Marvel

Agnostic author A.J. Jacobs decided to try and obey all of the rules in the Bible– even the weird, obscure ones– and document what happened. This excerpt from The Year of Living Biblically is from about four months in to the experiment:

I spend a lot of time marveling… I’ll marvel at the way rain serpentines down a car window. Or I’ll marvel at the way my reflection is distorted in a bowl. I feel like I just took my first bong hit. I feel like Wes Bentley rhapsodizing about that dancing plastic bag in American Beauty.

I’ve noticed that I sometimes walk around with a lighter step, almost an ice-skating-like glide, because the ground feels hallowed. All of the ground, even the ground outside the pizzeria near my apartment building.

All well and good, right? The only thing is, this is not the God of the Israelites. This is not the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. That God is an interactive God. He rewards people and punishes them. He argues with them, negotiates with them, forgives them, occasionally smites them. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures has human emotions– love and anger.

My God doesn’t. My God is impersonal. My God is the God of Spinoza. Or the God of Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian who believed that God was “the ground of being.” Or the God of the Jedi knights. It’s a powerful but vague all-pervasive force; some slightly more sophisticated version of pantheism. I don’t even know if my God can be said to have a grand plan, much less mood swings. Can I keep edging toward the true biblical God? I’m not sure.

It’s a surprisingly respectful book. He talks with everyone– Hasidic Jews, Jehova’s Witnesses, atheists, Amish, creationists– and is always curious, never mocking.

I’d recommend this book to anyone of any faith.

(Or at least watch his TED talk, HERE.)

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Eve

I watched Elizabeth Lev’s TED Talk about the Sistine Chapel, and one thing she pointed out– which I had never been shown before– is that as God is about to give Adam the spark of divinity with His right hand, His left arm is already wrapped snugly around Eve.

 

Tricked

From a TED Talk by Guy WInch:

I once visited a day care center, where I saw three toddlers play with identical plastic toys. You had to slide the red button, and a cute doggie would pop out. One little girl tried pulling the purple button, then pushing it, and then she just sat back and looked at the box, with her lower lip trembling. The little boy next to her watched this happen, then turned to his box and and burst into tears without even touching it. Meanwhile, another little girl tried everything she could think of until she slid the red button, the cute doggie popped out, and she squealed with delight. So three toddlers with identical plastic toys, but with very different reactions to failure. The first two toddlers were perfectly capable of sliding a red button. The only thing that prevented them from succeeding was that their mind tricked them into believing they could not. Now, adults get tricked this way as well, all the time. In fact, we all have a default set of feelings and beliefs that gets triggered whenever we encounter frustrations and setbacks.

Are you aware of how your mind reacts to failure? You need to be. Because if your mind tries to convince you you’re incapable of something and you believe it, then like those two toddlers, you’ll begin to feel helpless and you’ll stop trying too soon, or you won’t even try at all. And then you’ll be even more convinced you can’t succeed. You see, that’s why so many people function below their actual potential. Because somewhere along the way, sometimes a single failure convinced them that they couldn’t succeed, and they believed it.

You can see his whole talk online HERE.  It’s one of the best talks I’ve seen, and I think you’ll find it worth your time.

Depression

My favorite part is when he talks about depression in Africa:

And yet, when I went to look at alternative treatments, I also gained perspective on other treatments. I went through a tribal exorcism in Senegal that involved a great deal of ram’s blood and that I’m not going to detail right now, but a few years afterwards I was in Rwanda working on a different project, and I happened to describe my experience to someone, and he said, “Well, you know, that’s West Africa, and we’re in East Africa, and our rituals are in some ways very different, but we do have some rituals that have something in common with what you’re describing.” And I said, “Oh.” And he said, “Yes,” he said, “but we’ve had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers, especially the ones who came right after the genocide.” And I said, “What kind of trouble did you have?” And he said, “Well, they would do this bizarre thing. They didn’t take people out in the sunshine where you begin to feel better. They didn’t include drumming or music to get people’s blood going. They didn’t involve the whole community. They didn’t externalize the depression as an invasive spirit. Instead what they did was they took people one at a time into dingy little rooms and had them talk for an hour about bad things that had happened to them.”

He said, “We had to ask them to leave the country.”

My depression was similar to what Andrew Solomon described earlier in the talk:  I made it through the hard times, and later- when it I thought it was behind me- Pow, right between the eyes.

I wish I had sought help sooner.  I was afraid medication would turn me into either a zombie or a grinning idiot, but it did neither of those things; it just made me feel like myself again.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I feared becoming a Grinning Idiot.  Some people spend a lot of money on drugs for just that purpose, and really, it doesn’t sound too bad to me now.

Anyway.

If you have 30 minutes, the video is worth your time.  There is also a transcript HERE.