Earlier this month I had the privilege of speaking at the “Gold Country Gathering” that my parents organized for fans of George MacDonald. I spoke about human flourishing, George MacDonald, and my upcoming book.
I recently discovered Gisela Kreglinger’s work through an interview that Ken Myers did with her for the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Most of Kreglinger’s scholarly work has been on wine and George MacDonald (a strange but appropriately fitting juxtaposition). In reading Kreglinger’s book The Spirituality of Wine, I was particularly fascinated by her discussion about the health benefits of having a daily glass of wine. In the quotation that follows I have had to remove the footnotes referencing peer-reviewed studies and medical research.
“Serge Renaud had studied the relationship between moderate wine-drinking and low-rate cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessel system). This study revealed that the French had a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease than that of other industrialized countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In most countries the high consumption of saturated fats is positively related to an increased risk of heart disease. Paradoxically, this tendency is not true in France: though the French have a high intake of saturated fat (they love their cheeses) and smoke cigarettes, they nonetheless have a low mortality rate from heart disease. Today this finding is referred to as the “French paradox.” Renaud found that the French drink a moderate amount of wine with their meals daily (they also eat and drink more slowly). Scientific studies revealed that the consumption of alcohol at the level of consumption in France (approximately one to two glasses of wine a day) can reduce the risk of heart disease by at least 40 percent. Renaud suggests that wine drunk in moderation may be one of the most efficient “drugs” to prevent heart disease.
Since then, many scientific studies have confirmed Renaud’s findings and suggest that the moderate consumption of any kind of alcohol (1-2 drinks per day) can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by an average of 30-35 percent in comparison to nondrinkers. Given that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in many industrialized countries, especially in the United States, this medical finding is exceedingly important. Strokes, which constitute one form of cardiovascular disease, are the third-leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States. A daily glass of wine drunk in a leisurely way can significantly reduce the risk of stroke. This is good news indeed. Studies around the world have shown that moderate drinkers tend to have a lower mortality rate than either nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. Heavy drinkers and binge drinking, on the other hand, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
What is classical education? How can the liberal arts fortify children against anxiety, depression and addiction? What was Charlotte Mason’s contribution to classical education? These are some of the questions that Robin and Jason explore with this week’s guest, Michael d’Esterre. Michael is a clinical social worker in Spokane Washington, who is turning to the liberal arts to find answers to some of our society’s most pressing problems, including mental disorders and addiction.
St. Sebastian Orthodox Press has just released a new book Pain, Suffering and Resilience: Orthodox Christian Perspectives.
This collection of peer-reviewed essays explores the mystery of human suffering along with the spiritual and psychological resources that enable us to achieve resilience in the midst of pain.
The publisher explains how the work
“includes eminent scholars, clergy, physicians, and psychotherapists seeking to serve people in their respective fields, through their respective disciplines informed and guided by the depth and riches of the Orthodox Christian Faith. This is the unifying thread for each of the contributors who bring this ancient Christian perspective into dialogue with the contributions of modern psychology and medical science as they seek to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of pain and human suffering in a variety of contexts.”
I was privileged to be asked to contribute a chapter to this volume on the topic of practicing gratitude during times of suffering. My essay develops material I began exploring in my chapter on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Saints and Scoundrels. By drawing on classic spiritual texts (i.e., The Way of the Pilgrim, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Dorotheus of Gaza’s Saying and Discourses, etc) and integrating them with recent developments (i.e., advances in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, the twentieth-century prison literature, etc.) I make a case that suffering and gratitude are not related like two sides of a zero-sum transaction where an increase in the former entails a decrease in the latter. Rather, by receiving our sufferings rightly, we can use them as opportunities to actually grow in the cognitive, behavioral and emotional dimensions of thankfulness. From the essay:
“…true gratitude is not merely compatible with an acknowledgement of pain; it presupposes it. To be truly grateful is to acknowledge that life is difficult while framing that difficulty within a context of thanksgiving…. Gratitude releases us to lean into the pain, to stand face to face with the ambiguity and complexity of life and not to despair. In contrast to stoicism, cynicism and sentimentalism, gratitude-based reframing does not involve detachment from suffering; rather, it provides the inner resources for genuine engagement…. In so far as gratitude enables us to lean into pain, to be realistic rather than escapist, it provides the resources to engage with others who are suffering instead of insulating ourselves from their pain. In our comfort-oriented culture, many people’s default response is to avoid those whose lives are lonely, messy or filled with pain. Instead of going through people’s pain with them, we often numb ourselves to the suffering around us in order to protect ourselves. However, when the pursuit of comfort causes us to numb ourselves to the impact of suffering, what we are doing is numbing away the capacity to empathize, to feel love, joy and gratitude. This is because it is impossible to selectively numb emotion. When we harden ourselves as a defense against fear, grief, disappointment, shame, rejection or vulnerability, we are inadvertently reducing our capacity to feel the emotions that are important for our wellbeing, including gratitude.
Gratitude enables us to look pain straight in the eye and not to despair. Gratitude enables us to derive genuine enjoyment from small blessings even when evil, suffering and pain are crowding in upon us. This is important, not only so we can have the resources for weathering life’s storms, but so we have the inner resources to engage with others who are going through hardships. Instead of pushing people away because we cannot deal with their pain, and instead of numbing ourselves in order to be insulated from other people’s grief, a grateful person has the inner resources to empathize with those who are in pain and like the Apostle said, ‘rejoicing with them that rejoice, and weeping with them that weep.’ (Romans 12:15)”
What I don’t share in my chapter, but which I would like to share here, is that the research behind this essay was prompted by a very painful set of circumstances in my personal life. The Lord brought me to a point where I was ready to dig deep in ancient spiritual teachings on contentment and pain. What I found is the spiritual paradox encapsulated by Elder Alexander of Gethsemane who observed that “The amount of suffering that the soul can accommodate is also how much it can accommodate the grace of God.
The best chapters in Pain, Suffering and Resilience: Orthodox Christian Perspectives, are actually the ones written by others, including a contribution by His Grace, Bishop Alexander (Golitzin), who serves as Bisohp of the Diocese of the South for the OCA and ruling bishop of the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.
I hope all the essays in this book can prove an encouragement to ordinary men and women facing struggles and pain.
I would be grateful for people to buy the book on Amazon and then write a review (Amazon always privileges reviews if the person writing the review has bought the book through them).
You can read more about the book on the St. Sebastian Orthodox Press website.
In my recent series of articles on the sacramental imagination I have been exploring how it’s possible to recognize God’s presence in all of life. I have been urging my readers to begin seeing all of life—from when we get out of bed in the morning to when we brush our teeth at night—as occasions for communion with God. I have suggested that we can begin to great all our experiences—from a baby’s laugh to a splash of rain on our cheek—as occasions of wonder and grace. It is possible to learn to hear God’s voice, not just in times of prayer, but in a stranger reaching out to us in need, or even in our own heartbeat and silent breathing. Even by simply being physical we can participate in the life of God, for as David Fagerberg beautifully puts it, “the Incarnation was a sanctification of our bodies as well as our souls, and the supernatural settles, as a dewfall, upon every natural thing.”
If you are new to this blog and haven’t been keeping up on this series, here are links to the main articles in this series on the sacramental imagination.
In the present article, I want to take things in a new direction and apply some of these principles to the issue of pain and emotional discomfort. I will be suggesting that the invitation to be fully present in whatever we are experiencing (a point I developed in ‘Eating and Breathing Sacramentally‘) is something we can apply to times of pain no less than experiences of joy.
For most of its history, clinical psychology has been preoccupied with neurosis, psychosis and everything that can go wrong. In the twentieth-century, however, many psychologists began to shift their emphasis and take an interest in studying health and normality. A central question they began asking is, “what do things look like when everything is working properly and can that be learned and replicated?” This has led to extensive research into the brains and behaviors of people who report high levels of happiness and well-being.
For a number of years I’ve had the privilege of working with Young Living as a wellness coach, helping numerous individuals achieve mental, physical and emotional wellness. (For some of the other things I do, see here).
Through my work I have come to believe that one of the reasons many of us are failing to live up to our full potential is that we haven’t given attention to the total person. Maybe we are focused exclusively on physical fitness, or emotional health, or nutrition or brain fitness. In my coaching, however, I follow a holistic approach that takes seriously the human person as an integrated whole. Thus, I help people with a wide variety of issues, ranging from getting a good night’s sleep to overcoming procrastination
Below are some of the resources I use in my wellness coaching. Feel free to browse! If you have any questions or would like to purchase a coaching session on any of these topics, send me an email or reach me in the chat box in the lower left-hand corner of this page.
Young Living Starter Kit. Aromatherapy plays a key role in many of the wellness protocols I use. The best way to get the highest quality essential oils is to sign up as a wholesale customer with Young Living and then purchase their Premium Starter Kit. Once you join Young Living as a wholesale member, you get 24% off the retail price on all their products. Being a member of Young Living comes with no obligation to buy every month or to introduce others to the opportunity. Moreover, the Premium Starter Kit will get you $320.00 worth of products (including a diffuser) for only $160.00. You can learn more about the contents of this kit by clicking here. Moreover, if you join with a Premium Starter Kit and put in my Young Living number as the one who referred you (#1297759), then I will personally send you a small gift and offer free support as you begin learning about these products. It gets even better: joining Young Living with the Premium Starter as part of my team will automatically qualify you one free coaching session on any of the following topics: (1) overcoming insomnia, (2) eliminating procrastination, (3) increasing your memory and learning potential.
Life Coaching for Students. Many students find themselves unable to accomplish their goals because of problems with time-management, procrastination, memory and learning difficulties, and other difficulties. Through my life coaching services, I offer science-based counseling to help students overcome these problems and reach their goals. All coaching sessions last an hour and cost $75. During the first 20 minutes, I listen to the student explain about his or her issues. During the next 20 minutes, I chat with the student about the neuroscience behind a particular problem (i.e. procrastination). During the final 20 minutes, I work with the student to help him or her apply the scientific research to their own life and put together a personalized treatment plan. Coaching sessions occur through Skype and are billed via PayPal or Venmo. To learn more about coaching, or to purchase a session, contact me in the chat box in the lower right-hand corner.
Essential Oils and Sleep. Insomnia is an ever-increasing problem. In this booklet, I have addressed the common causes of insomnia and how you can use Young Living’s products to get a good night’s sleep. Click on the following link for a free download: Using Young Living Products to Get a Good Night’s Sleep (pdf)
Develop a Youthful Brain Through the Power of Ningxia. In this booklet I share ways that you can keep your brain youthful, using a combination of neuroplasticity and nutrition. In the process, you will learn about the secrets of the Ningxia Wolfberry and why people in Northern China remain healthy into their hundreds. Click on the following link for a free download: Develop a Youthful Brain Through the Power of Ningxia (pdf)
Overcome Anxiety. Anxiety is now the most common disorder in our society. But science-based techniques used by the Special Forces offer hope for those crippled by anxiety. This article combines these techniques with the teachings of the Bible to offer practical steps for overcoming anxiety. Use Positive Self-Talk to Overcome Anxiety (pdf)
Using Young Living Essential Oils in the Kitchen. If you like essential oils, you may be surprised to learn that there are yummy ways to incorporate them into cooking. In this booklet I share some of my own great-tasting and great-smelling recipes using Young Living Essential Oils. Robin’s Essential Oil Recipes (pdf)
Brain Fitness Interview. In 2016, Dr. Graham Taylor interviewed me about brain fitness. During our conversation I suggested that the notion of “being smart” often invokes a one-sided paradigm of mental ability that may not be consistent with overall cognitive health. I explained why a proper understanding of brain fitness should also include such things as imagination, intellectual curiosity, mental focus, the ability to think outside the box, emotional intelligence, and many other aspects of a healthy brain that are often overlooked in our culture. Read our entire conversation at the following link: “Graham Taylor’s Conversation With Robin Phillips about Brain Fitness.”
Time Management Tips. Do you find yourself overwhelmed with too many projects? Do you find yourself with a to-do list that never seems to get any shorter? In this video you will learn the secrets of harnessing the power of aromatherapy and effectively managing your time so you can accomplish everything you need to do. Watch video at YouTube.
Overcoming Procrastination Video. If you find yourself unable to accomplish your goals because of continual procrastination, then the tips in this video may transform your life. In this video, I discuss the latest findings from neuroscience on why we procrastinate and what you can do about it. Watch Video on Overcoming Procrastination
Essential Oils and Brain Fitness. Many people are not aware of the incredible power found in essential oils for achieving mental and emotional wellness. To address this need, I have published an ongoing series of articles pm how to combine aromatherapy and neuroplasticity to create a better brain. To read these articles, visit ‘Series on Essential Oils and Brain Fitness.’ I have also created a Facebook group as a forum for personal sharing and education on using essential oils for brain fitness. You can visit our group by clicking on the image below.
A couple years ago, while doing some work in London, I found myself with an eight day gap in my schedule. I decided to take the train to the quiet countryside of Essex where I had heard there was a Christian monastery that offered free accommodation to spiritual seekers.
As I sat in the train, watching the English countryside whiz by, I thought of a conversation I had a couple days earlier with the receptionist at the London hotel where I had been staying. The receptionist, a young Italian lady named Francesca, had a sharp elegant-looking Roman nose offset by soft dark eyes. She told me she had immigrated to the UK just a month before, after the severe economic conditions in Italy had forced her to come to London in search of work.