Monday, December 16, 2013

Strange Beliefs and The Necessary Propensity to Hold Them

Look at it out there, dusk-like at nearly noon, the trees bare dead looking sticks, even the evergreens a black shade of dark, the grass a sickly yellow brown, once pretty fallen leaves crushed and tattered, mud streaked everywhere, no sign of life to be seen, not even a fly found so annoying last summer, sky a putrid pale color of nondescript pale. Yet, we believe spring will come? Imagine being a child just becoming aware of the world and of cause and effect and asking whence your morning cereal came and being told it grew on a plant last summer? Grew? On something out there? We are expected on this day to believe that green growing things will rise up from the drab dank ground, that those barren branches will grow plates of life like the pages of junk mail we toss in the recycling only green and soft, that birds will fly thousand of miles to sing in the quiet dead air again, that animals and frogs will come up out of the ground, that there will be FLOWERS! Yes! We believe that on a day like this. We must! Yet that propensity, that willingness, that EAGERNESS to believe opens us to believe all sorts and kinds of other unlikely and improbable, even impossible, things like conspiracies and demons and guardian angels and spirits and gods and visiting aliens and force fields. No wonder we have difficulty discerning real from not real, true from utter bullshit, because if we did not possess that ability to believe in things unseen and only hoped for, we'd just succomb to the fear that this was all there is and throw in the towel on a day as gloomy and dark as this. Spring: I believe! The other stuff? Not so much.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Does Pretty Mean?

Does your girl ask if she is pretty?  How do you answer?  You answer "Yes, of course you are," because she is.
She's pretty and talented and smart and funny and kind and caring and creative and curious and interesting and fun and courageous and loving and honest and strong and determined.  She is pretty and being pretty is just one facet of a complex person. Just one part of a whole person.  Of course she is pretty and it is no more important or less important than any of her other attributes.
She is pretty because she is unique and individual and different from every other person. She is pretty because of her individuality and uniqueness, not because she meets some set of standards.  She is pretty for her own unique individual combination of special traits.
She is pretty because she has features in common with her ancestors and her other family members, becasue her version of prettiness tells a story about past people and present people.  She is pretty because she is unique because of those people, not because she is part of some average or meets some percentage or expectation.  She is pretty because of who she came from, because of her connections to those people past and present. 
She is pretty because she smiles and makes people smile by sharing her joy and taking theirs in.  She is pretty because she expresses her joy and her happiness with laughter and grins that cover her whole face.  She is pretty because she is also not afraid to express sadness or worry or doubt or compassion with her whole face and body.  She is pretty because she makes eye contact when she listens and raises her eyebrows when she is curious.  She is pretty when she is sweaty because it proves she works and when she is dirty cuz it proves she gardens or builds or runs or climbs or plays.  She is pretty for who she is and what she does and how she expresses that every single day.
Her scars make her prettier because they are reminders of stories of courage or taking a risk or proof of surviving adversity. Her imperfections are part of what makes her even more unique and interesting.  Her story is part of what makes her pretty.
She is pretty now and always has been and always will be, no matter how her body or face changes over time. 
She is pretty because she is who she is. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

We Don't Need Wilderness (I'm Not Saying What You Think I'm Saying But)

We glorify the idea of the wilderness experience, long to experience it, honor and envy those who seek it when we lack the drive or the means or the ability to do it ourselves.  But the value of the wilderness is overrated as the only or even the best way to experience nature.  There are so few things that are fabulous about a wilderness experience that we cannot get close to home or right at home.  Holding the wildnerness in such high esteem and assigning it mythical status as the only best way to experience nature is to deprive ourselves of frequent meaningful enjoyable encounters with nature on an extremeely frequent basis.  It can be an excuse to deny ourselves nature.  But it need not be.

Make a list of the things that you think you will or that you have experienced in the wilderness.
For me, it is the early morning mists, the process of the sunrise, the birds taking over the predawn from the silence of deep night, the changes in light patterns as the sun moves up into the sky, the changes in colors as the sun angle changes, the insects that move about, the sound of leaves and grasses moving, the heat rising up and drying off the dew and mist, the various bird species that come into activity, the insects that begin moving about as the air warms, the way the sun catches flowers and leaves at different angles, preparing and eating a meal outdoors, the pleasure of stretching out on a rock in the sun for an early afternoon nap, relaxing with closed eyes to listen, to feel the air on my skin, the rousing back to awareness of breeze and bird sound and leave rustle and insect buzz, the pleasure or working my body to hike or paddle, the warmth of the light as the sun angles low in the afternoon, the way that low light lights up the leaves of trees, the changes in bird and insect life as the days cools, the colors of the sunset in the sky, the cooling of the air, the way the wind rises and falls throughout a day, being there as a storm cloud moves in, as first small raindrops fall, as heavier rain builds, being out in thunder and lightning, the softening of the rain as it lets up, the building to a loud roar as the rain gets heavier, the tapering off as the clouds move on, wind rising then falling and rising again, these patterns within wind and rain and being out there to observe and feel them. 
Now, what on that list can I not partake of in my nearby park or forest preserve or botanical garden or even in my own back yard? 
It is not so much that we need to GO TO the wilderness to experience nature as that we need to be present in nature wherever we are, to make ourselves present for these changes and patterns, to observe these details.  We can get up and go sit on the back deck before it is dark and experience the changes in light and air and the waking of the birds and insects.  We can stay outside as a storm approaches.  We can take out meals outside to the lawn or over to the park and sit there and eat them.  We can go outdoors at the end of the day and stay there long enough for the changes to happen.  We can sit quietly or with a book or magazine and be present for the changes.  We can stay up past dark and sit out there to enjoy the ending of the day rather than turn on the lights and rush into the house.  We can go to a place and close our eyes and listen and feel.  And we can stay out there long enough to let changes happen, to be present for the patterns, to experience the moving and shifting of the natural world right in or own back yards and neighborhoods.  We can stay outside of we are caught in a rainstorm or actually GO outside to experience one and stay there as the patterns of the rain and wind and clouds change. 
We can experience this local nature with all our senses.  We can make oursleves do this on purpose at first until it becomes normal for us, by closing our eyes and paying purposeful attention to what we can hear or to what we can feel on our skin or to what we can smell, giving each sense its own deliberate turn. 
We DO need wilderness.  We need wide open spaces for nature to practice her cycles and routines and extremes and for the whole continuum of plants and animals and microorganisms to fully flourish and prosper so that we have that resource to replenish other parts of the world as we diminish them, we need to occasionally experience the one thing about the wilderness that IS unique and that is the getting away part, the distancing, the bigness.  So wilderness has inherent value and does need to be preserved and protected. 
But to say that wilderness is the only or best way to experience nature is to cheat yourself.  Get out there.  Early, late, for extended periods, during adverse weather, in all varieties of habitats, stay, linger, listen, feel, and do it every day nearby, and you can enrich your life far more than that one rare trip to the wilderness ever will.  We need the wilderness, but not for the reasons we think we do.  To have amazing experiences with nature, we do not need to go that far or wait for that special occasion:  We can have those experiences every single day in whatever part of the nature world we are present.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NO Excuses!

There's this thing I always carped on to my kids: There are no excuses, only problem statements, and a problem statement is the first step in the problem solving process.
Let's take an example. I forgot my book at school so I can't do my homework. Is that the end of the issue? Do you want me to write you a note begging leniancy from your teacher? Do you want to have this thing to whine and complain about all evening? Do you want to use it as an excuse to play and not do homework? Well, not in my house. You don't have the textbook. Which of your friends might have brought theirs home such that you can go borrow it or look something up in it? Does the library have a copy? Is there an online copy? Can we drive to the school and get it? Even if the school is closed, it is worth a try. Once we went and the doors were all closed except a back door that was letting kids in and out for some track practice. So the kid went in that door, found his way to his locker, got the book, went home and did his homework. What excuses are YOU using and how can YOU turn them into problem statements and therefore, the first step of the problem solving process?
1) State the problem. Define and refine as needed.
2) List some solutions.
3) Evaluate and choose one.
4) Implement the solution.
5) Evaluate if the problem is solved.
6) If not, restate the problem and repeat.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fear and Fear of Fear

Some things you should know about fears if you have some that you are trying to manage or have friends or family members who have fears:
1) It's a chemical thing.  Fear is a chemical response that happens in the brain and affects other parts of the body.  Chemicals are released from the brain that speed up heart rate, increase blood pressure, cause or increase sweating, and enhance sensitivity of the senses. 
2) Because it is a chemical thing, if not constantly fueled, it dissipates as the chemicals travel around the body and are diluted.  So not fleeing the thing feared can be helpful in management.  The chemicals disipate if you flee, but they also disipate if you merely stand your ground wih forced calm.  However, if constantly fueled, they do not get the opportunity to disipate.  The fear can be managed in small chunks, not in a constant onslaught.
3) These are some of the same chemicals as those caused by stress. Therefore, arguing, worrying about other things, being pressured to do the thing one is afraid of, being teased or belittled for the fear, being made to feel defective or weak for having the fear, all lead to an underlying chemical stew of stress hormones that make the fear feel even greater.  Calm is the enemy of fear.  Laughter is the enemy of fear. Comfort is the enemy of fear.  Help the person feel calm and you will be establishing a basis for better fear management.  If the person is resonsive, humor may help, but if they are annoyed by joking, the opposite can occur.  Make sure the person is hydrated, dressed warmly enough, protected from hot sun, as physically comfortable as possible.
4) These are some of the same chemicals caused by work or physical activity.  So working hard prior to encountering a fearful stimuli can set up a situation for increased fear.  So climbing stairs and being out of breath with racing heart can cause the roof edge or even balcony railing to be frightening, but pausing at the top of the stairs to catch ones breath and calm down can render the edge or the railing much more manageable.  Recovering from phsyical work with a rest period before encountering the potential fear trigger can help keep stress chemicals and therefore fear chemicals under better control.
5) After the fearful thing is encountered, a rest period to allow the stess chemicals to thoroughly disipate and the body funcitons to thoroughly moderate back to normal can be key in not retriggering the fear.  Forging ahead to the next encounter before chemicals have dispated and body functions have normalized increases the chances the fear will be retriggered. 
6) There is a fast automatic response to fear in one part of the brain that occurs simultaneously with a slower more thougtful more rational response in another part of the brain.  If the fear is approached slowly and calmly the slow smart response can override the fast hysterical response.  If time is taken after the encounter to thougtfully reflect on the success of the previous fear response, the liklihood of retriggereing the fear ican be diminished.  This is another reason that calm approach and post-fear rest are important.  They allow the slow thougthful response to do its job in managing future encounters with the fear stimuli.
7) Control is essential in many aspects of brain chemistry.  Pleasure is enhanced if a person feels thay had some control in bringing it on and pain is diminished if the person feels they are able do things themselves to diminish it.  Likewise, fears are diminished when the person feels in control of the exposure.  If the person can control when and how much exposure will occur, in what manner it is approached, and if they can control how the exposure to the fear is ended, the physical responses to the fear trigger will be diminished.  Therefore, 'helping' the person out of the situation may not be all that helpful.  Even offering help before administering it adds a measure of control for the subject of the fear: Having the opportunity or even the illusion of being able to reject help puts the person in control, even if they ultimately require and accept help. Additionally, asking 'how can I help you?' puts the subject in control of the means of assistance, not just whether to accept help.  Asking how to help the person also engages more fully the thoughtful processes already going on in their brain, bringing that process into more effective management of the situation over the faster less-thougtful process.
8) Fears are not rational.  Post-fear analysis that tries to paint the fear as silly or baseless do not help because they attempt to reationalize future exposures.  Post-fear analysis that examines what helped during the fear situation are more successful.  Asking what made the fear worse and what made it better are things that emphasize the control aspect and also are a sort ot training for use during the slower thoughful brain fear response in future exposures.  Similarly, examining what might help next time also helps validate the fear as real and labels it as a manageable situation, as well as preloading the thoughtful response process with data.