Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Nature does not hurry [or worry], yet everything is accomplished." Lao Tzu

I was running late to work the other day. My alarm hadn’t gone off, so I woke up with 5 minutes to get ready and get there. It’s doable, but the timing has to be just right. In my angst to get moving, I was snorting, hissing, and pshaw-ing anything and everyone who got in my way.

Of course when I’m not in the midst of a crisis, it’s easy to say something a long the lines of, “step back, breathe, etc.” which is good advice. But I know that when I am in the middle of whirling chaos on all sides, real or perceived, no matter how minor, I have a head-knowledge of how to react. But that insight doesn’t always match up to my behaviors.

I read a very inspiring post by Akaya Windwood, which I loved. She tells about how she made the decision to stop worrying. Yeah, who hasn’t? I’m sure everyone has made that decision at more than one point in their lives. I know have. What made the difference with her was, she knew she would need to replace her ingrained habit of worrying with something else. She chose trust. So whenever she found herself worrying, she changed her worrisome thoughts to trusting thoughts.

She says, “Much to my surprise, I found that not worrying increased my capacity to attend to what was in front of me. All that energy I’d been using to worry was freed up for me to use in much more creative and interesting ways—like helping to change the world….”

“When I stopped worrying, it made a big difference in how I showed up in meetings, to my partner, and with my friends and family. I had a clearer head because it wasn’t all fogged up with rat-in-the-wheel worry. I became much more effective. And people noticed.”

I am going to try this week to change my worry and hurry into prayer. I encourage you to change your worry into something else as well. Let me know what happens.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Three Questions

“It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right
time to begin everything… he would never fail in anything
he might undertake.” Tolstoy, Three Questions

I read Tolstoy’s Three Questions, the other day, and fell in love with it! This is the first of the three questions Tolstoy’s Emperor deemed imperative for success. It got me thinking, how do people determine when to act, to pursue an endeavor, to act upon a decision, or anything, really?

I would hope that in such instances as the story illustrates, helping a feeble man out, as well as reviving someone to life, that all of us would act at that moment. But it represents a larger picture. What spurs people to action?

You can ask any number of people’s advice, and get the same number of answers. If you asked my dad, for instance, he would bring out his calendar, and a yellow legal pad and map it all out with charts, graphs, and a Venn diagram for good measure.

When any sort of decision had to be made, [much to the chagrin of my more abstract mother and I] the legal pad was out [it is never far away]. Whether my parents were deciding to make the move from upstate New York to Charlotte to deciding whether to buy a Ford as opposed to a Honda, the legal pad was out, covered with my notes written in dad’s all-caps print.

There’s something comforting about lists, I’ll grant you. I’ve been known to bring out a legal pad for big decisions. Anything more elaborate, and it’s easy to forget what my original aim was.

If you asked my boyfriend, he would say, to go the Nike route, and Just Do It. He said that the things that have worked best for him is when he didn’t plan or analyze, but just acted.

Many times, there is no time to plan, you have to just act. The Emperor saw that the Hermit needed help immediately, he didn’t wait until he had the correct equipment or his work shoes. He jumped right in. When they both saw the dying man stumbling on the field, they stopped what they were doing and acted.

Our decisions are ultimately influenced by self. How can I best meet MY needs?
There is really nothing wrong with that, we are programmed that way. If you happen to be strolling in the jungle one day, you will not find too many lions looking out for any other lions, but themselves, [except mother lions, of course]. But one could argue that she is looking after a part of herself,

We, humans have been blessed with higher functioning brains than any of the jungle creatures. Along with our self- centered reptilian brain, we have two other reasoning, considering, brains. The neocortex and the limbic system. We are able to consider whether our instincts are appropriate, and help others, when we see a need.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Reptilian Witchhunt

In 1692, stress got the better of Salem, Massachusetts. Betty and Abigail Parris caused a mayhem that I’m not even sure they could have predicted. All manner of townspeople were imprisoned, some even put to death upon their accusations of witchcraft.

Betty and Abigail were two daughters of Reverend Samuel Parris. The girls loved to spend time reading books about prophecy and fortune telling, which were quite popular in New England at the time.

The girls of the town would form groups to act out the magic and fortune telling they read about in the books. They invited Tituba, a slave from Barbados to join in. Tituba had many of her own mystical tales to tell. She told their fortunes by dropping an egg white into a glass of water, interpreting the picture it formed. This started the paranoia in Salem.

The girls were displaying convulsions, which at first I thought they were doing on purpose as a cruel trick to accuse the people they didn’t like of witchcraft. But then I read about ergot poisoning, a fungal infection derived from rye bread, which did indeed cause convulsions.

The doctor was called in to treat the girls, but couldn’t find any physical cause for the behavior [he didn’t know about ergot poisoning] and simply said that they were bewitched. Let me begin by saying that Puritans believed in ghosts. Indeed, their testimony was even permissible in court. So this was a more valid fear for them, than for us. Today this would seem an outlandish diagnosis, but since there was no physical explanation for the convulsions, and since the belief in ghosts, and their ability to harm people, was plausible at the time, this was not so far fetched.

The unexplained has confused and vexed people for as long as life has been.
‘Twas no different in Salem. The predominantly Puritan townspeople of Salem found themselves unable to explain certain behaviors, and therefore created their own narratives to explain them.

17th century life was a little tense, to say the least, especially in the colony of Massachusetts. There were economic tensions. There was always the threat of an attack from warring Indian tribes as well as rivalry between colonists. Not to mention the various epidemics that spread through the area, small pox, as well as the aforementioned ergotism and encephalitis poisoning.

The townspeople were reacting from fear. Any reaction from fear is going to be potentially dangerous. It is for our protection, after all. Fears that are not rooted in reality will produce ridiculous reactions, at best. But often they will produce very harmful reactions.

Even prominent people were not exempt, including the Governor’s wife.
More than 150 people were accused of witchcraft and put in jail, 18 put to death.

And then the witch trials ended as quickly as they began. Apologies were issued, losses were compensated. But the harm was done, all because of the stress of some unchecked fears.

c. 2011
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Just another day in the ER...

“It was the wildest thing, ever,” Sam said. ‘It was so scary, but everyone just snapped to action. They just did their jobs, moving on auto. ”

My co-worker, Sam’s mother works in the ER of our local hospital. Sam told me of a day she had been visiting her mother at work. Everything was running normal, they were even enjoying muffins someone had brought in. The EMTs had a free moment to chat leaning against the ambulances, when a “gang drop” occurred, which is when a gang will drop off a member who has been shot, cut, or otherwise injured, to the ER. The hospital is required by law to treat them.

They rolled the guy in. No one was shouting like they do on ER, or even talking, except the nurse who was quietly relating the specifics to the doctor. They asked the usual questions to the patient, like “Do you know your name, and do you know what day it is?”

“It was almost like watching bees. Everyone was moving. They all knew what they were doing. It was very fluid, very precise. It seemed very natural. He was in and out in a matter of 60 seconds. They knew what to do quickly and how to do it.”

This is a prime example of one of the benefits of the brain stem. The adrenaline produced will spur you to action, and it is your reptilian brain which will cause you to perform your duties unfettered by nagging thoughts and second guesses. Which ordinarily might be good, but not when time is of the essence.

Let me make a disclaimer, these are trained professionals. This stuff is second nature to them. They KNOW what they are doing, they save lives many times a day. You wouldn’t want me, in my untrained, very stressed out, reptilian mode, anywhere near you with a surgical knife.

I asked her if she was scared [I know I would be]. She implied that the calm manner of everyone else eased her fears. “I wasn’t scared, but worried about my mom. They knew exactly what they were doing”

She said Everything went back to normal when he left. I hate to leave you hanging. I wish I had a more conclusive ending, but no one knows what happened to him afterward. Did the gang pick him up? Did anyone follow up, make sure he was safe? Did he remember anything? Did it change his life for the better. I wish I knew….

Thank goodness the people in the ER are used to this, and know how to react to a literal life or death situation. Not only does it save lives, but it gives us laypeople a practical, up-close look at the stress response in action.

c. 2011
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