Coming back into my “life at work in the city”, I’m once again seen smiling. My ready smile and health I treasure even more as Jane and I celebrate each other and Her Health! But I begin to watch and listen to the world around me. Please join me in what may become a series of posts (hopefully interactive, as I have much to learn) on philosophies, strategies, observations and the desire to continue to grow. The Trampervoyage continues and was really just a beginning. My views are working for me so far and I’d love to share them, nurture and fine tune them with yours too. Please “Comment”, perhaps a dialog will begin on the fine art of survival in modern times.
I’ve been heard to say, “We all skate on the thin ice of good health”. I fervently believe it. Physical and mental health are flighting delicate features that we so often take for granted. Perhaps this too is important; the ice is opaque and all that can go wrong lies hidden where it doesn’t usually affect our daily life. Full of analogies, imagine walking on a curb, little or no consequence below. Next, step onto a balance beam. Only 5 feet above gym mats or a spotter, your fears change your movements and freeze your every step. Imagine the same impossible steps on a log above a rushing, icy river. It’s all perception; the same task with a different level of fear. People who don’t work in healthcare are insulated from all possible fates and infections. Best they (or we who do see it) don’t really know or dwell on all that bed stuff anyway. A healthy person would be frozen from action if all of the dire illnesses were at the front of the mind.
Today I will expand on some other emotional challenges. Imagine two short paths leading to the same safe arrival. (except that while traveling we can never know for sure about that safe arrival) In the first, you awake, manage a cursory breakfast, hop into the car noting the light blue early morning sky. Traffic allows a smooth passage, a few extra green lights, a driver waves you into the next lane, smiles greet you at the parking lot. The first person you see asks how your weekend was and seems to want an answer. Smiling and recounting chores done and some fun had, you feel refreshed and ready to work. Peers all sort of blend in and you feel prepared to handle the challenge of a new day and whatever it is that lands on your desk
The second path includes the same cursory meal, but a bit of dark jelly stains your freshly laundered shirt. No time to spare, you rush out to the car and try to “hurry to work”. A near miss has you cursing and thinking what an idiot that “minivan” driver was. Stuck in a turn lane, your thoughts simmer at how you’ll surely miss the light (and take all of 30-40 seconds longer). Maybe you spill a little coffee. A coworker pulls into a spot you had just glanced at. The world seems out-to-get-you. I won’t expand on the expression you might be wearing and the steam rising above you; no wonder the first words tossed about aren’t so complimentary. Each of these “little events” can be rationalized into a “nothing”, no big deal. But chances are good, as they convene, your mental perspective is teetering. We begin to tell ourselves how the world is. And our captive brain listens so well.
These two vignettes are played out over and over all day, each and every day! The struggle to stay afloat and positive is real and constant. News (I won’t rant too long) and media warn you constantly how dangerous the world is. Sorry, we just travelled 190 days, never knowing where to park or who to trust and found warmth and welcome in every state. This piece, though, investigates what we tell ourselves, not what David has to say about the “Good ole USA”.
Various faiths offer meditation, prayer, solace and even touch-able objects like a rosary to guide thoughts to a quiet, unfettered place. But it is still what we believe and what we tell ourselves that creates the field of our mind which perceives the world around. An old post-punk band named “X” coined a song with the refrain: “I must not think bad thoughts”. Not a bad mantra really.
What really brings all this to the surface while adapting to “my old life”, is observing how people interact. So many of us relish a negative swagger to the re-telling of a story. Difficult patient or retail experiences seem to beg the retelling and maybe even embellishing. Many even escalate in commiserating with one another speculating the outcomes of future events. Forming all the worst scenarios and getting everyone around worked up in the process.
The shared experience, good or bad, is guided intentionally or accidentally via conscious and unconscious means. My mother (of seven children), intuitively or by hard learned lesson, always recited “No news is good news”, waiting for siblings to come home late at night, saying “the police would have called by now if anything bad had happened”. I believe, I too have gained a bit of that quiet, calm that awaits real information before inciting panic or riot.
I also believe the sharing directly between people is largely modulated by mirror cells. In numerous parts of our brain are groups of cells called mirror cells or mirror neurons. Scans have allowed us to see empathetic or mimicking activity of a task occurring even as we “only witness” the activity. Areas “fire” the same whether performing or merely observing a task. For example, someone walks down the hall carrying boxes, slips a bit, and begins to juggle or drop those boxes. A viewer, “feels” for them and turns on areas of the brain responsible for balance. Reflexes kick in that would stabilize the viewer’s trunk to react. That same viewer might even initiate a movement to catch himself. Watching someone cry, can trigger strong emotional responses. Fortunately, laughter too, is infectious.
Society and learning has been linked to these types of cells. Empathy, imagining, feeling what someone else feels begins a connection and shared emotion.
HOW CAN WE GUIDE OUR THOUGHTS TO MAKE US MORE POSITIVE PEOPLE? Surrounding ourselves with constructive people. Listening to our own reactions. Jane once had a little bracelet that she would move from one wrist to the other each time she made a negative comment.
I’m convinced it is (unfortunately) much more natural and easier to be negative than positive. Perhaps cave men and women survived by noting and avoiding bad foods and bad places. Shoppers today revel in scathing commentary…look at online reviews and surveys. If we can catch ourselves before speaking, only to make suggestions for improvement or constructive replies, can we skirt the gripe sessions and celebrated negativity. Does griping really make us happy? Does venting perform a purpose?
What makes a good Psychological survival strategy?
I attended a course in 2007 given by Eric Gentry, about Compassion Fatigue and I’d like to share the 3 lessons learned. The instructor is a PhD Psychologist and “Traumatologist” who trained the trainers after Oklahoma bombings, the Twin Towers of 911, and after Katrina. Rather than preaching what he thought would be a good strategy or reciting things from his books, he and his group have studied survivors. He studied the traits seen in the strongest people who pick up and Thrive in the worst of settings. I’ll try to outline those traits as reviewed in the course.
1) Connections/Narrative: Use your network. Someone surrounded with people who care is far more likely to thrive. BUT, don’t burn them out. If a chosen partner, buddy or coworker is your main resource they must be allowed to say “No, not right now, I’m busy or can’t get involved this moment”, Respect the answer and approach later with clearance. Confidentiality and trust matter, plus the external feedback adds objectivity.
2) Relax the Body: Separate actual from perceived threat or danger, self regulation, control your body’s reactions, breathing, relax the pelvic floor. The instructor couldn’t emphasize enough the weight of carrying stress and tension in the body. Don’t load the system with adrenaline if fight or flight isn’t actually needed. Chronic sympathetic overload encourages the stress hormone cortisol and it’s hosts of negative influences. (This supports my general avoidance of violence in film or “action movies”)
3) Self Care: (Not self indulgence), sleep well, eat well, drink plenty of water, 20 minutes of aerobic activity at least 3X/week, Integrative activity, (music, art, craft, skills and improvisation, more activities to connect with joy, hope, life and wonder). (My take on this is that we as an organism can’t function optimally, can’t heal, can’t think right in murky states of health. Our “few pound” brain uses 20-30% of our energy and bloodflow. Think back to how exhausted you feel after an emotional event, a funeral….not much exercise, but lots of energy spent)
Please send me your thoughts. The networks possible today can blend and share benefits freely.