I told my husband recently that if I didn’t write consistently, I would turn into the most shallow person in the universe. “Writing is a contemplative practice for me, and it forces me to go deep,” I admitted. “Without writing I would just skate on the surface of everything.”
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I suspect a large majority of us would be content to skim the surface, because the truth is, going deep is hard work. It takes time, space, commitment, and energy. It’s far easier to focus on the minutiae of life than it is to “listen with the ear of our heart,” as St. Benedict once said.
Neuroscience reveals, however, that it’s not good for us to be so constantly preoccupied with the busyness of our lives that we don’t allow ourselves to dive deep. Our brains are actually wired for both shallow and deep thinking, but too often, we don’t give ourselves the ample time and space needed for mindful contemplation.
As neuroscientist Caroline Leaf observes in her book Switch on Your Brain, “When we don’t frequently slow down and enter this rest state, this Sabbath in the brain, we disrupt natural functions in the brain.” This, in turn, can lead to anxiety, distraction, and a sense of restlessness and agitation, as well as serious health problems like depression.
Leaf takes her theory one step further, suggesting that we need to access this deeper, more restful contemplative state regularly in order to “keep connected to our spirits and to be able to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit…Our minds need time to understand what our spirits already know.”
I thought about Leaf’s theory when I read these verses from Proverbs recently:
My child, pay attention to what I say.
Listen carefully to my words.
Don’t lose sight of them.
Let them penetrate deep into your heart,
for they bring life to those who find them,
and healing to their whole body. (40:20-22)
King Solomon doesn’t merely advise us to read Scripture; he suggests we take this reading one step further and “listen carefully” to the words, letting them “penetrate deep into your heart.”
This kind of Scripture reading requires deep thinking – sitting with the words, letting them soak into your mind, body, and soul, and giving the Holy Spirit the time and space to do his work in you.
Too often I find myself rushing through my daily Bible study. I’ll read a handful of verses, consider them for a minute or two, and then move on. More often than not, I try to get through the Bible, rather than let the Bible get through to me. In doing this, I am cheating myself out of something life-giving and beautiful: authentic connection and intimacy with God.
King Solomon obviously wrote Proverbs long before the dawn of modern neuroscience. But he understood, even then, what scientific research is proving today: in order to live the fullest, most abundant life and enjoy healing in our brains, bodies, and souls, we need to allow ourselves the time and space to go deep.