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What Christianity Needs to Know About Its Own Decline

Paralleling the experience of so many cities throughout North America, Ottawa is marking the closure of one of its oldest and most iconic churches, the 127-year old St. Matthias Anglican Church. In a building intended to hold 600, the average congregation has dipped to 75. It’s an everyday, almost unremarkable phenomenon of modern life, that even as people are willing to cross continents and look to traditions from the Himalayas and the Far East in search of meaning, the churches that were once the religious backbone of our society seem to exert almost no attraction at all.

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A lot of people have said a lot of things about this from many different viewpoints, and I’m not going to repeat most of it, because, frankly, none of it gets to the heart of the matter. It is no secret that Christianity is in numerical decline in the developed world, or that the most successful churches at this point tend to be on the radical side of the Evangelical movement. Many, long lists of contributing causes have been compiled by writers either seeking to bandage the sucking chest wounds or gleefully celebrate the death of a personal bogeyman.

One Cause

There is only one ultimate cause of the decline of Christianity, without which all the others either would not exist or would not matter. It’s not science or modernity or consumerism or hedonism or any other external factor. It’s not church scandals or liberalism or ecumenism.

The one and only cause of Christian decline is the fact that the real spiritual tradition of Christianity and its understanding of the world is not only dead in most churches, it is so far gone that they it sounds utterly foreign to them.

Libs vs. The Hardcore Crowd

Let’s look at the most basic dichotomy among Christian churches today, which is between those teaching niceness and inclusion and those teaching moralism and exclusion. You can see this dichotomy between the mainstream liberal and evangelical branches of Protestantism, between the modernising and traditionalist parts of Catholicism and so on.

If we look at the Protestant churches of the developed world as a case study, we can see three basic trends that are fairly undeniable, statistically speaking.
1. Liberal Protestant churches are in sharp decline
2. Evangelical Protestant churches are still attracting followers
3. Overall, Protestantism is in decline, whether measured by absolute number of adherents, attendance or by percentage of population

How did this situation come to be? On the one hand, Protestant roots going back to the likes of John Calvin and the Puritans emphasised a particular interpretation of strict Christian practice against the corruption of the Catholic Church. This practice was extremely harsh in its denial of pleasure and its emphasis on hard work, to the point where the Puritan Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas. This kind of alleged Godliness could only hold the imagination for so long. As Protestantism embraced more social causes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became a driver for social change based on the morality of the New Testament- helping those in need, redistribution of wealth, equality of all people before God and the acceptance of everyone.

That shift was a much-needed relief to societies that had long been burdened with a rule-heavy morality and a rather Old Testament conception of a judgmental God. But without the rules that had held sway for so long, it brought on a crisis of what it meant to be Christian. After all, you don’t need to embrace any particular religion to be a nice, tolerant person. From this comes the view of Jesus as a moral teacher of enlightened values. But if that is all Christianity has to offer, then why do we need to go to church, and what, if anything, is the purpose of Christian practice?

The reaction to the resulting crisis of purpose was an inevitable revamping of old Protestant values. We’re not here to be nice! the Evangelical Churches proclaim. We have sinned and can only be saved from damnation because Christ paid our debt to God by dying as a man! Now we have to obey the rules so we don’t fall on his bad side again!

What rules? Well, there’s the rub, there are so many possible rules in each tradition, so many ways in which the rules contradict and so many interpretations that there really is no moral consistency to be had. But that doesn’t matter to the “rules club,” the hardcore Evangelical Protestants, “traditionalist” Catholics and Orthodox. No, they want rules for rules’ sake. We are saved for adhering to a particular ideology and obeying a checklist of rules- the one they happen to be emphasising this week- and anyone who doesn’t can expect fire and brimstone.

Selling Points

So why are these people so successful in marketing their petty, vengeful God and his inhuman checklists of rules? For two reasons.

First, because they’re serious about it. They seem to be offering exactly what the liberals never did- a thoroughgoing approach to Christian life. People are attracted to seriousness, because it feels like they’re actually doing something, like their faith is not superficial.

Second, because they trade on fear. You may remember our post on the difference between religion and spirituality. The core of the religious illness is the attempt to exert control over our destinies by performing ritual and moral actions that will get the deity on our side. Religious rules are a means of exerting control over the universe, of feeling like we’re justified or on the right track. They’re also a means of sorting the good people from the bad people, and we all know how much humans like to have bad people on whom to blame their problems.

The Lost Pearl

And that brings us to the real core of the problem here. From the very beginning, there was a tension in Christianity between principled spiritual life and rules. You can see one of the earliest instances of this in the Acts of the Apostles, when the church in Jerusalem had to decide whether to admit Gentiles. On the one hand, the Jewish Law forbade them to associate with Gentiles. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit had already acted to transform the lives of these people. In that case, the Spirit won, but it has been an uphill battle ever since.

The tradition of theosis, of the transformation of the human person in cooperation with the divine energies of God, is a demanding one. It requires us not to follow a checklist of rules, but to enter upon a deliberate journey into the centre of our being, to face and heal the very sources of our misery, to change the way we as human beings exist. It also requires us to exercise moral discernment rather than depending on rules. Here is what it has to say about the God of juridical Christianity:

“Far be it from us that we should ever think so wicked a thing as that God could become unmerciful. For God’s attributes do not change as those of mortals do.”

“As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.”

– St. Isaac the Syrian

But following the rules is much easier than self-transformation, and certainly much more convenient for an institution governing a large body of followers.  The idea of a divine judge gained almost universal currency in Christianity, while the tradition of theosis was obscured. What the Evangelicals and other rule-bound types embrace is not Christianity, but the rule of rules, the neurobiological sickness of religion which allows people to be assured that if they follow such and such a set of rules, if they associate with the right group and believe the right things, they can control their eternal destiny without in any way challenging the many mental afflictions that they have grown comfortable with.

But today, our society is growing much more aware of the limitations and harmful effects of moralistic rules, and so it is often the case that those who enter strict rule-bound parts of Christianity or their children end up leaving it for good.

The alternatives those alienated ex-Christians and our alienated society look for are those with fewer rules, but a genuine and thoroughgoing approach to self-transformation- in short, those offering real substance up front.

The Challenge

What’s really dying here is not Christianity, but the husk of a shadow of Christ’s teachings. Without a real path of spiritual development that is not overshadowed by the bankrupt morality of juridical Christianity, nothing else will take for very long. In order to change this dynamic of decline, Christians would need to do three very difficult things:

1. Confront the moral inconsistencies of the inherited rules and replace them with consistent adherence to divine love and personal integrity,
2. Rediscover the ancient tradition of self-transformation (theosis) and put it into practice, and
3. Build a community around it that is willing to teach it and live it out.

No existing church is even close to doing this, certainly not the Orthodox Church which claims the tradition of inner prayer as its own. In fact, although the knowledge of the ancient tradition survives only in the Orthodox Church, that illustrious institution largely ignores it in practice. After all, it’s much easier to celebrate the lives of the transformed human beings (saints) of the past than it is to actually do what they’ve told you.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger
~ Anthony S. Rodger, M.A.


The Optimism Trap (yes, really!)

First published February 2012

Here is a simple truth: you control your life. And your thoughts and feelings color your experience like nothing else. How do you view your life? Through rose-colored glasses or with a more negative outlook? This is important because it affects your life in every possible sense. Therefore, remain conscious of the emotions that you cultivate as you go through your day. And you are always deciding which emotions to cultivate as you move through your day. So do you think perhaps making those decisions consciously would be a good idea?

For a long time, we were advised to be optimistic. “Think positive!” was everywhere. Optimism does have some real merit. Research has shown that optimism has positive benefits when applied to ventures such as entrepreneurship – it’s difficult to even imagine taking the risk of starting a new business venture in the face of harsh statistics such as that less than half of new businesses succeed beyond five years. But they do – thanks to optimism. Or take the job hunter who shows up to interview after interview despite the harsh economic climate – he or she has to believe that this next job will be the one! Who would ever take a chance if they didn’t think positively?

Think of the geniuses of recent centuries: from Nicola Tesla to Beethoven, there is one particular trait they had in common. They kept trying where others gave up. Only blind optimism could have led to the discoveries and the music they produced. Here’s a video that details some other famous people who failed at first:

The final line from the above youtube clip, “life = risk”, is the truth. Optimists turn their gaze away from the big possibility “of crashing and burning” and focus instead on the gleaming trophy of success they hope to attain.

Yet as absolutely vital as optimism is to your overall health and to your ability to bring about positive change in your life, there is such a thing as stupid, naive optimism, an optimism that’s self-destructive. This false optimism may give you a false sense of security. Have you ever heard of the expression, “Plan for the worst, hope for the best”? It’s harder than it sounds. Many people just do the second part, and optimistically expect to lose weight or to find their dream job without putting concrete steps into action that will make it happen. The New Orleans politicians knew the levies wouldn’t hold against the sea water in a hurricane, but optimistically thought it couldn’t happen to them. Likewise, many in the current younger generation assume that a fulfilling, well-paying job and a beautiful home will fall into their laps. After living with high expectations all their lives, they grow up to confront a harsher reality in their twenties. Just google “new generation entitlement” to see what I mean.

Optimism can work against us – an MRI scan showed that optimistic people’s brains lit up when told positive statistics, and barely processed negative ones. In many ways, it makes sense that the brain works this way, otherwise how could we get through our daily lives with mortality staring us in the face? But thinking that disaster won’t happen to you can actually endanger your health and safety! Thinking about the worst that could happen can help you think twice about doing that cliff dive or trying a drug “just this once”.

Martin Seligman, psychologist and author of Authentic Happiness, says that, “The idea that optimism is always good is a caricature. It misses realism, it misses appropriateness, it misses the importance of negative emotion.” A huge financial scandal at the head office of my Church is a great illustration. This scandal, which turned out to be a 2 million dollar embezzlement of funds that had been earmarked for victims of 9/11, the Beslan massacre and the Armenian earthquake, was reprehensible and yet many were afraid to stand up and demand justice and transparency. We were told we should “forgive” the perpetrators and “move on”. Well, in that situation, anger was a most appropriate emotion! It was the people who were NOT angry that you had to worry about! And there was one member of the clergy who would just smile and say, “It’s all good” and refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. So inappropriate “positive” emotion, if you can call it that, can actually be a sign of complacency, sycophancy and an appalling lack of personal integrity. When confronted with injustice, tyranny, genocide and other hideous and obvious evils, righteous anger is the appropriate response of a true human being.

However, not all so-called “negative” emotions are not necessarily synonymous with pessimism. Pessimism is often intertwined with crippling and truly negative emotional states such as self-doubt, shame, guilt, a sense of unworthiness, self-image issues and more. Whereas stupid optimism can blind you to real danger, “stupid” pessimism is often a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to self-created disastrous outcomes.

Yes, it’s true that no matter how intelligently optimistic you are, you will suffer occasional “reversals” of fortune. The funny thing is, though, that for those who are intelligently optimistic, these reversals almost always turn out to by huge blessings in disguise. Hence the wisdom of an ancient Taoist parable where the neighbors of a certain farmer continually pronounce every event in the farmer’s life to be unequivocally “good” or “bad”. The farmer, though, is a wise man, so when his son breaks a leg he says “maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad”. Then, when the emperor’s soldiers come by a week later, they find the lad unable to walk and do not draft him into the army. So what had appeared to be a purely negative event had a very positive outcome.

People who have enjoyed success use pessimism to avoid becoming lazy and overconfident about their situations, and to prepare and motivate themselves. But on the other hand, optimism can also motivate, by helping you forget about all the things that could go wrong and helping you keep your eyes on the prize. As a 2011 article in Psychology Today put it: “Optimism can buoy us up when things go wrong; deluged by feelings of hopelessness and despair, optimism is the raft we cling to until the skies clear.”

Bottom line? Both intelligent optimism and intelligent pessimism are positive psychological states and you can use them to improve your daily life now. All you have to do is discern and distinguish them carefully from their counterfeit equivalents – a naive and stupid optimism and a self-defeating pessimism. In the end, this viewpoint will be much more helpful to you than the simplistic idea that all optimism is “good” and all pessimism is “bad”.

As an exercise, try taking stock of your own internal optimistic and pessimistic states over the next week or so – are you using them wisely or destructively?

Good luck!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Leadership Excellence: Attract and Retain Great People Part 2

So, talented people are breaking down your door. What do you do next? Back to basics. Forget about what other people say your applicants can do (their degrees and references) and forget about what they can persuade you they can do (their interview skills). What can they show you that they’ve done? What are the basic skills they actually need for their job? Tip: in a lot of cases, skills such as writing, reading, research skills, problem solving and constructive teamwork are things you actually need far more than any of the nonsense qualifications that usually adorn job notices.

So, give them some problem-solving assignments to allow them to demonstrate these qualities. Let them show how their skills and creativity can benefit you. All the people who spend their lives colouring inside the lines, all the people who get ahead by kissing asses, all the people who skated through higher education without learning basic skills can be quickly weeded out, leaving you with highly-motivated people ready to contribute.

 

How Not to Keep Good People Around

So, you’ve hired creative, talented people who are willing and able to improve your business… and slowly it dawns on them that they won’t be allowed to do that. Maybe it’s a problem of bureaucracy, poor business processes, or simply poor leadership.

Well, that’s no biggie for the employee. Statistics overwhelmingly show that we are living in a post-loyalty economy. The workforce has finally woken up to the fact that, with the era of stable employment ended due to the bottomless stupidity of corporations, they really have no reason to be loyal to any organisation that isn’t loyal to them. If you won’t let them move forward, they’re not going to stick around.

You may have seen and, no doubt, been on the receiving end of some of the many, many ways in which organisations of every kind squelch or drive out talent. Make a note of these self-destructive behaviours, not only to avoid them when you find yourself in a leadership position, but to know when to jump ship when you see them happening around you:

Overloading your team with menial admin: If you can’t keep the administrative burden contained and within the purview of those individuals who have the talent for dealing with it, don’t expect your people to get anything done.

Poor incentive structure: If your people can’t grow with their contributions, the organisation’s finished. Even in a small business, the employees should grow with the business they’re helping to build. You need to make sure that people get both recognition and remuneration proportionate to their contributions, and above all, that credit is not stolen by their superiors. In many organisations, people who are “politically adept” (I believe that’s the PC term for “slimy”) advance, while the competent and talented (read “too honest”) are left behind. Tap into that pool, and see the difference it makes.

Giving people jobs they’re not suited for: People must be able to build careers where their talent and passion lies, and not shunted into something they hate. Even within the same position, employees may find themselves loaded down with jobs that have nothing to do with what they signed up for.

Constant changes of direction: Even in a rapidly-changing economy, you need to give your people a reliable direction and long-term goals to invest their time in. If you’re always reactively changing direction, if the ground is always shifting under their feet, they’ll just give up trying.

Failure to invest in training: If you want the talents of your people to grow (and some HR departments don’t, lest they ask for more money- you can’t have your cake and eat it too), you have to let them continue their training and form connections in the industry.

These are only the problems that directly affect career motivation. This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on the many other ways in which poor leadership and defective organisational culture collude to crush the morale of employees (Heck, that’s a whole other list with 45 bullet points!).

But the central and most basic cultural problems that drive away talent are a top-down command structure and a cheap-labour approach.

A top-down hierarchical structure is very efficient for producing cars on an assembly line, but for most emerging businesses, it is a talent-squelching liability. Have you ever had a boss who pretended to consult you on some problem and then did the opposite of what you told him was the only sane option? Or announced a major change of direction as a fait accompli?

The problem with both the top-down structure and the cheap-labour approach is that while both temporarily make things simpler and cheaper for management, the organisation will not grow or improve. Management will never know what contributions their employees could have made, because they actively deter them from trying to contribute.

But if you’re among the leaders who’ve realised that the only way forward in the modern world is to make full use of the talents of your people, then you have to meet them half way. If you want them to be loyal, you have to start by being loyal to them. Your people and their talents should be the source and driver of your growth and your direction, and they need the leeway and the incentives to do that.

 

The video above applies to a millennial retention effort, although clearly its effects go beyond just that generation. But as you watched it, you may have been thinking, “Here’s a company that half gets it, but only half.” They’re certainly trying to create a pleasant work environment. But that is only half the battle. You can pile on all the cakes you want, but core question for any talented person is, “Are my talents producing positive impact, or are they being wasted?”

You may have experienced organisations that hire “change consultants” to mollify their workforces during a restructuring process. But the problem isn’t the employees’ fear of change. They should be the drivers of change, not its victims. Their ideas and initiatives should be a permanent and abiding source of adaptation for the organisation. This is the bottom line. If your employees aren’t being allowed to contribute on that level, then their talent is going to waste.

 

Teach a Company to Fish…

Every one of you will at some point be in a leadership position, whether in business, the public sector, non-profits or elsewhere. The single most important thing you can do as a leader is attract and retain talented, competent, creative people with the capacity to improve your business.

In order to do that, you need to recognise all of the poor leadership you’ve ever been subjected to for what it really is- the baggage of a bygone era. If you can engage the creative genius of your people from the beginning of the search process and sustain that engagement throughout their time with you, then talent will flock to you. Remember, it’s all about the basics- not management and employee, but what we can create together.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger
~ Anthony S. Rodger, M.A.


Leadership Excellence: Attract and Retain Great People Part 1

Whether you own a small business or work for a large company, non-profit or simply volunteer in your community, chances are you will find yourself having to lead and possibly recruit other people. Attracting and retaining talent is a huge issue for every type of organisation out there, and a big trouble spot for many corporate balance sheets.

So whether you’re wondering why:

• You’ve become “aggressively disinterested” in your own workplace, or…
• You can’t find a workplace you like, or…
• All the most talented people you’re trying to hire are yawning during their job interviews,

…just read on!

 

 

Bad Advice

Naturally, there’s a ton of advice to be found on this subject. Unfortunately, most of it is bad.

Why? Because it’s pretty much all grounded in the nineteenth century idea that employees are basically commodities to be selected from a list of requirements, used and disposed of- an attitude implicit in the term “Human Resources”. People working from this point of view try to slap all kinds of fancy new features on this crashed operating system, from open-concept workplaces to new recruitment initiatives for millennials to social media network-based recruitment. This keeps consultants busy, but the point they’re all missing is that the Human Resources approach is based on a self-defeating premise. But that’s alright, because there’s an analogue solution of elegant simplicity.

Back to Basics

If you really want to excel at drawing talented people to you, motivating them and getting them to stick around, there’s no getting around the fact that you have to dump this industrial-age claptrap. The emerging economy is starting to punish organisations that objectify their workforces, and so is the talent pool.

So, what’s the alternative? Let’s go back to basics for a moment. Forget for about organisations, companies, employers and employees. Let’s assume that none of those concepts exist, and your sole job is facilitation. Human beings are by nature creators, as well as beings with needs and wants. When you approach anyone, you should have two questions:
– What do you [want to] create?
– What do you most need or want?

Talk to enough people, you can begin to match the creative talent to the people who want what it produces, and to the people who can collaborate to make it better. Sounds almost too simple, right? And it would- after a couple of centuries’ worth of industrial propaganda, we can hardly remember a time when human beings worked for their own and each others’ benefit and not for the benefit of the company, the shareholders or some other organisation.

The truth is that the best leaders can take this approach and make it practical and profitable for everyone.

What Not To Do

As you may have seen, when many organisations go talent-hunting, the first thing they do is make a shopping list, representing an imaginary ideal array of traits, experience and training that their ideal employee should have. They then devise a series of hoops through which their candidates must jump to demonstrate that they meet these criteria. They are, in effect, looking for their perfect commodity and testing to make sure they’ve got it, much as an aerospace company might test a new alloy.

The moment you take this approach, you’re setting yourself up for failure. All you’ve done is create a series of barriers that prevent you from actually getting to know your potential coworkers and letting them get to know what you’re all about. Why do we say that? Because all those qualifications and years of experience don’t represent ability. They’re conventionalised proxies for ability, just as interviews and tests are proxies for workplace competence. None of these things guarantees you’ll get the people who can do the job well, let alone the people who can drive your organisation forward. All this process guarantees is an increasingly cynical talent pool exhaustedly jumping through your hoops without any idea of whether or not you’re actually what they’re looking for.

Worse, that list of requirements is not based on what’s possible. It’s based on preconceptions about what your organisation does now and how it does it. It’s an approach designed to fit a new cog into the machine. If you really want to get ahead, you need the people who can transform whatever processes you assign them to oversee. You need people whose ideas and efforts can help you grow, not remain static.

Two related problems with this approach are over-pitching and feathering. Over-pitching means requiring qualifications, experience and talent you won’t be able to fully utilise in the position. You can guarantee that anyone whose talents you can’t utilise fully is going to leave as soon as possible. Feathering means adding requirements that aren’t objectively necessary to be able to do the job, but serve to exclude a great deal of the talent that’s out there. If the people who would be willing to do the job, feel themselves able to do it, but don’t have those extraneous qualifications are driven away, and those who do have the qualifications look and say “What? I could do so much more,” who are you left with?

Check any job board – it’s guaranteed, there will be dozens of postings that have hung around for months or years because of feathering. You have to be willing to take in and train people new to your industry, especially for the lower level jobs, because, and I can’t emphasise this enough, the people with experience don’t need to put up with morons who think that an MA in economics and five years’ experience is necessary to push paper and write e-mails.

Who to Hire and How

So, if the old process in all of its incarnations doesn’t work, then what does? Again, back to basics. What does your organisation/company need? What does it want to build? What are its core principles? What are yours? Anyone who looks at their organisation and says “This is good like it is” either doesn’t care anymore or is comfortable and incompetent. There’s always room for growth and improvement. If you want to find talent, then tell the world what you want to do and why. Tip: “We want to increase our profit margins because money is good,” and “We want to execute someone else’s policies ‘cause, like, they pay us” are both wrong answers. If your mission is inspirational, people will break down your doors with good ideas that they want to contribute. If you can’t do that, then give people a problem to solve, a process to improve. Engage their creativity, and they’ll come.

In Part-2, we’ll cover the all-important next phase: what to do when those talented people start banging on your door. Yes, that’s a great position for you to be in as an organisation, but ONLY if you know how to handle it…


Stress: Give Your Brain a Fighting Chance!

Based upon Dr. Bruce McEwen’s Herzberg Lecture “The Brain on Stress: Novel Epigenetic Mechanisms of Brain Plasticity”, delivered at Carleton University 19 November 2015

Your body is an adaptive organism. It adjusts to the environment it finds itself in. When that environment includes significant amounts of stress, dozens of important biological changes take place, changes that impact your ability to live your life.

The first, most important thing to understand is that scientists at the cutting edge of this research are nowhere close to having all of the body’s responses to stress mapped out. But many of the most interesting responses have to do with the brain.

The Brain Changes

In people experiencing prolonged stress, the hippocampus, the region of your brain most directly responsible for processing stress, shrinks dramatically. You’d almost think that was good news. The problem is, the same mechanism that gets you worked up about stressful situations is the mechanism that helps stimulate you in general. The more stress, the less you can actually motivate yourself.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the same neurotransmitter chemicals that are released in response to stress are very important in terms of epigenetics- they help to determine which of your genes get expressed in any given cell at any given time. For the brain, this means that cells begin to produce excess free radicals- molecules that are normally part of your body’s immune system but which lead to cell death if they build up.

With prolonged stress, the dendritic connections in that part of your brain, the neural pathways that you depend on to function properly, recede and begin to break down. The only new pathways being formed under chronic stress are ones that are impacted by the imbalanced neurochemical environment created by that stress- in other words, you’re learning how to be stressed.

These reactions are the sort of thing designed to help us survive periods of scarcity- in fact, in some ways they look a lot like the reaction of a hibernating brain. Unfortunately, since most of our stress is human-created rather than anything to do with danger or absolute scarcity, these responses don’t help us much.

Another side-effect of chronic stress is that your circadian rhythm becomes disrupted, usually resulting in insomnia. This in turn reduces your ability to process stress.

The Brain Grows Back

Two definite factors that quickly and reliably reverse the epigenetic process, change the neurochemical balance and help your brain regenerate to a normal state are regular exercise- even studies which involved senior citizens in low-impact exercise for an hour a day over a period of time found vast improvement- and intense learning. Mindfulness meditation has also shown promise, as has a reduced diet. But by far the most powerful positive impact comes from a sense of meaning and purpose in life, combined with social integration.

On the other hand, there are a number of factors known to increase neural impairment over the course of a lifetime. These include a lack of intellectual stimulation, a chaotic or unsupportive/distant home life and lack of exercise in childhood.

For more on the benefits of meditation for stress, check out the TEDx talk below:

Trauma

Sudden traumatic events produce a different impact than chronic stress. In this case, the problem, especially the first time around, is that you may not have the capacity to produce enough of the right neurotransmitter to fully process the stress. When this happens, your body will tend to overcorrect, and after about ten days your brain will be fully keyed in to respond to that kind of stress. That’s why one experimental intervention for post-traumatic stress involves injecting glucocorticoids, the neurotransmitter in question, within a short time after a major trauma, to let the victims physiologically process what happened to them.

PTS after a single major incident, therefore, may have a lot to do with not being able to respond to it at the time. Repeated traumas act differently, acting on the amygdala, the part of your brain that helps you control stress. As a result, you begin to respond to different levels of stressor with the same intensity your body has learned to bring to life-or-death situations.

Finding a Way Forward

When we look at the many responses of the brain to its environment, and add to that the wider context of epigenetic change and the sophisticated system of brain-body interaction that leads to the emotional and biochemical state called Survival Mode, we risk getting lost in a system of baffling complexity. At the same time, the options we have for usefully addressing chronic stress may seem both too many and insufficient to the task.

And that is so. If you’ve lived years with chronic stress or anxiety, you will not conquer it by making minor adjustments to your lifestyle. An active mind, exercise, meditation, these are all useful tools, but none of them can replace having a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.

Stress and the Warrior

A blog post is no place to cover what could fill a book! Suffice to say that for the true practitioner of Warriorship, the ultimate “anti-stress weapon” is simply mind-body integration. Sadly, few people ever realize this consciously, even if they dabble in practices that promote this integration, like that Yoga class at your local fitness center or the Tai Chi class nearest you. The catch is this…

Can you find a way to assimilate the small tastes of mind-body integration you get in classes like those into every moment of your life, as you go through your day? When you can do this, your TAO will reveal itself to you and you will be a true Warrior who understands the magic of life.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


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