In an unpredictably violent world it’s hard to think straight. This isn’t all bad. In dangerous moments our survival often depends on reactions that enable us to act quickly either in our own behalf or for the sake of others—when we don’t have time to think.
Way too often, however, we all end up doing or saying things that we later regret, especially when our survival reactions are clouded by past memories or a misunderstanding of what is really happening.
In a book called Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., the author describes findings of neurobiology that help us understand how deeply rooted in our brains and memories our natural reactions are. In Siegel’s words, “Clusters of neurons in the brainstem…come into play when certain conditions seem to require a rapid mobilization of energy distribution throughout the body and brain. This so-called fight-flight-freeze array of responses is responsible for our survival at times of danger.”
To do this, Siegel goes on to say, the region of our brainstem actually overrides other parts of our brain in the cerebral cortex area that normally help us to be reasonable, relational, and emotionally attuned to others needs. In other words, the brainstem (that also regulates our hearts and lungs without conscious thought), can shut down the higher sense of reason that can keep us from unnecessarily losing our minds in moments of fear and anger.
According to Siegel, understanding how our brain function can help us to realize what is happening in us—in those meltdown moments, when we suddenly find ourselves doing and saying unreasonable things that unnecessarily disrupt both reason and relationships.
The Bible seems to be speaking to some of the same natural inclinations when it talks about our need learn the ways of the spirit to overcome the flesh (Gal 5:13-26). While the psychology of neurobiology speaks of the differences between our reptilian (lower brain) and our mammalian (higher brain), the Scriptures speak of cultivating minds renewed in the Spirit and ways of Christ.
In Christ, however, we find more than an understanding of the miraculous brains given to us by our Creator. We also get a “mindsight” that offers us mercy, grace, and love in our temporary, insecure, and all too often violent existence.
If it were not for the immortality, love, and security of an eternal Father, rescuing Son, and ever present Spirit, we wouldn’t have the ultimate answers that give us reason to not return insult for insult and evil for evil.
This is not to say that, in accepting the spirit and ways of Christ, we give up all sense of justice and self-protection. Rather it is to say that we have reason to help one another, day after day, to learn to rise above the kind of mindless, angry, self-protective trigger instincts that so often make matters worse.
May this day be refreshed with the mindsight of Christ— instead of the anger of mindless fear—where the ways of the spirit are still possible.