Can Twentysomething Depression Be Healed?

I have a friend who was suicidal.  He once told me, “Unless you’ve been there you have no idea what it’s like to be in that dark place. I genuinely believed that the world would be better off without me.”  He no longer has those thoughts and is a much healthier and happier person.

Suicide is a serious problem, especially amongst teens and young people.  My British colleague Tony Lobl explores this issue, and found in his research that “19 percent of young people in the United States either contemplate or attempt suicide every year.” That’s a lot!

Tony interviews a young woman, Patricia Brugioni, who had thoughts of suicide but overcame them.  But not in the way you might expect. She says, “I knew there were unresolved things in my heart, like huge whales swimming beneath the surface of my thought.”

“Eventually I went along with…[taking]  medication. But years later, reading back through my journal, I realised it had only been at this point that my depression turned suicidal.”

That was Brugioni’s experience – a long struggle with manic depression throughout her teens and twenties and, then, a healing.” read more…

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Finding Your Indomitable Spirit to Defeat Addiction

Challenges are a part of life and we all face them at some time.  Mostly they’re every day little bumps in the road that are easily overcome and quickly forgotten without any lasting consequence.  There are times, however, when the challenge is so overwhelming that the ability to rebound would seem nearly impossible. Yet, there are remarkable examples where individuals and nations persevere to surmount something and become even stronger than before.

My colleague, Don Ingwerson, examines how we can draw upon the “indomitable spirit” within when we face these challenges. And, he raises this interesting question when the challenge seems to be the grip of addiction: “[H]ow does a person embrace this Spirit when drug addiction from treating a pain so many times results in a lack of hope, faith, and trust – qualities that are fundamental components to recovery from pain and addiction? The answer is…” [read full article]


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Are You Losing or Gaining on Your Investment in Health?

Soon after spending a couple of hours talking with a prospective employee, I received a thank you note expressing appreciation for giving her the most valuable thing I have to give — my time.  Though that exchange took place more than twenty years ago, since then I’ve thought a lot about the idea that my time has value.

Sometimes, I spend money to save time. I also spend significant time each day in quiet communion with God, and have experienced how the flow of my day is smoother and more productive. Both of these probably raise the eyebrows of those who feel money might be the most important consideration.  They may fail to see that time has value and feel that cold hard cash in the pocket is what’s most important.

If investing time into something isn’t important, then I suppose spending or even wasting it is the result for many people. Even worse, despite spending time on lots of diversions and missing opportunities for betterment, some of us allow boredom to become the consumer of our time. And, that can have unfortunate health consequences.

According to Dr. Christopher Cannon, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University and spokesman for the American College of Cardiology, “Someone who is bored may not be motivated to eat well, exercise, and have a heart-healthy lifestyle. That may make them more likely to have a cardiovascular event”.  And, in studies by Annie Britton and Martin J. Shipleyit can also be a harbinger of excessive drinking, smoking, [and] taking drugs”.

But others besides me have given careful thought to the use of time. Philadelphia Eagles football coach Chip Kelly is widely known in sports circles for his innovative techniques for coaching and mentoring his team members.  In answering a question about developing his players during a recent media interview he said:

“…everybody has the same amount of time during the day and you can either spend your time or invest your time and that’s what we are trying to get our players to understand. It’s how you allocate your time.”

Invest – don’t just spend – your time. This idea really strikes a chord with me because it puts a different value on time. It moves beyond “saving it.”  Kelly is asking his players to invest their time.  In reality, you can’t ever “save” time. We are always using our time no matter what we’re doing. American theologian and writer Henry Van Dyke suggests in his short story “The Thrilling Moment” that we have an infinite number of options for using our time. He says:

“Every moment of life… is more or less of a turning-point. Opportunities are swarming around us all the time…”

And, consider this point by spiritual activist Mary Baker Eddy:

“Success in life depends upon persistent effort, upon the improvement of moments more than upon any other one thing. A great amount of time is consumed in talking nothing, doing nothing, and indecision as to what one should do. If one would be successful in the future, let him make the most of the present.

“All successful individuals have become such by hard work; by improving moments before they pass into hours, and hours that other people may occupy in the pursuit of pleasure.” (Miscellaneous Writings, page 230)

But just staying busy to stave off boredom isn’t really a wise or an effective use of time. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busy work of life. Little tasks demand attention as though they are the most important thing that moment. Besides, it’s easy to let boredom or procrastination drift into frivolous entertainment — youtube, video games, television.

Perhaps Soren Kierkegaard was right when he posited that Boredom is the root of all evil” in his major work Either/Or.

From my perspective, spending a portion of the day reflecting on my deeper spiritual values is a good investment. I strive to understand my relationship to the Divine; I endeavor to incorporate qualities and behaviors into everyday exchanges such as kindness, compassion, giving, and love – all of which benefit me and others. My time and daily tasks are more stress free when I approach each day this way. And, research has shown that all of these are associated with better health and a longer life.

The significance goes deeper than this, though.

Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, improving present moments does more for us than creating a healthier body. It’s a wise investment of our time that brings inner peace and a sense of purpose and meaning in life.  This also makes the world a better place for others.  To me, it is a natural expression of the Divine amongst us.

How are you using your time?

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A Higher Walk To Better Health

It’s pretty simple.  If you walk regularly you will be healthier.  At least that’s what some researchers have concluded. My colleague in the UK asks, however, if that’s all there is to it. He found that there’s a spiritual dimension that adds benefits not only to walking but all aspects of life, including health. His personal experience provides a tangible example of how prayer heals.

“…I was limping painfully with each step, and a pending week in Paris with my wife loomed as a nightmare trip rather than a dream holiday. Yet from previous experiences I’d had I realised a mental shift could make the difference to my body, because pain can be more thought-based than we generally recognise.”

Read more…

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The “Art of Being Alone”

As a tween I was enthralled with the book My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George. The idea of living in the woods by myself seemed romantic and adventuresome. Not having to account for my actions was appealing. Living off the land and communing with nature was something I could connect with, at least in my fantasy world.

Sam Gribley, the young boy who basically runs away from his home in New York City to the Catskill Mountains to live on his own, sometimes yearned for companionship even while simply trying to prepare for and survive the winter. As the story unfolds, though, it’s clear that his times of solitude have contributed to deeper thinking and to his personal growth. They’ve also made him appreciate others more.

My practice of alonetime is inextricably connected to examining and evaluating my thinking too. The positive side effect is that this deeper thinking also promotes better health.

For example, last winter I began to experience flu symptoms. It was a busy time and the last thing I felt I could do was take time alone to pray about it. But I took an inventory of my thoughts. I examined them to see if they were reflecting a Divine nature instead of being negative and self-centered. I made a course correction and focused my thinking on the good in my life and the good in others! I thought about how much I appreciated other people and worked to express that gratitude. Within one day all the symptoms were gone.

This isn’t getting rid of all thoughts or focusing on my human mind as practiced in some forms of yoga and meditation.  Rather, it’s a communion with and affirmation of Spiritual connectedness, goodness and completeness. It’s a form of prayer.  And in this sense I’m truly not alone but connected more firmly to God.  It’s a process that doesn’t remove me from this world of activity but helps me be an active participant.

I find this Biblical text especially helpful to guide my alonetime prayers:

“… whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Others have found that aloneness is good too. Former director of NYU Steinhardt Department of Applied Psychology, Esther Buchholz tells us from her extensive writing and research on the human conditions of attachment and aloneness:

“Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives.”

Still, some people find the prospect of being alone with their own thoughts a frightening proposition.  So much so that they would rather suffer some form of physical pain than be alone, as Timothy Wilson, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, found in his recent research.

What would make the difference for any one of us between a frightening versus a health-giving experience? I’ve found that it’s whether we entertain thoughts that make us feel isolated and lonely or cosmically connected to something larger than ourselves.

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We Don’t Have To Conspire Against Good Health

Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer joined efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal. That’s the conspiratorial plot of a dark comedy in the late nineties called Wag the Dog. Conspiracy theories had a dominant presence in public thought at the time.

Wikipedia notes that “A conspiracy theory is an explanatory proposition that accuses two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an illegal or harmful event or situation.”

A conspiracy we often fall prey to is being afraid of what our bodies are up to.

Even though Wag the Dog was a fictional story, it did reflect how many people view why bad things happen. It seems to be human nature to let the unexplained or hard to accept fall on the shoulders of some perceived power “out there.”  We see ourselves as being victimized in some way.

I’m not so sure, however, that the conspiracy we should be most concerned about is the one contrived by the public thinking and discourse. Maybe looking into our own individual thought to see what might be conspiring against our health and happiness would be more useful.

A conspiracy we often fall prey to is being afraid of what our bodies are up to. Wondering about this symptom, that ache, or a sleepless night can be paralyzing.

By doing this, it seems to me that we do, in a way, fall into the belief that there are many forces – which we have deemed “health laws” – outside of our control that directly affect our health. We can’t see these so called laws and yet we buy into many theories and dire predictions without question.  We accept them as de facto, and sometimes sinister, rulers of our bodies and our experience.

There’s an engaging allegory that depicts a criminal trial of someone accused of violating prevailing health laws by nursing an ill friend for long hours without rest or a regular proper diet. Contemporary health beliefs conspired against this generous but hapless man for helping his friend.  Eventually, he was framed by his own fear and got liver disease. As the story plays out, however, the counsel for the defense introduces evidence that this man’s fear was based in a conspiracy to make him ill. But, a higher law of God – that says we are blessed for helping our neighbor – acquitted him once his fear was revealed as the culprit, and he recovered.

The purpose of the allegory is to make a point. Perhaps the Good Samaritan in the allegory could have avoided the arresting situation in the beginning. If he recognized the conspirators as his own thoughts before he fell ill he would never have found himself in court. He could have claimed his freedom from the beginning if he hadn’t conspired against himself.

The trial scene as an allegory is fine for storytelling, but what about our everyday real life experiences? For example, as we age public discourse says we must expect certain negative changes in our health due to biological processes associated with this aging – right?

But, must we?

If we accept this premise without challenging it, we are conspiring against ourselves.

The author of the trial allegory, Mary Baker Eddy, makes this observation about our so-called laws of aging:

“Time-tables of birth and death are so many conspiracies against manhood and womanhood. Except for the error of measuring and limiting all that is good and beautiful, man would enjoy more than threescore years and ten and still maintain his vigor, freshness, and promise. Let us then shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight.”

Time-tables, or predictions that go along with commonly held beliefs don’t always hold up when we don’t hold them up in our own minds.  Researchers have found that to be the case.

Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard University has done extensive research on …”[c]onscious and nonconscious influences regarding the general areas of health and happiness, decision making, aging, and perceived control…”  Her research has shown that thinking differently about aging (and other commonly held beliefs) has a marked effect on health. By refusing to let our own thoughts conspire against our good health and happiness, we can directly affect our aging experience.

Langer’s work goes a long way towards uncovering the conspirators in our minds, but certainly we can go further in getting at the heart of the issue.  It really is a spiritual matter.  As we pay more attention to the ageless spiritual qualities we possess, such as compassion, love, kindness, charity and at the same time challenge our own mental conspirators, we can upgrade our experience of happiness and health.

When we choose a Divine view of things, we don’t have to conspire against our own good health and happiness.

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The Promise of Hope – and Health – Fulfilled

What I know of Christmas today is certainly different than what I knew as a child. Like most kids, then and now, I was really caught up in the magic of the holiday: the Christmas tree, decorations, presents, special treats, and being out of school for two whole weeks. It was a very special time of year.

As a child I was clueless about the sometimes unfortunate backstory of the magic – stress, lack of money to buy gifts (or even to eat), being alone when you’re supposed to be with family and friends, broken relationships, overindulgence in alcohol and so on. I now understand that this special time of year turns out to be the most dreaded for some.

This doesn’t have to be the case, though, even in the most dire circumstances.

A different perspective on this season has emerged for me over the years, and it continues to grow. You might think that my Christian affiliation means that I would see the mainline story of Christmas being the birth of Jesus. But really, that is only the most familiar symbol of what Christmas has to offer.  The birth of Jesus is important because it’s just the start of what he came to teach and show us about how to overcome adversity in life.

“The impact of his presence on earth might best be expressed in this passage…

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

Now, 2700 years after this promise was made, it is as relevant as the day it was offered. What do we hope for?  It could be repaired relationships, finding companionship, financial needs being met, and health restored. This last one, restoring and maintaining health, is perhaps the most important. It’s been the ongoing, consistent quest of mankind throughout the ages. And, the human race has devoted untold resources to alleviating pain and suffering, and prolonging life.

Modern medicine has made tremendous advances. Yet, here too, is a backstory. Much of mankind has not found consistent, good health. Many people simply live in regions of the world where modern medicine is too expensive to deliver – they suffer simply because they are poor.  And, according to many studies, too many are suffering in the wealthy regions of the world not only from an illness but also from the treatment modern medicine has provided.

Jesus’ promise and example was that we could know the truth – about God and ourselves – and the truth would set us free. Certainly, this included freedom from mental and physical illness, broken relationships, financial lack, and any lifestyle choices that would lead to unhealthy outcomes. Why? Because he experienced himself, or through those who came to him, every type of temptation, illness or terrible human condition – and he healed every one of them. He also told us we could do this too.

An experience I had 10 years ago at Christmas time is a clear reminder of the power of Isaiah’s promise and Jesus’ example.

Just as I was about to retire from a 30 year career in law enforcement, I began to experience frightening symptoms that I feared was prostate cancer.  As I struggled with fear of the potential outcome, I pondered deeply the promise of Isaiah and the teachings of Jesus.  I knew in my heart that what Jesus taught and practiced was true. It made sense to me that it had to be.  He healed and taught his disciples to heal. But this was true for me too.  Christian theologian and healer, Mary Baker Eddy, put it this way:

Jesus’ promise is perpetual. … The purpose of his great life-work extends through time and includes universal humanity. Its Principle is infinite, reaching beyond the pale of a single period or of a limited following.

From this standpoint I pondered Jesus’s teaching and works, and the truth about God and myself – that God did not intend for me to be ill or to suffer.  As I held this course over the next couple of months the symptoms disappeared and never returned.

The backstory of Christmas doesn’t need to be stress, hopelessness, illness or despair.  It can be the fulfillment of the promise.   Health is the best gift, and we all have more resources than we know to achieve it. Better than seasonal magic is the hope that Jesus brought to us 2000 years ago. Each of us can experience the promise fulfilled.

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Guiltless Holidays Better for our Health

The holidays are a special time for us – special traditions, special people, and special food.

For many of us, it’s also a time of an abundance of food.

All too often the pleasures of holiday eating turn into a nagging feeling of guilt. Advertising uses this obsession to peddle gym memberships, drugs, and diet schemes.

The public discussion about being healthy centers on how we can change our bodies through the food we do or don’t eat.  But, there’s more to it. Consider this example.

Researchers at Yale looked at two groups given exactly the same milkshake. One group was told that it was a healthy low calorie shake, and the other group was told that it was off the charts with fat and calories. In actuality, the shakes were in between the two extremes.

Those who thought they were getting the low calorie shake showed no change in the production of a hormone that tells you you’re hungry. Those who thought they got the “indulgent” shake, however, showed a sharp decrease in its production, experiencing a reduced craving for food.

It’s one among many studies into what controls us – food or our thought – that should give us pause.

As a student of the Bible, I have found that Jesus gave us one of the best insights into this issue when he taught us this: that food is not the master of our body. He said,

“It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person.” (Matt 15:11)

For me, the main idea is that our thoughts, more than what we eat, are an important factor in how healthy we are. Thinking of ourselves as made, maintained and motivated by the Divine can give us dominion over influences that sometimes are detrimental, such as the idea that food has the power to control us. I’m not saying it’s always easy to change old patterns of thinking about ourselves. But, I have found that when I see health as normal and myself as having a moderate appetite and naturally active throughout the day, the effects can be real. And, for me, they have been more permanent than behavioral changes such as dieting, daily weigh-ins, or obsessive exercise.

As a child Evan Mehlenbacher was overweight, and it carried over into his young adulthood. When he changed his thought about himself and his relationship to God, and let go of thinking food was his master he achieved a healthy weight without any effort after a number of conventional methods of weight control failed him.  His story is a compelling example of how contemplating the Divine can reduce or eliminate the power of food.

This season, let’s enjoy some fabulous holiday food without regret or negative health effects. How we can do that is as close as our thoughts.

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Gratitude Expressed Through Giving To Others Aids Health

A dictionary might define thanksgiving, as “an act of giving thanks”, but I think it means more than that. For me, it has to go beyond uttering words of thanks to expressing it in concrete ways.

In examining my own motives, I feel moved to do for others because I’m grateful for the good in my life which I feel comes from God.

It’s easy to see how the recipient of an act of gratitude benefits, but less clear as to why giving acts of gratitude benefit the doer as well. But, given that all the major spiritual traditions admonish followers to give and promise blessings will rebound, I think it’s about the presence (even if not openly recognized) of the Divine in everyone’s life and the blessings that flow from that.

Stephen G. Post, PhD has been researching this notion that helping others is actually beneficial to the helper. In one report on his findings he writes:

“There is solid evidence to support the perennial hypothesis that benevolent emotions, attitudes, and actions centered on the good of others contribute to the giver’s happiness, health, and even longevity. Although genuine benevolence must be chiefly motivated by concern for others, it has the side effect of nourishing the giver.”

Linda P. Fried, M.D., director of the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins found that: “Older adults who volunteer in troubled urban schools not only improve the educational experience of children, but realize meaningful improvements in their own mental and physical health.”

Perhaps a good example of this is the Catholic nun who volunteered in our local jail for many years. She devoted her life to helping those in trouble with the law to better themselves through various programs. She lived to be 97 while volunteering well into her 90’s!

Robert A. Barnett says that “We consistently find that volunteering and helping behavior is associated with a reduced risk of mortality. We see this over and over again in prospective studies that control for other variables, such as baseline health and gender.”

Thinking about this more deeply, what if more of us worked harder to love and help others and to be impelled by gratitude for all the good in our lives? Might it make us feel better? Perhaps we would not only be healthier ourselves but also live in healthier, more connected communities. The implications are profound.

I make it an axiom that I can never be harmed by helping others. And, though it’s not my motive, I’m grateful that it also contributes to my health.

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Beyond Genetics for Health

Geneticists report that almost everything about us, including our health, is determined by the code built into the double helix of our 25,000 genes. We have little or nothing to say about it.

But not all health researchers have bought into this predetermined view. There remains an important question: “Is it possible that we have more control than we thought?”

Cell biologist Bruce Lipton thinks so. His research has shown that the environment can have an important effect on the expression of genes regardless of the “code.” He says quite emphatically, “Genes are not destiny!” He goes on to note: “Environmental influences, including nutrition, stress, and emotions, can modify genes without changing their basic blueprint.”

Medical researcher and Christian activist Mary Baker Eddy made a similar observation during her own investigation into sickness and a variety of the treatments of her day. She concludes in her textbook on healing:

Fear is the fountain of sickness…” (SH 391)

If you believe in inflamed and weak nerves, you are liable to an attack from that source. …If you decide that climate or atmosphere is unhealthy, it will be so to you. Your decisions will master you, whichever direction they take…Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously.” (SH 392)

Though there was only the beginnings of genetic science in her day, she observed and taught that, because we are children of an all-loving God, we do have control and can choose health by aligning our thinking and lives with the Divine.

This idea has had a practical impact on my life. At one time in my law enforcement career, for example, I had tremendous responsibilities that others considered to be a pressure cooker of stress — a common source for many health problems. My conscious decision not to view this work as stressful and not to expect negative health consequences, allowed me to handle my duties effectively, and to experience health as a normal and predictable outcome of my relationship with God.

Ongoing research in numerous health fields continues to reveal that we are not predetermined to illness because of our physical makeup. How we think about events in our life can have an effect on our health. Fear and stress are significant negative contributors. Lipton concludes in his book The Biology of Belief:

“If we can control our fears, we regain control over our lives….Letting go of our fears is the first step toward creating a fuller, more satisfying life.”

In my experience, we have a good reason to let go of fear and stress if we understand and nurture our relationship to God. His predetermination for us is health – no matter what genes we’ve been dealt.

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    John Clague

    John Clague explores and writes about the relationship between thought, spirituality and health. A retired Lane County Sheriff's Department captain, he is now a Christian Science media and legislative liaison. Read Full
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