Author Archives: soulsculpt

Soul Sculpting Project: Red Alert to Green ‘At Ease’

Soul Sculpting Project: Red Alert to Green ‘At Ease’

True Story: It was the middle of the night. Something was wrong with his heart. He laid in the emergency room answering questions and undergoing tests. Finally he OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAreceived the doctor’s prescription. “Take a vacation.”

Why did the doctor prescribe a vacation? 

This man held a job that was both meaningful and challenging. The doctor believed that the challenges had led his patient to live a life on red alert. His nervous system was locked in the sympathetic mode.

The doctor also believed that a vacation would help his patient move his nervous system to the parasympathetic mode.

God built our bodies with an adjustable nervous system.

The sympathetic system sets us up for action. It is called fight or flight and also tend and befriend.

When this system is in charge, it prioritizes the action parts of our body. Our heart rate is increased, adrenaline pours into our blood and is diverted to our large muscles.

As the sympathetic system gears-up some parts of our body for action, it also shuts down parts of our body that is deems less necessary. Digestion, for example, is not considered priority. Enzymes in our saliva that breakdown food decrease and blood flow to the small intestine is reduced up to 4 times. Our active brain regions change. Higher reasoning in the frontal lobe is lessened and more basic survival regions are favored.

This Sympathetic Nervous System is a gift from God. It helps us survive many of life’s challenges and enables us to take action in a powerful way. The problem comes when we, like the man in the emergency room, live too much of our day in this system.

How do we turn on this Sympathetic Action System?

It comes on in a split second as an emergency is detected. Some of these emergencies are actually happening, others are ones we see in media or we create by our own imaginations. Worrying can turn on our action system.

How do we turn off the Sympathetic Action System?

By turning on the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

The Parasympathetic system is our at ease system known as Rest and Digest.

How to turn on our Parasympathetic Nervous system:

Many Sculpting Projects have the ability to move us from Sympathetic to Parasympathetic System.

This Sculpting Project will employ a rapid and renown method to achieve this change.

The Long Exhale Prayer

  • Say (silently) a short prayer (one sentence, phrase or word) in sync with your breath.
  • Inhale, then extend your exhale to as long as is comfortable.
  • Repeat.

Example: Inhale: “Lord Jesus Christ”, Long Exhale: “thank you for the gift of life”.

You will likely sense your ‘at ease system’ turning on after a few breaths.

It takes your blood stream a little longer to clear out the adrenaline and all your body systems to move to full rest and digest. 60 to 90 seconds will get you closer to your goal.

I’ve been practicing this Long Exhale Prayer throughout the day whenever it comes to mind. I don’t need to stop what I am doing. I have noticed it rapidly creates many positive changes. My body relaxes, my mind becomes steady, my spirit wakes up to the wonders of the present moment. It feels like very good medicine for me.

Did the man in the emergency room heed the doctor’s prescription? I don’t know. I do think that one vacation will not be enough for him to move out of a life pattern of Red Alert. We need ways to live more of our work days in ‘at ease mode’. We need a better balance of red and green alert.

I would add tools, like The Long Exhale Prayer, to the doctor’s prescription.

What would you prescribe for yourself?


Soul Sculpting Project: Getting My Bearings

Soul Sculpting Project: Getting My Bearings

We have a black bear roaming around on our ranch. She has broken countless fence poles, torn apart logs/stools in our yard and now has taken an interest in tearing the screens off our windows and disassembling our spring-water system. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today my job is repairing the screens and the water system. “OK,” I begin my self- pep talk, “I know how to repair screens, that will be quick and easy. And really, how complex can a water system be? The water flows out of the hill, into the pipe, then into the holding tank and then into more pipe on down to the house. It’s just water and gravity, basic. Well, maybe a few air locks, but I know how to fix those. How hard can this be?” My pep talk is over, but I remain suspicious of this task’s simplicity. I think this repair may be complex and frustrating. I will need focus, creative thinking and patience, and I also would like to stay connected with God throughout the day and take joy in the day. So I run through all the psychology research on these topics and I come up with a plan.

I call it the Getting My Bearings Game.

Game Plan: Set my watch at 10 minute alarms. When It beeps, stop my work and get my bearings. Connect with God, wake up to the beautiful world around me, check in with my body, how is it feeling?

Here is the log of my game. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I gather up tools, walk up to the spring, and begin to assess the situation.

Beep, Beep, Beep.

I stop and look around. The sky is lovely blue, I notice some wild flowers still in full bloom. The fresh life of the place flows around me and I feel gratitude.

I get back to assessing and begin with plan A, reset tank.

Plan A begins to fail.

Beep, beep, beep.

I take a deep breath, then another. I feel myself relaxing.

I talk to God about plan B.

I put plan B into action and get amazing water pressure.

Then I attempt to attach pipe to the tank and the flow abruptly stops.

Beep, beep, beep.

I notice my body. I have been hunching over in awkward positions and I am tense and sore. I stretch and relax.

Time for Plan C, which fails. I begin Plan D; it doesn’t look hopeful.

Beep, beep, beep.

I look around and see the wind begin to blow the aspen leaves, one of my favorite sights. I smile and realize it is time for a longer break. 

Normally I would have juOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAst kept pushing through. In some cases this is helpful, but when creative thinking is needed I must tap into another part of my brain. Optimism and happiness both help me get into the approach mode I need to think creatively. So I have a hot drink and spend a few minutes taking delight in the beauty surrounding me. I converse with God about the beauty and consult God about the water system.

I get back to work and continue through Plan E,F, G…. with the beeps going on every 10 minutes.

Hope – then disappointment- cycle around, but the beeps help me get my bearings.

Finally plan H works. Reset tank, anchor pipe in spring, saw off output hose, release air OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlocks. Water at the house!!! And best of all a sane and happy me.

Sculpting Project: Getting My Bearings

  1. Set an alarm to your desired frequency. Maybe 10 minutes, 20 or 30 minutes. I use a watch, you might use a phone or even an outside frequent occurrence.
  2. Begin your activity
  3. When the alarm beeps, stop and get your bearings.You might want to talk with God, take a breath, notice the world around you, ask what your body needs.
  4. Return to your activity until the next alarm.

As I have continued to play the Get My Bearings game I noticed two things.

  • I don’t always need to stop my work, sometimes I can get my bearings as I work.
  • The frequent alarms have helped me stay in a healthy mode.

Fixing the screens was easy, (until I ran out of screen) and I am grateful that a black bear helped me get my bearings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soul Sculpting Tool Box

Soul Sculpting Projects are a set of tools

to connect with God and increase our ability to thrive.

A few tools in the Soul Sculpting Tool Box

A few tools in the Soul Sculpting Tool Box

I do not use every tool, every day.

Some tools/projects are a regular part of my schedule.

Other tools/projects I just use when the need or desire arises.

I hope you will find the tools in this Soul Sculpting Tool Box

that will serve you well

at the frequency that works best for you.     

  Thanks for joining me in this.

Soul Sculpting Projects: Monotasking with God

Soul Sculpting Projects: Monotasking with God

It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God.” These are the words of Brother Lawrence, a French Lay Brother who lived in the 1600’s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lawrence’s spiritual practice was simply to do all of his daily tasks for the love of God and in the company of God. He practiced God’s presence in the kitchen, in town as he ran errands, and later in life as a shoe repair man. Lawrence found that of all the Christian practices, the habit of doing all our tasks for and with God was the ‘shortest and easiest way’ to connect to God.

Lawrence says, to Practice God’s Presence we must focus our attention on the task at hand and quiet all thoughts that are unrelated to that task. The skill of monotasking was an essential part of Lawrence’s practice.

Monotasking means: do one thing at a time.

Multitasking is when we do multiple tasks at a time. Say, checking email, talking on the phone, straightening up the room, and eating a snack –all at the same time. It is remarkable the number of things we can do at once -or can we?

Our brains are actually not built for this level of multitasking. Because we have two lobes in our brain (right side/left side), research out of France found that we can do two tasks, sort of simultaneously. Each lobe takes on a task. But when we add a third task our cortex begins to overload.

What actually happens is not that we do multiple things simultaneously, but that we continually switch attention. We read an email – switch- take a bite of food- switch- catch a phrase of the phone conversation -switch- pick up our shoes -switch . . .

For all this switching we pay a price. Here it is.

Research findings on Multitasking:

1. Our brain gets tired faster. Switching attention is work.

2. We work more slowly .

We have up to 40% decrease in productivity.

Drivers on cell phones take longer to reach destinations.

3. Quality of work decreases.

Our IQ lowers

Error rate increases up to 50%

The more complicated the task the more the rate of error increases.

4.  If we add the task of eating we increase the likelihood of overeating.

Some folks object to these research findings because they feel they are really good at multitasking. Consider this research study out of the University of Utah.

Individuals who self reported as ‘above average’ at multitasking were the same individuals who scored the lowest on multitasking tests.

There are 2% of the human population who actually are good at multitasking. I am not one of those 2% and 98% chance you are not either.

If you look at it carefully Brother Lawrence was multitasking, too. 

Turning his omelet and thinking of, talking to God. 

But he had two sides to his brain so he could handle this level of switching attention.

Our Sculpting Project is :

Each day select one ordinary task and the practice God’s presence while we do it.

What tasks?

Cooking, cleaning-up, doing laundry, getting dressed, driving are a few of the possible choices.       (Imagine a drive where every driver around us was monotasking and enjoying God.)

How do we practice God’s presence?

Talk to God about the task. Ask God’s help in the task. Enjoy God’s company. Listen to God.

In this good company we may want to notice the novel; the beauty and wonder we miss when we are inattentive to our tasks.

When our mind wanders away from the task and God’s presence Lawrence gives us this advice.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Don’t be hard on yourself – mind wandering is just human nature.
  • You must practice the presence to learn this skill.
  • When I (Lawrence) began “sometimes a crowd of extravagant thoughts took the place of God. I set them aside gently and returned to my conversation with God.”

Soul Sculpting Project: Monotasking with God

For one task each day:

Give full attention to the task and keep company with God as we do it.

May we grow in our skills to monotask and Practice God’s Presence.

Soul Sculpting Project: Declaration of Hope


Soul Sculpting Project: Declaration of Hope

When you got out of bed this morning and your feet touched the ground what was on your mind?

This week I invite you to join me in doing a variation of B.J. Fogg’s Maui Habit.

Dr. B.J. Fogg, a Behavioral Scientist out of Stanford, has specialized in answering the question, “How can we make big and lasting changes in our behavior?”

Fogg discovered that motivation was not as effective as simplicity,

so he developed Tiny Habits: small and easy actions that lead to big and lasting change.

To create a Tiny Habit you need 3 things:

1. A small action 2. A trigger to do the action. 3. A reward.

The Maui Habit is Fogg’s favorite and most successful Tiny Habit.

The Maui Habit is simply: when your feet touch the ground each morning (that’s the trigger) you say, “It’s going to be a great day.” (That is the small action and reward)

From his large data base of participants doing various Tiny Habits Fogg determined that the Maui Habit was the most successful in two significant ways.

First, it easily became a habit.

Second, it created a ripple effect. This tiny action set off a ripple of many positive changes in the lives of participants.

A declaration that, “Today is going to be a great day” is a statement of blatant optimism.

I do want make a clarification here. Saying, “today is going to be a great day” is not saying, “today is going to be an easy, trouble-free day.”

It is rather a choice to meet the day with hope, courage, and optimism.

Why would we want to choose optimism?

Let’s start with a few findings from the Mayo Clinic.

  • Optimistic thinking reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Optimism reduces negative stress.
  • Optimists have better coping skills than pessimists.
  • Optimism helps with various respiratory diseases by easing our breathing.
  • Optimism helps us resist diseases.
    • Optimists, for example, have a decreased risk of catching the common cold.
  • Optimism increases mental functioning and even longevity.Here is a sample of research finding from places other than Mayo clinic.
  • Optimism reduces the hormone cortisol, which we associate with negative stress.
  • Optimistic thinking makes us more effective care givers.
  • Optimistic students and athletes out-perform the pessimistic ones.
  • Optimistic professionals are more successful than pessimistic colleagues.
    • For example, optimistic sales people out sell the pessimists by 35%.

Particularly surprising to me is the fact that:

Optimism is a greater predictor of success than talent or motivation.

Now is optimism really a choice?

Yes, we can learn to become optimists.

To learn more check out the work of Martin Seligman on Learned Optimism.

This Sculpting Project will combine the work of several psychologists to increase our connection with God and our ability to thrive. Our thriving will be socially contagious to those around us.

Here is what we do.

  1. Pick a morning trigger. The first recommended choice is when your feet touch the ground.If that doesn’t work for you try a location like the bathroom mirror.

2. Throw your arms up high in the air and lift your heart to God.

Why this posture? God created our mind and body to be connected. Posture matters. Most of us wake up each morning with a lot of the hormone cortisol in our system. Useful, but also associated with negative stress. This arms up/ heart up posture rapidly changes the hormone balance in our body by decreasing cortisol and increasing testosterone. For both men and women this makes us feel powerful to meet the day.   (To learn more see the work of Amy Cuddy from Harvard Business School.)

3. After we have picked our trigger and taken our prayer posture then we speak our Declaration of Hope to God. We might say: “Good morning Lord, this is going to be a great day.”

Or “Thank your God for the gift of today. Let’s make it wonderful.”

Or “let’s make it full of beauty, or laughter, or hope, or wisdom, or accomplishment, or love.”

Make this declaration of hope your own, declaring what matters to you.

You can adjust your declaration when you anticipate a day to be challenging or unusual.

But Keep It Short and Easy. This is a Tiny Habit.

Since connection with God is deeply important, this project makes that connection with our 1st words in the morning; greeting God with our declaration of hope.

Sculpting Project: Declaration of Hope

Each morning:

  1. Choose a trigger. Ex. My feet touch the ground.
  2. Lift arms and heart to God.
  3. Pray a Declaration of Hope. Good morning God, it is going to be a great day!”

Watch for the ripple effects this project will have in the rest of your week.             May our Declarations of Hope create thriving in our world and deepen our connection to God.


Soul Sculpting Project: The Word That Moves Us

Soul Sculpting Project: The Word That Moves Us

In the world of psychological research environmental primes feel like Believer It or Not.

Let’s start with smells.

  • Did you know that the smell of cleaning fluid will make us more likely to clean-up.
  • Or the smell of cinnamon will incline us to see a heating pad as more effective.
  • Nike discovered that the smell of leather will increase shoe sales by 80%.

How about music?

  • Wine stores sell more champagne if the background music is classical and less if it is pop.

Our sense of touch?

  • If you hand me a cup of hot coffee, later on I will probably describe you as a warm person.
  • If the coffee you hand me is cold I am more likely to describe you in less favorable terms.

And then words?

  • If I prime you with the word professor you will do better on a test of knowledge than if I prime you with the word supermodel.
  • When we are primed with the word stubborn we are more apt to see others as stubborn and to behave more stubbornly ourselves.
  • Use a kinder word and we get kinder results.

Environmental primes are the things in our world that influence our thoughts and actions.

When I listened to the data my first reaction was, ‘Oh I would never form an opinion about you based on the temperature of a cup of coffee.”

Maybe not, but the statistical odds are that I would.

These primes have a powerful influence on us, so how could we use them to our advantage?

In this 2 minute Sculpting Project we will be using the power of the prime. We will take control of one of the primes in our world and use it to become more who we want to be.

1st Step: Find a Bible. We are looking for words that prime and this book is full of them.

2nd Step: Invite God’s leadership in this 2 minute project. God knows a lot about the Bible and we will find the help valuable.

3rd Step: Select a passage to read. If you already are reading somewhere in the Bible you can continue on right where you are.

If you would like to try a new passage or are looking for ideas you might read in one of the Gospels, for example Matthew or John. If you want a letter, try Paul’s letter to Philippians. Or for poetry, turn to the Psalms.

You do not need to start at the beginning of the book. But starting at the beginning of a chapter could be helpful.

4th Step: Read for around one minute. Read enough to get context for the passage and have several word primes to select from.

5th Step: For the second minute select a phrase or word that you want to hold onto to prime your day. Then linger with the prime word/s. Ponder, chew on it. Add emotion if possible for a stronger prime.

6th Extra credit step: Jot this word or phrase down on a paper or a device and put it in a place you will see again today.

I am currently doing this sculpting project in the barn as I do the morning milking. Here is what I read today from Matthew chapter 8: When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. A leper came up to Him and knelt before Him saying, “Lord, if you will you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “ I will: be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Several word primes called out to me from this passage. The prime I selected for today was the kind words of Jesus “I will: be clean.” What would you have picked?

  • This project will increase our connection to God as we relate to God through Scripture.
  • With this project we will increase our thriving as we take charge and create a prime that influences us in the direction we want to move.
  • This 2 minute effort we make will help others thrive because our thriving is contagious.

Two suggestions to consider as we search for our word primes.

First: Because we are working with tiny sound bites from Scripture it is easy to take words out of context. Phrases from the Bible taken out of context can lead to some odd interpretations. So be as sensitive to the context as we can.

Second: Some passages in Scripture are more about examples to avoid than examples to follow. If we encounter one of these we can create a word prime that leads us to more positive direction. For example if the passage relates a story of cruelty we may choose the word prime today choose kindness.

Our Soul Sculpting Project is to take charge of a word prime

  1. Get a Bible
  2. Invite God’s direction
  3. Read a passage for about one minute
  4. Find or create a word prime
  5. Linger with that word or phrase for 30 seconds.
  6. Extra credit: Jot the word/s down and put the note somewhere you will see it again today.

May we take charge of the primes in our life to create thriving and may we encounter God in these words.


Sculpting Project: 12 Breaths

Sculpting Project: 12 Breaths

Many years ago in the fall of 1850 a Russian peasant was attending church and the scripture reading for the day was “Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess. 5:17. The peasant’s heart was gripped. How was it possible to pray without ceasing? He set out on a pilgrimage to discover the answer. After many failed attempts he found an old monk who said, “Ah, I know a way to pray without ceasing.” He pulled an ancient book off his shelf from the Orthodox Fathers and read to the peasant about the Jesus Prayer.

This prayer’s origin was from the gospel of Mark and the cries of Blind Bartimatus as Jesus passed by.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

The peasant took this prayer to heart, got a summer job tending a local garden and practiced the Jesus Prayer all summer until he worked up to 12,000 repetitions a day. The prayer filled his mind, his heart and his dreams.

I began to practice the Jesus prayer when I was in my 20’s and when it came time to deliver my daughter Terese I used the prayer in combination with my Lamaze breathing for a successful birth.

Using breath with prayer is not new. It is a method of prayer that Christians have used throughout history.


In Gen. 2:7 God breathed the breath of life into Adam. And this a gift of breath has amazing power for our well-being.

Breath is something we do without thinking: an involuntary function of our body. And I have largely taken it for granted and been ignorant of the way of the way breath affects my health, thinking and emotions.

Intentional breathing is when we take an active role in the way we breath. There are many ways to do intentional breathing and there is a large body of research on how intentional breathing affects us.

Intentional breathing practices do the following.

  • Control blood pressure
  • Lowers heart rate
  • Quickly turn off our Sympathetic (action) system and turn on our Parasympathetic (at ease) system
  • Reduces negative effects of stress
  • Lower anxiety
  • Sleep better
  • Reduce heart burn
  • Control panic attacks
  • Improve athletic and mental performance
  • Manage pain
  • Reduce depression
  • Choose emotions
  • Change brain waves especially to alpha and theta states.
  • Boost energy
  • And More…

A center at Stanford has developed a program where intentional breathing methods have helped our military recover from post traumatic stress.

God has built a pharmacy into our body and intentional breath methods are one of its major tools.

Our sculpting Project this week uses the ancient prayer method of praying with our breath.

1. Our first step is to select a short prayer.

The Jesus Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” is one possible choice.

Other examples: “Thank you lord for the gift of _____(fill in the blank.)”

“Lord Jesus Christ, fill me with your Love (peace, joy,. . .)”

A passage from scripture. “Be still and know I am God.”

2. After we have selected a short prayer then combine our prayer with breath.

Inhale: “ Lord Jesus Christ” Exhale “Fill me with your love”.      Or

Inhale “Thank-you Lord” Exhale: “for the gift of hope”.

  • This project of using intentional breath with prayer will deepen our connection with God as we bring ourselves, mind and body, to God.
  • The project will help us (and therefore others) to thrive because intentional breathing taps into the pharmacy that God has built into us. This pharmacy will bring us into better health of mind and body.

Soul Sculpting Project: 12 Breaths

1. Select a short prayer. Ex. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

2.Combine this the prayer with your breath.

  • Inhale ‘Lord Jesus Christ”. 
  • Exhale “ have mercy on me.”

3. The peasant prayed 12,000 times a day. I suggest we begin by removing the 0’s and pray our breath prayer 12 times a day.

Further reading on the Jesus Prayer: The Way of a Pilgrim.

May our skills in intentional breathing and love of God grow this week.