Something a bit ironic here is that I’m trying to connect with the parts of us that feel deeply, the parts of us that are beyond words — and I’m writing about that on a blog with words…
I didn’t know until I was in my thirties that there are parts of our brain that don’t know verbal language. Maybe other people know this or learn this earlier. Maybe my ADHD wasn’t my friend one day in school and I totally missed this, who knows. I just remember learning this and thinking — oh that makes sense of a lot of things!
A few years ago I was seeing a really great counselor. She would frequently remind me when trying to describe deeply felt feelings, we’re really translating, and it’s ok if we can’t figure out a perfect translation. As she saw me wanting to find the perfect words to articulate the depths of my internal world, she would kindly remind me that it makes sense there won’t always be words from the front part of the thinking brain that accurately express deeply felt experiences in “lower” parts of the brain (Clarifier — I don’t mean lower in terms of importance or value, simply location in the brain, similar to how some people will specify the upstairs or downstairs parts of the brain. These are oversimplifications of an extraordinarily complex organ! If all of this is new, check out the Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel. As an adult it’s fascinating to learn about a child’s developing brain and how our own brain was developed and formed as a kid and then into adulthood. In short, the “upstairs brain” has more to do with logic and higher level/executive functioning, what we normally think of as using our brain. The “downstairs brain” has more to do with feelings, attachments, and reactions, and this part of our brain does not know verbal language).
And then the more trainings I did professionally to specialize in trauma, the more I’d learn about the brain, and I loved how it gave opportunities to better understand how we operate as people. From a Christian perspective, I was in awe of how God created us, and what a gift it was to learn more about the complex intricacies of His creativity. It also made me start to think — if there’s so much more to our brain than the thinking part of our brain, then why is so much of faith and spiritual practice and disciplines based on using the thinking part of the brain?
That’s of course a loaded and biased statement. Depending on the denomination and tradition you practice in, this might not resonate with you. In my experience, much of Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity in the US and the West is grounded in using our thinking brain. And I love use my thinking brain — you don’t voluntarily pursue two master’s degrees at the same time without valuing your thinking brain. But in my pursuits led by my thinking brain, I’ve began to wonder if it’s overvalued and over-focused on, in a way that leaves the other parts of the brain and self unheard or untended to. Almost like a landscape that only has one portion explored and utilized, when there are so many more dimensions of terrain and flora completely ignored, or left unknown.
In another post I’ll more fully explore these other parts and dimensions of how God created us that I’m referring to. For now, to keep it simple, I’ll stick with the distinction that these are the facets of us that are not led by or anchored in our thinking brain that knows verbal language. I wholeheartedly believe these parts of our being are just as valued by God, even if for some reason they are not as valued by much of our faith culture. And if we want to engage wholeheartedly in our faith, in the formation of our souls, we are certainly going to miss the mark if we largely (or solely!) focus on our thinking brain. God created more of us, and I think it’s safe to say that God wants to be with and form all of us.
This is where translation comes in. For this post, the main point is simply that translation is needed. Connecting with the parts of our brain and being that don’t know verbal language requires a translation process. In order to engage in this translation process we need to (1) be aware that a translation process in necessary; (2) be aware of and get to know (build a relationship with!) the dimensions of self that don’t know verbal language; (3) learn the dialects of these parts of self. This is often slow moving and hard work — but it’s such rewarding work, and I’m becoming increasingly convinced this is some of the most God-honoring spiritual formation work we can engage in. It invites Christ into every aspect and facet of our being. It welcomes the Lord’s goodness and redemptive work to transform even the mysterious parts of us that are hard for us to understand, but are never a mystery to our Creator.
Let’s get translating 🙂