Have you slowed down from the busyness of the season? Of the year? This post is by Michelle DeRusha, adapted from her new book True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created, releasing January 1 from Baker Books, which guides readers on a journey toward letting go in order to uncover their true God-created selves.
Recently, my son Noah and I walked out to Artist’s Point, a rocky outcropping on the shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. Though it was summertime, a cold breeze blew off the frigid water, so we searched for a spot to sit that would be protected from the wind.
After a bit of scrambling over the rocks, we found a sheltered nook between two large boulders. Nestled into our cozy hollow, the sun warm on my face, I pulled a book from my bag and opened it on my lap.
“You should have brought something to read,” I said, turning to Noah. He shook his head no. “I don’t always have to have a book,” he said. “Mostly I’m happy just to sit.”
The thing is, I always have to have a book. Or a notebook. Or my phone. Or my to-do list. I need something to do, even if only to fill five minutes. I feel a pressing almost desperate need to be productive, to “make good use of my time.” I simply can’t bear not being busy, or at the very least, occupied.
Turns out, there’s a scientific explanation for my compulsive busyness.
Neuroscientist Caroline Leaf explains that the brain is composed of networks that work together. “Busyness mode” takes place in what’s called the task positive network (TPN) – the conscious part of our brain that supports the active thinking required to make decisions.
This contrasts with the default mode network, or DMN — the non-conscious part of the brain where thinking, building, and sorting thoughts takes place, as well as what Leaf calls “intrinsic activity” or “directed rest” – activities like contemplation, daydreaming, introspection, and sleeping. Dr. Leaf describes the activation of the DMN as a “Sabbath in the brain.”
What happens, though, is that when we don’t slow down and enter this rest state, we disrupt the natural functioning of the brain. If left unchecked, the relentless activation of the TPN can result in inward feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and discontent.
In other words, our mind needs time and space to catch up with what our soul already knows.
Decision-making and action are obviously necessary for our survival and livelihood, but not all the time. If we fail to activate the DMN on a regular basis and instead constantly push the TPN part of our brain to keep working, busyness can become our default mode – which is why we can sometimes feel like we’re on autopilot when we are busy, and also why we can feel uncomfortable or even anxious or agitated when we’re supposed to be resting or relaxing. If we’ve trained it to be busy at all times, our brain literally forgets how to rest.
This is exactly why I was aghast at my son’s lack of reading material as we sat on the shore of Lake Superior that chilly summer afternoon. There I was, in one of the most scenic spots in all of America, the lake water lapping at my feet, sea gulls circling the sky, the jagged edge of the Sawtooth range in the distance, and I was bent on finishing a chapter in the book I was reading and moving on to the next.
Busy was what my brain was used to, so busy I was going to be, regardless of my surroundings.
I didn’t give myself the opportunity to enter into directed rest that day, but even if I’d tried, I likely would have struggled to settle into a contemplative state simply because my brain was out of practice. I hadn’t offered my brain a Sabbath in years.
My son Noah, on the other hand, was content to sit quietly, his face turned toward the vast expanse of water that stretched as far as the eye could see. I couldn’t help but notice he seemed happy to do nothing. Unlike me, my son was simply content to be.
Have you let down your wings of constant fluttering? Have you taken a “Sabbath for the brain”?
Blessings of rest…Lynn