JP Moreland tells his story of how he overcame crippling anxiety by using practices known to the historic Christian tradition. He responds to the bad advice that says Christians don’t need anxiety medication because all you need is the bible and you’re in sin. That is crippling, if not enslaving advice. Flee from it.
Some fundamentalists say we can’t go to the outside world to learn about the soul or medicine, but Scripture does exactly that: Isaiah 19:11; Jeremiah 49:7; Zech. 9:2; Job 28:1-11).
Moreland begins with his well-known insights on the soul. “The soul is an immaterial substance or thing that contains consciousness and animates/enlivens the body” (Moreland 31). The soul has sensations that reside in the soul, not the brain. However, given certain “triggers,” they can obtain during physical moments. The soul also contains faculties, capacities that are not currently “being actualized” (32). When these capacities are properly grouped, they are called “faculties.”
The spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (33).
Moreland’s key point, which I believe unanswerable, is that the body and the soul, while not the same thing, interact with each other. The body “traduces” the soul, as it were. The soul has the faculty of sight, but without working eyes it cannot see. The body traduces the soul.
Then there are habits. These are ingrained bodily practices. Moreland argues, and I think it makes sense, that “anxiety is a learned habit that, through repeated flesh-forming activities (e.g., engaging in ‘what if?’ thinking about the future and exaggerating what might happen if the ‘what if?’ actually happens), forms grooves in the brain, the heart muscle, and nervous system that trigger uncontrollable anxiety” (43).
Let’s Sum Up
- Our habits form grooves in the brain. If these grooves are triggered (e.g., by a memory), “the conscious state will obtain in the soulish aspect of the body” (45)
Getting a Handle on Anxiety/Depression
Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or nervousness. It always has a trigger, but we often don’t know what the trigger is (Moreland 52). It acts as a cover on many of our deeper feelings.
Happy thoughts are not narcissistic. In this book Moreland tells you to think happy and positive thoughts towards yourself. He isn’t saying “Be happy clappy.” The point is that you are trying to replace bad brain grooves with good ones.
Tools for Defeating Depression
Anxiety is a habit that is wired into our brain and nervous system (66ff). Moreland draws upon the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new grooves. This is why habit is so important. Presenting our bodies before God in a certain way can rewire the brain.
The Four Step Solution
Step 1: Relabeling. We identify our destructive habits.
Step 2: Reframing. We change our perception of the deceptive brain message (71).
Step 3: Refocus. We focus on something that distracts our attention. We need to be very careful not to “outmuscle” the deceptive brain habit, since that only focuses on it all the more.
Step 4. Revaluing.
The heart is the deepest recess of our being (81).
Step 1. Freezeframe. Take a time out from the deceptive thought.
Step 2. Refocus. Shift away from the thought and focus more on your physical heart muscle. I’ve done this. It works. Pretend like you are breathing in and out of your heart.
Step 3. Wait for the emotion. CFAN (Compassion/Care, Forgiveness, Appreciation, Nonjudgmentalism).
Step 4. Melt the anxious thought.
Contemplative prayer. This is tricky, as it is easy to take it in a New Agey/Yoga Mom direction. That’s not what Moreland is doing. He isn’t saying, “Empty your mind and connect with the Beyond.” Rather, we attach our emotions to God and calm ourselves in his presence. In any case, it’s often hard to pray to God when you are buzzing with different thoughts and emotions. This lets you “pray until you can pray.”
Step 1: Find a Quiet Place.
Step 2: Do a body scan and see if your are tense or anxious. Start praying some of the psalms you have memorized.
Step 3. This is probably where some will push back against what Moreland is saying. He is saying, “Open yourself to Jesus’s presence.” As long as you don’t get New Agey about it, it’s probably not a bad idea.
Step 4. Quietly wait in anticipation on God.
Step 5. Let go of all distractions. Say, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” “I receive you.” It hones your focus on God.
This isn’t mindless repetition, since the point isn’t to finally get God’s attention by chanting a mantra.
I can attest to this one. I have practiced being grateful even when I haven’t felt like it. It really works.
Presenting our Bodies
Our fleshly habits are stored in our bodies. Remember, our bodies “traduce” our souls. If our bodies are messed up, if our brains have stored anxiety in their grooves, then they won’t be able to properly transmit from the soul. This is why taking medicine is okay.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
Bilateral stimulation. I used this a few years ago. It works, though I don’t find it as effective as Heartmath.
Heartmath: the ancients knew that the “heart” was both physical and spiritual and that it had its own rhythm. That’s the point behind ascetic disciplines. Good and bad habits are stored in bodily grooves. The disciplines retune the body.
Step 1: Heartfocus. Focus your attention on the heart.
Step 2: Heart breathing. Breathe in and out through the heart five or six times. This can synchronize the breathing and heart rhythm (other things being equal).
Step 3: Heart feeling.