In some of my trainings, I ask:
What makes the difference in why some people are able to ‘hear’ and receive logically helpful information and others are not? Why at times do people have all the data needed to make wise choices and still not be able to follow through?
As I was continuing to ponder this problem, one of Jesus’ parables came to mind. Although in those days there was not the scientific research and language of today, I sense Jesus was addressing a serious ongoing problem throughout history of emotional dis-regulation. While I do not think that Jesus was organizing us all into such distinct patterns as I am going to depict, I have found it helpful for me to use His parable in further pondering us people.
In Matthew 13 He gave a story of a man sowing seed and how effective the outcome was.
3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow.
4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.
5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.
6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.
8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Later he gave an interpretation of his parable.
19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.
20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.
22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.
23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
There was one group that were overly ‘shut down’, ‘hard’ and ‘impenetrable’. The words could not go deep into their souls so as to take root and produce life giving changes. Originally, they liked what they heard and desired to use the truths for guidance in life, but in the long haul, they were not able to follow through well when life got painfully harsh. These people seem to me to correspond with those who in childhood needed to develop the survival stance of minimizing and dismissing the significance of life so as to survive the emotional devastation of being unloved and neglected. They often develop an internal numbness. Their nervous systems took them into a stance of ‘shut down’. It can also be compared to a car with its brake stuck as it proceeds and navigates life. (Dismissive Attachment Pattern)
There was another group of people who got all excited with the words of wisdom and life! But as life’s fear-filled situations arose, they could not keep track of what had been voiced. Their high anxiety sent them into a whirlwind, sending life giving words afar. These people seem to correlate with those who in childhood lived in constant anxiety, never being certain when their needs might be met. It can also be compared to a car with its gas pedal stuck as it proceeds and navigates life. (Anxious Attachment Pattern)
The third group included people who were internally settled and ‘grounded’, capable of internalizing the good words of life in ways that resulted in their lives flourished delightfully. These people seem to correlate with those who grew up in secure, nourishing environments with safe and secure bonds. (Secure Attachment Pattern)
My mind went to another parable given by Jesus that Luke captured in chapter 13.
6 Then He told them this picture-story: “A man had a fig tree in his grape-field. He looked for fruit on it but found none.
7 He said to his servant, ‘See! For three years I have been coming here looking for fruit on this fig tree. I never find any. Cut it down. Why does it even waste the ground?’
8 The servant said, ‘Sir! Leave it here one more year. I will dig around it and put plant food on it.
9 It may be that it will give fruit next year. If it does not, then cut it down.’
So often we, like the owner of the fig tree, get frustrated with people who do not live well, responsibly, and take good advice to heart. We want to dispose of these non-flourishing people.
But, this issue is not going to be aided by our exasperation with the people who struggle in life, and cannot take in the words of life in ways that significantly help them. It will not work to ‘throw more seeds/ words” at them. The issue is the environment that they in. The condition of the soil is vital. We all are in need of God and people who will be involved with enriching their “soil”.
Different types of ground need different approaches and ‘nutrients’ in order to improve the soil, making it such that a plant can live and thrive in it. And so is the case with each of us who struggle with different types of emotional stances and reactions to life. What ‘nutrient’ is needed for those whose nervous systems got so shut down, numb and ‘hard’- so that truths cannot seep easily into the deep recess of their souls? What is needed to bring help to those who live with ongoing anxiety, whether low grade of caught in a whirlwind of emotion?
Each of us will have a combination of ‘soil problems’ and will need a combination of these limited “soil repair” ideas I suggest.
But let me come at this from a scientifically / neurologically / emotional perspective.
We are designed to be attached, connected, bonded in safe and securely intimate relationships! With God and with people! We are attached at conception in a way that our needs are met and we can grow in our potential as human. To take in what we need to flourish in life. From pre-birth, our nervous systems develop with survival awareness and stances to help us navigate relationships in the best way we can. We have 3 branches of the poly vagal system (due to time and space, I will not go into these in depth) that develop while in the womb, set up to determine whether or not we can engage safely. Or need to fight or run for safety. If our nervous system determines this will not be effective, it sends us into a shutdown stance, trying to become as little and unobserved as possible. At birth the amygdala, within the deep limbic system, begins to develop. It builds on what was started in the polyvagal development, setting up a ‘fight/ flight/ freeze/ engage’ system. It is again developed before most of our brains develop, including cognitive awareness and ability. It is outside our actual control and will power. Some of us are set up to move mostly from a sympathetic response, giving us energy (like gas in a car to keep up moving). Others are set up to move from a parasympathetic response, having us withdraw and shut down (like having the break on in a car).
All of this revolves around our need to attach to another person and the survival mechanisms woven into us when relationships are not safe. All of this impacts in powerful ways how well we will attach. How well we will be able to take another person and what they have to offer into our souls. It is ‘the soil’ in which the ‘seeds of life’ drop.
These survival and defense mechanisms within our nervous systems and minds, along with our ongoing development occur while our different senses develop. Our ‘gut instincts’, the sense of taste, smell, touch, sight and hearing are also a vital part of our ability to sense whether or not it is safe to bond. They can be used to take into our depths what another person has to offer. These can be used in the setting up of defensive stances or internal calm.
The problem is not our defense mechanisms! We need them. The problem is when we have had to live in them for prolonged periods of time and they become our default. When we did not have the opportunity to have our nervous systems have a ‘reset’ and get us back to a calm and receptive inner space, we live perpetually from an ‘on guard’ stance. We then are limited to different degrees in our ability to perceive situations accurately along with our ability to engage richly in relationships. With God and with people.
We are able to use our poly vagal systems along with our 5 senses to ‘do a reset’, and increasingly become more capable to receive people and God into our lives in appropriate ways. But we will need to use these resources in tailored- to – us ways. This is not the time and place to go into all the specifics. (There are good resources to learn more on the poly vagal system and how to get relief in our bodies. And I have lengthy sections in my classes on getting to calm as well as ways to get activated when too shut down.)
For those of us who are revved up with intense emotions and anxiety, we are in need of getting back to calm. We need to use mindfulness in a manner to not be caught obsessing with fears revolving around what did occur or what might happen in the future. We need to be brought back to being in the present. We can use all of our five senses to create an environment that directs our nervous systems towards calm and peace. We can incorporate exercises to dispel the excessive energy within us.
For those who developed a default of internally shutting down to diminish possible emotional anguish, we are in need of becoming internally woken up and receptive. We can use mindfulness to intentionally become aware of our life situation and how we are being impacted physically and emotionally. We can use our five senses and activities intentionally to activate our internal world.
As we intentionally focus on getting out of our defensive stances and survival mechanism, we are improving our ability to take in what is helpful for our thriving in life. We will be able to receive relationships into our souls at deeper levels, along with what they have to offer. Relationships with God and people. We will be improving our ‘soil’ so that we can increasingly flourish.