Our Brains Are Amazing, Aren’t They?
An amazing aspect of being human is our human brain. With your brain you can
compose a new tune, think a new, marvelous idea and then share that idea with others
with writing or speech, create new worlds, visit in your thoughts and dreams that lovely
group of trees with a stream flowing through or that great mountain with a tree growing
out of its shoulder. May you notice these wonders and take time to be thankful for
An annoying aspect of being human is our human brain. With your brain you can
revisit the pain, trauma, embarrassment or disappointment in your past, often far in your
past. You can measure yourself against someone else’s standards and come up
wanting. You can make up a story about things that have not happened yet and that
you cannot fully control and then worry yourself into a deep hole. You can pay too
much attention to the board meeting going on in your head. You can listen to the voices
of doubt, regret, and fear, and lose sight of what is important right now.
Recently I was given an interesting tool to pull from my mental toolbox and wield
in response to the annoying workings of my brain. The tool is two questions to ask
The first question is “Are these thoughts useful?” Sometimes the annoying
thoughts are useful – to alert us to repeated poor judgment or harmful actions that we
risk repeating, or to focus our attention when we are running on autopilot (which of
course is our brain’s default mode). You can add to this list of potentially useful aspects
of troubling thoughts.
The second question is “How does believing these thoughts make me behave?”
If you have answered the first question convincingly as “No”, you really need to answer
this second question. How you behave matters not just to you, but to everyone you
touch, your behavior having the capacity to cause harm in expanding circles of
connections. If you answered the first question “Yes”, that the thoughts are useful, then
you still need to look at the second questions, because your behavior may or may not
be helping. Or, maybe worse, you will discover that you are avoiding helpful changes in
how you live your life with yourself and with others.
All of us have been through traumatic times, certainly over the last four years.
Some in our community (however wide you wish to define that) objectively have
suffered more than others, but all of us have been touched. The solution is, I think, from
Torah – Love the humans around you as yourself. To be loving to others, which may be
our prime directive, we first must love ourselves. May you deploy whatever tools work
for you towards this goal of loving yourself and loving others.
With blessings for a peaceful and healthy week,