Archive for Psychology

Learning to Balance

balanceI recently returned from a trip to Europe where I was able to visit my granddaughter and her parents.   It was a fun trip filled with new experiences for all of us.  My granddaughter was learning many new things. One of them was to sit up on her own. If she over-reached for a toy, she fell forwards or backwards.  She was working on developing a strong core to be able to stay upright and to right herself  if she fell.  Additionally, we took a trip to a new country for me–England.

Overall, there was plenty of new information to take in and integrate into my knowledge of the world.  I started thinking about the need for both adaptability and stability as we approach new situations.  We need them both to learn and grow.  Without adaptability we remain stuck in our old way of perceiving reality and without a solid core or center we can feel out of sorts and confused.

As a small example of this, bathrooms in Europe are quite different from those here in the United States.  While there are some similarities, there are many challenges one faces when trying to accomplish the simple task of toileting, especially in public places.  Some have self contained rooms with both sink and toilet; others have common sink areas.  So far, that seems similar to the US, right?  But the faucets connected to those sinks came in all shapes and functions. At times I would just stare at them, not knowing how to even turn them on. I never saw one that was automatic like the ones common in the states.  However, there were ones where the faucet was hidden in the stem that tried to fool me into thinking they were automatic.  This made the task of washing my hands a challenge sometimes.  Also, reading the signage in some of the stalls was a bit like trying to assemble furniture from IKEA.

It was important to remain flexible while dealing with this common but important task.  It helped to use what researchers call fluid intelligence.  According to psychologists Robert Cattell and John Horn , fluid intelligence is the “capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge. It is the ability to analyze novel problems, identify patterns and relationships that underpin these problems and the extrapolation of these using logic.”  Being flexible helped me to search “outside the box” for a solution.  Additionally, I could draw upon my experience in other situations or my “crystallized intelligence” to make a best guess on how to proceed.

Using flexibility or adaptability is important in many of life circumstances.  At the same time, it is important to have a sense of your deep identity to keep yourself centered and grounded.  If either of these two qualities are out of balance, we can “fall over” just like my granddaughter did when she over-reached her center of gravity. We can ground ourselves through centering prayer, mindfulness, breath work and many other ways of stabilizing ourselves in the present moment.  We can practice flexibility by trying new things in our everyday life,  even if they take us out of our comfort zone.  If we can stay in balance with these two tasks, we will be able to deal with most of life’s challenges or at least be able to right ourselves when we “fall.”

One Life to Live

We are so privileged to still have time.  We have but one life, and it is a shame to limit it by fear and false barriers.”
John O’Donohue 

I had the opportunity to attend my high school reunion this past month.  It was fun seeing old friends and catching up with the happenings of their lives over the many years we had been apart.  When asked what they had done with their time, most people listed their occupations, marriages and children as their accomplishments for the time spent.  Of course, there was also laughter and memories of crazy things that were done when we were teenagers together. With a few closer friends the conversation turned to a more intimate discussion of struggles and turmoil that had led to refinement of our inner person.

As I reflect on this reunion, I am aware of how much energy we expend trying to conform and be part of the crowd.  This occurred when we were in high school but on some level continues today whenever we are in a social gathering.  We all want to feel like we belong but sometimes this is to the detriment of our authentic self.

Additionally, this month the memorial services of two people from my congregation were held. Both left legacies of very different but in many ways similar sorts.  One was a lovely lady and philanthropist who brought joy and hope with her many gifts and talents.  She could light up a room  with her smile. She always sought to share what she had with those who had less.  The other was a missionary in many foreign countries who brought his talents for agriculture to help the people live fuller and richer lives.  Both of these people not only gave of themselves in material ways but also were examples for us of how to live a life fully by being true to their individual calling in life.

John O’Donohue, in his book Anam Cara, states


“The shape of each soul is different.  There is a secret destiny for each   person.  When you endeavor to repeat what others havedone or force yourself into a preset mold, you betray your individuality.  We need to return to solitude within, to find again the dream that lies in the hearth of the soul.  We need to feel the dream with the wonder of a child approaching the threshold of discovery.  When we rediscover our childlike nature, we enter into a world of gentle possibility.”

What dreams lie within your soul that are waiting to be born and given to the world?  What legacy do you want to leave to the world when you pass on?  What are you called to do that will allow your soul to be fully alive?  Irenaeus, a theologian in the second century said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”  We each have one life to live and we are meant to live it in the way that fully expresses the plan our Creator has for us. The world needs each of our possibilities to help it heal and move closer to the kingdom of God.