The Anatomy of the Soul by Dr. Curt Thompson is a book I will come back to again and again. I’ve already made reference to it here, here and here in relation to adoptive parenting and relationships with family and God. It has changed, probably more than any other book, how I look at all relationships. It also confirms some suspicions I’ve had about the affect of early experiences on our outcome of life.
I’ve always been fascinated with psychology. The workings of the mind and why and how it messes up is intriguing. Pinpointing why people are the way they are is like a mystery to unravel. Was it the loving but alcoholic father, the demanding and distant mother, or the unrelenting teasing received from the neighborhood kids that made them unable to hold a job or afraid to commit to a relationship.
Once I became a Christian I was basically taught that sin nature in all it’s varied out workings is the cause of all personal and societal woes. I then would try to pin point a specific sin as the root cause of a person’s problems. But, I wondered, why, if a person repents, is truly sorry and tries to do better they often get stuck in patterns that not only hurt others around them but themselves as well. Why wouldn’t God heal and deliver them. why as Paul says in Romans 7, “why do I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Neuroscience and psychiatry, after all, seem to hold the key.
This is not to deny the teaching of scripture in fact Dr. Thompson makes frequent reference to scripture and how his work and the work he draws from confirm the teachings of scripture. He also explains how God intends for his people to relate as a whole with in and without our communities of faith in light of how our brains interrelate.
Understanding the Brain’s structure and function and how individuals relate in light of our unique experiences that have lasting effects on how we interact can help us understand how to improve our life and our relationships. In Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson puts it this way:
While it is true that we each have separate brains, our minds are interconnected in many complex and mysterious ways. I believe our lives will be abundant, joyful, and peaceful only to the degree that we are engaged, known, and understood by one another. I also believe we cannot separate what we do with our brains and our relationships from what we do with God. God has designed our minds, part of his good creation, to invite us into a deeper, more secure, more courageous relationship with him and with one another.
Being engaged, known and understood. To the degree that we have relationships in which these aspects are present is the degree to which we are happy, productive and able to sustain meaningful relationships. Dr. Thompson lays out in explicit detail how the parts of the brain; amygdala, right hemisphere, left hemisphere and the prefrontal cortex, integrate or disintegrate based on early experiences and how this affects our relationships and our faith. Drawing from the latest research in neuroscience, the work of Dr. Dan Siegal, author of Mindsight and personal experience with real clients he’s helped he lays out how, with specific practices and exercises we can re-integrate our brain in essence re-wiring the neural networks and set our brains up for positive interaction, better coping techniques when difficulties arise and deeper faith and relationships.
This is not a quick fix for all mental disorders or relational difficulties, but through learning how to pay attention, connect and engage, learn what it means to know and be known steps can be taken to make lasting change, no only in our personal lives but in our faith communities and God’s Kingdom at large. In the Epilogue he puts it this way:
As you know by now, my work involves helping people pay attention to the elements of their minds-including attachment, memory, emotion and storytelling- and then integrating these disparate parts so that we can live a life of mercy and justice in every realm and dimension of life together. I believe God’s Kingdom advances when this integration occurs in the comunity as well as in the individual.
For the person and community that takes to heart what’s laid out in this book I believe amazing transformation can happen. I can’t recommend this highly enough.