Monday, 11 May 2020

Environmental Factors

One way or another, you are reaping what you are sowing. If your relationships are laden with hogwash, it is time to look in the mirror. My friend Faitth lived in Austin for several years before moving to North Carolina. As one of the few black women in our church at the time, we had many conversations about White Church and Black Church, both of which Faitth had been embedded in at one time or another. Once, while discussing yet another of our sermon series on mission/this broken world/serving accompanied by yet another Somber White Guy with a Guitar worship set (#whitechurchsowhite), she said, Y'all. Close to the window were petri dishes with cultures of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. When Fleming returned from vacation in early September, he discovered the open window and the petri dishes, all of which looked fine except for one. The lone dish stood out because of the obvious fungal contamination, and the contamination had created a ring on the plate. All of the bacteria that had come in contact with the fungus had died. Fleming concluded that the fungus--which he described as mold called Penicillium notatum in a later study--had something in it that could kill bacteria. His mould juice,3 he concluded, had the potential to be a remarkably effective bacteria killer. The story has been told countless times to teach young scientists that chance and luck are integral to their chosen profession. Except the story isn't entirely true. 4 It's very similar to the one Fleming told concerning another discovery of his: lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme present in a large number of biological substances, from nasal mucus to egg white. And it strains credulity to imagine that a forgotten open window could play so central a role in the discovery of two antibiotics. The point is that it is important to take some time to think about what the difficulty actually is before leaping into action. Also important to keep in mind, especially for many men, is that there is real value in attending to one's feelings when thinking about problems. My experience as a clinician, and some research from social psychology, support the notion that gender can be a factor to consider when it comes to looking for problems. Perhaps because women tend to be better socialized to pay attention to feelings than are many men, often women seem to recognize problems earlier, especially interpersonal ones.

The value of early identification is, of course, that small problems are easier to address than large ones. Consequently, paying attention to feelings this way can be beneficial. In other words, if something feels like a problem, it probably already is one. Since feelings often precede conscious analysis, it is wise to learn how to pay close attention to one's feelings whenever possible. Next, it is important to do some brainstorming or to at least generate a number of possible solutions to the problem. The edge of our comfort zone is, in fact, an energy barrier that appears at the point where we repeatedly shy away from the unknown, the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar. This creates the Fear Barrier that maintains an area of apparent efficiency, success, skills and achievement within an invisible limiting sphere, such that when we are pushed by the unfamiliar, the surprising or the challenging, we can go to pieces. This can even lead to our physical and/or mental health being significantly affected. Relationships can suffer, self-esteem can dissolve and so on. What if we learn to cross the Fear Barrier? What lies on the other side of the imaginary line? Freedom, creativity, power, growth and Conscious Confidence. Through the wisdom of Sanskrit and my own deep practice, I have discovered an effective way to come out from under the Fear Shadow and to cross the Fear Barrier. Instead of calling in the snake charmers, I propose a visit to the flashlight store! The process is to turn our attention away from the fear, and instead establish ourselves in the light of wisdom. Scientists have even gone as far as to debunk the benefits of redirecting anger into activities like exercise. Doing this only maintains the state of increased arousal. You may even be more aggressive afterward than if you had just cooled off. 32 It may help to think of not reacting as an action unto itself.

By pausing, we withhold behavior driven by anger, hurt, and fear so we can express those emotions later in ways that are actually heard. It's important to note that cooling off is not the same as not dealing with the anger at all. I'm only asking that you take a time out. When you hit pause, you delay your response. Then you can relax or distract yourself with an activity that's incompatible with aggression. I love you. I do. But sometimes I just need some victory! (This is now our baseline as a church board: Guys, where is the victory in this series? I detect zero victory. ) Dear reader, our lives need some victory! To a huge degree, we can opt out of drama and into connected, meaningful relationships that light us up. Into safer, more equitable relationships mended by fair boundaries. This is all incredibly possible. Those familiar with the history of science and medicine at the time have concluded that Fleming's story was embellished in part because he liked to tell fantastic stories, and because a true story probably suggested that he was at times forgetful, sloppy, and perhaps not as rigorous and careful a scientist as he claimed to be. 5 Without doubt, when Fleming saw the ring of fungus, he recognized that there was something potent in the dish. His mold juice would occupy significant amounts of his time, as well as that of his trusted associate Stuart Craddock, as they tried to understand its role in killing bacteria. The mold juice had lots of impurities, and the concentration of the effective agent, penicillin, needed to kill bacteria was no more than 1 percent.

Fleming was not a chemist, and the results he was seeing in his lab were plagued by his ineffective distillation techniques and the consequent poor overall efficacy of the mold juice. Since he was not making progress on purifying penicillin, by the mid-1930s Fleming had moved on, or rather moved back, to his first discovery of lysozyme. So had the world: the wide use of sulfa drugs at the time meant that Fleming's original discovery, published in a paper in 1929, was largely forgotten for nearly a decade. 6 Toward the end of the 1930s, Fleming's penicillin paper gained attention from a team of eclectic and often mutually distrustful researchers about sixty miles west of St. The trick here is to avoid judging them, as doing so restricts one's ability to be creative or to consider different approaches, especially thinking out of the box, which is often most helpful when solving problems. Rather, simply list possible alternatives that come to mind after some reflection on the problem-- without evaluating them. The third step is to evaluate the solutions generated in the second. The recommended approach is to take the time to identify and reflect on the consequences that are likely to occur with each possible solution, one after another. Writing them down is a good idea for the reasons discussed earlier. After doing so, it is then possible to select the one that is best and use it in the next and final step. I put the term best in italics for a very important reason. Often people know what the ideal, most rational, or clearly superior solution to a problem is. Sometimes, however, they are not willing to implement that choice because it requires too much work or may be too disruptive to other parts of their lives to be a practical alternative. For example, the best way to deal with a nicotine addiction is to simply stop using the substance-- period. This is the light which transforms all our illusory snakes into harmless pieces of rope. It allows us to walk confidently and courageously forward on our path to happiness, strength, success and fulfillment. Picture a woman. From the outside she looks ordinary enough, medium height, attractive, accomplished. She is heading off to work at her job in a school where she has been teaching children for many years.

However, she has a secret. When she was the age of the children she now teaches, about nine years old, she was introduced to spiritual wisdom. Her parents, also seekers after eternal truths and a life lived with purpose, created a home life for this young lady and her siblings, which from one angle looked ordinary, suburban, and conventional. However, from the point of view of the inner life of the seeker after wisdom, it was a home full of excitement, adventure, discussion and discovery. Unusually for one so young she fell in love with the spiritual knowledge and the training which came her way. Help me! yells Valerie in the middle of the night. Her plea is intended for anyone and everyone who will listen. To the casual observer it may seem as if this is what her therapist, yours truly, suggested she do: find and utilize her support network. No harm in that, right? But if anything, I tried to divert her and get her off my back to establish boundaries. Valerie's misery seemed to flourish the more anyone responded to her chronic state of crisis. There are people who use the woe is me routine as a weapon against those who come close enough to care. 33 They are the ones who scream, Help me. Fix me. Life is so freaking short. I can't believe how fast it is going. With all my being, I don't want to get to the end of it clutching a shred of anger or resentment. I don't want to die having left things unsaid. I want to feel saturated and rich and grateful.

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