FEATURED ARTICLE: RECOVERING THE VIRTUE OF HUMILITY

When we as Christians need to be reminded that humility is a virtue, we might be in a spot of trouble. Such is the point made in a recent New York Times op-ed. The author, Peter Wehner, laments the dearth of humility today and seeks to recall Christians to this quiet virtue. He’d like to see more of it not just in our churches but also in civic life and especially in the political sphere. I certainly second that motion.

I was especially interested in the way Wehner defines two kinds of humility: moral and epistemological:

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I have become convinced that Christians should be characterized by moral humility. This doesn’t mean followers of Jesus should be indifferent to a moral order grounded in eternal truths or unable to judge some things right and others wrong. But they ought to be alert first and foremost to their own shortcomings — to the awareness of how wayward our own hearts are, how even good acts are often tainted by selfish motives, how we all struggle with brokenness in our lives.

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Epistemological humility should also characterize Christians . . . This doesn’t mean one ought to live in a state of perpetual doubt and uncertainty. If we did, we could never speak up for justice and moral truth. It does mean, however, that we’re aware that what we know is at best incomplete. “We see through a glass darkly” is how St. Paul put it in one of his letters to the Corinthians: We know only in part.

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Perhaps we could usefully think of humility as a spiritual practice, one that grounds us and helps us relate to God and our community. Might we also be called to humility as writers? Surely so. As we put words to screens and paper, we come up against all that we do not know and cannot express. We rely on one another and on God to try to come up with a fuller picture.

Read this op-ed in the New York Times.

FEATURED ARTICLE: LESS FACEBOOK, MORE FACE TO FACE

We all know that social media has changed the way we interact with other people. In many cases, these changes are positive: for one thing, we don’t even have to get dressed before saying hello to our friends and acquaintances in the morning! On a more serious note, social media helps us meet people all over the globe and make new social and business connections. I’ve benefited a lot from this kind of networking.

Yet social media problems like internet addiction and low self-esteem are on the rise. A new study summarized in the Harvard Business Review appears to confirm that Facebook use (the study remains focused on this particular social media outlet) leads to a decline in personal well-being. Social media can’t substitute for face to face interactions in the real world. I’ll remember that as I go schedule this post on Twitter and Facebook . . .

Here are some findings from the study:

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Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year.

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Overall our results suggests that well-being declines are also matter of quantity of use rather than only quality of use. If this is the case, our results contrast with previous research arguing that the quantity of social media interaction is irrelevant, and that only the quality of those interactions matter.

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While screen time in general can be problematic, the tricky thing about social media is that while we are using it, we get the impression that we are engaging in meaningful social interaction. Our results suggest that the nature and quality of this sort of connection is no substitute for the real world interaction we need for a healthy life.

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Besides all this, we should remember that more social media time leads to less writing time . . . right?

Read more.

FEATURED ARTICLE: IMAGINING YOUR FUTURE SELF

We’re often told, these days, to try to live in the present. We know we shouldn’t dwell on the past or fret about the future. In fact, so much of contemplative prayer is about being present in the moment, in the now.

But as people of faith, there is a way in which we should also be future-minded. We’re aware that our best self lies ahead, in the person God is creating us to be. To look to the future is to keep hope alive.

This applies to other areas of our life, too. Leadership coach Peter Bregman says that for the sake of the work and the projects we really care about, we need to practice being our future selves. We should move toward what we’re becoming, even if it doesn’t feel very productive right now.

So . . . what is it that you see in your future? Do you want to write? Keep writing, even if you don’t think you’re very good. Don’t put if off! Walk toward your future writerly self.

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If you want to be productive, the first question you need to ask yourself is: Who do I want to be? Another question is: Where do I want to go? Chances are that the answers to these questions represent growth in some direction. And while you can’t spend all your time pursuing those objectives, you definitely won’t get there if you don’t spend any of your time pursuing them.

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Here’s the key: You need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In other words — and this is the hard part — if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.

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Sometimes you need to be irresponsible with your current challenges in order to make real progress on your future self. You have to let the present just sit there, untended. It’s not going away and will never end.

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Read more.

FEATURED ARTICLE: WHY IT’S RIGHT TO GET THINGS WRONG

Do you ever feel like you always get it wrong – in your writing, art, or another area of your life? If so, you may be on the right track. A number of artists and scientists believe that a willingness to make mistakes is essential to the creative personality. As painful as it is, going backwards can help move us forward.

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings offers a host of quotes from noted scientists and artists about the role of error in the creative process. These thoughts certainly encourage me as I hit the delete button again and again and again . . .

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‘If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes,’ Van Gogh wrote in a magnificent letter to his brother about how taking risks and making inspired mistakes moves us forward.

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Discovery is made with tears and sweat … by people who are constantly getting the wrong answer. And it is not possible to eliminate it because that is the nature of looking for imaginative likenesses.

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Progress is the exploration of our own error.

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Read more.

Featured Article: A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind

We have many, many ways to avoid being present in the moment. We can interrupt ourselves as often as we like. And now it appears that a Harvard study of happiness and contentment has linked these constant interruptions as detrimental to our happiness.

A wandering mind that isn’t focused or fully present for an activity or task is often an unhappy mind.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to Christians who practice contemplation, as mindfulness and awareness of our thoughts saves us from their tyranny and enables us to trust our worries and concerns with God.

However, it’s still helpful to see how the wisdom of our faith has strong backing from science:

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“A recent Harvard study reveals that stray thoughts and wandering minds are directly related to unhappiness. The study discovered that those with constantly wandering minds were less likely to be happy than those able to focus on the tasks at hand.”

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“Csikszentmihalyi, often called the grandfather of positive psychology, found that our happiest moments are when we are in the state of flow. In this state, we are highly alert. We are totally focused with one-pointed attention. This focus–this mindfulness of being in the moment–is when true happiness spontaneously arises.”

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“Flow allows you to truly and deeply live your life as it unfolds in the here and now. Perhaps this is why the latest research continues to confirm that mindfulness increases happiness–to be mindful is to truly experience life and make the most out of every moment.”

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Read more.

 

Featured Article: How to Find Time to Meditate

If you’re new to meditation or contemplative prayer practices, sometimes it helps to read through a simple starters guide with basic tips and practices. Here’s a short overview from LifeHack that covers many of the practices that I have found most helpful. The second quote in particular could fall under the practice of the examen, which you can learn more about in the Resource page.

 

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“Start with simple breathing exercises during the day i.e. during lunch hours, right after you wake up or before the sleep, you can easily integrate meditation in your daily routine just by doing focused breathing exercises for just brief period of time.”

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“Welcoming of all the feelings and sensations makes you accept things as they are and will further calm you down. Stop resisting your feelings and welcome everything. In time, you’ll be able to experience the complete benefits of meditation just by doing this.”

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Read more.

Featured Article: Learn to Meditate While Walking

Taking my oldest son on a daily walk helped introduce me to contemplative prayer practices as I finally faced my thoughts, let them run their course, and could finally let my mind settle into a place of rest. If you struggle to get started with contemplative prayer by sitting in a quiet room by yourself, these tips for meditating while walking may prove helpful.

Of course I also recommend learning to approach prayer from a sitting position since that can prove restful once you get the hang of it. However, if you need a starting point, this article could help:

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“Unlike guided meditation, which asks you to clear your head of all thoughts (often producing the opposite effect), walking naturally allows your mind to go quiet. While you might start your walk thinking of everything that you need to do today, or this week, after a while, the rhythm of your footfall and movement acts as a focus, allowing you to just focus on the road ahead of you.”

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“Studies have shown that connecting to nature on a regular basis, whether that is through walking, gardening, or animal care, can improve your mood and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression.”

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“Once you’ve given your mind a chance to clear, and not think for a while, it allows you to approach the issue from a fresh perspective.”

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Read more here. 

 

 

 

Featured Article: How to Face Digital Addiction

This week’s featured article discusses the possibility of a digital addictions disorder (DAD) that could impact roughly 5% of Americans and could impact as many as 30% of people in countries with frequent internet use.

Heavy internet gaming and social media use can distract us from work, interrupt our relationships, and ultimately change the ways that our brains function and seek pleasure or rewards. While most of us need to be online for one reason or another, we all need to recognize the signs of a problem.

Here are a few key quotes to consider from the article:

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“A digital addiction is comparable to addictions such as food or drugs in its obsessive nature. As is the case with all addictions, they influence the brain – both in the connections between the cells and in the brain areas that control attention, executive control and emotional processing. It triggers the release of dopamine, providing a temporary “high” on which addicts become dependent.”

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“Being stressed out or suffering from anxiety and depression can be a contributing factor in the development of addictions. In addition, people who suffer from DAD are often no strangers to other addictions such as alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling. People who have relationship issues also seem to be at a higher risk of developing an internet addiction. They use digital “connections” to boost their spirits and to escape from their problems.”

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Read more…

Featured Article: Understanding What It Means to Be Busy

There’s a good chance you’ve said that you’re “busy” in the past week, and definitely within the past month. However, what exactly are we saying when we are busy? And what is the true cause of this way of living?

In an interview with Zen Habits, author Jonathan Fields shares a number of reflections on what it means to be “busy”:

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“Being busy, alone, need not be a bad thing. What makes it good or bad is why we’re busy, what we’re busy with, and what we’re giving up along the way.

Being busy as a reaction to the compounding agendas others, to what they’ve chosen to heap into our lives, without considering whether any of it matters to us, that’s a problem. It drops us into a state of mindless autopilot busyness, reacting rather than responding.”

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“Did you choose, “I will begin checking my email first thing before I get out of bed, and then respond to what everyone else says is important today?” Was there a moment where you said to yourself, “I will respond immediately, in real time to every email that hits my inbox, every to-do I’m tasked with and every status update on Facebook?”

Not likely, you just started doing it, and the technology that supports this behavior is the perfect intermittent reinforcement machine. In short order, it becomes habit.”

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Read the rest here…

 

 

Featured Article: How to Resist Distraction

We are surrounded by distractions that are more than appealing to our minds that crave a quick win and pleasure. Choosing to focus runs against, the grain and the more we give in, the harder it is to say no.

So what recourse do we have when a text message pings or a commercial calls for our attention? This compilation of studies offers some practical steps you can put to good use when you writer or pray:

 

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Your lazy brain is happy to just react to that relentless bombardment of stimuli coming its way. But when you just react, you don’t usually make the best choices. And while you’re definitely doing something, you’re rarely achieving your goals.

That’s because when you’re reacting, you’re not in control of your life. In fact, reacting is the opposite of control. You see something fun and you chase it. You see something scary and you run away. Either way, your environment is determining your behavior.

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When you need to get work done, put your phone on the other side of the room. Make distractions harder to reach.

When you have fewer things to react to or you make it harder to react to them, you’ll be less reactive.

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Neuroscientists say stress takes your prefrontal cortex — the rational part of your brain — “offline.” Quite simply, stress makes you stupid. And that’s why just reacting often makes you do stupid things.

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Read more…

 

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