light. This is the actual definition of the word that is translated from the Hebrew and Latin as “repent.”

“God loves you and has a plan for your life”—a phrase that usually gets heard when bad stuff happens in one’s life. Often the people who say such things don’t really think about the concept that in effect says, ‘oh, God gave you cancer so that you can learn something.’ I’ve struggled with such concepts for the last 40 years. One of the guys in my life at present is angry at the god he doesn’t believe in because that god
allows people to be tortured by pain and death. He sees his cancer-related pain as torture that keeps him from being able to do the things he wants to do with what’s left of his life.

I experience a large amount of pain each day; several neurologists have no idea why it has occurred. “Idiopathic sensory nerve disorder.” A description, rather than a diagnosis. I have pain all over, even in places that have no external sense of touch. The most likely candidate [meaning, the one that hasn’t yet been ruled out] for a cause appears to be the large amounts of analgesics and muscle relaxants I consumed while working for the City of Portland for 14 years. I got through each
day on pain meds and I possibly poisoned myself in the process. Now I work at living without pain meds, in hopes that some of the damaged neurons will heal. Instead of viewing my pain as torture, I use it to help me learn compassion for a whole lot of people who deal with much larger health challenges. It’s a matter of perspective. The pain doesn’t disappear, but the fear of pain can diminish. I learn not to react to pain.

Does God have a plan for my life? I think ‘the plan’ is that I was created with a brain that is capable of changing the way I perceive the world. I learn to make new connections in my brain when I encounter new situations. I don’t believe that anything will happen in my life that is larger than the Creator can use for [His] own purposes. Occasionally it seems as though the Creator dips a hand into the ‘river of my life,’ and alters the flow; usually this happens in a manner that I cannot prove, and it usually only has a direct effect on me. Broken cars that mysteriously come back to life without the aid of a mechanic or tools; events that come strangely together in a manner I could not predict. However, the Creator is not a genie; I can’t rub a lamp and get my wishes fulfilled.

Shit happens in my life; and good stuff happens in my life. I can change my attitude toward the rotten stuff by making a conscious decision to view life differently. I know each day that I am surrounded by the prayers of people who pray for me. Some of you who are reading these words are lifted up in prayer by me, each day. Some of you are supported in prayer by people you don’t know, because I’ve told others of your needs. I think the prayer makes it easier to make new connections in your brains; and these changes can strengthen the soul we cannot see.

I can’t download faith into anyone. I wish I could. There IS Light in the darkness; and that Light is on a wavelength that is easy to miss unless you are looking for it. Sort of like Luminol fluorescing when in the presence of ‘alternate light sources’. Or wearing 3D glasses to watch the movie—there’s a depth to life we can’t normally see, because it isn’t hardwired into our brains. We have to choose to look for it, and keep working at seeing the Light in the midst of ever-growing darkness.

Stars [1926]“Stars” Maxfield Parrish [1926]



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