Be Gentle with the Past

Okay! Today is the day for a confession. I have, in my younger years, had too much to drink! When I was a younger, I had no idea what my body would feel like when I drank alcohol. My first “hangover” was a real shock. I had no idea that the dreamy feelings I had the previous evening could become a nightmare the following morning! So, you would think that the next time I was at a party, I would know better and stop consuming alcohol BEFORE I felt buzzy and giggly. Once again, I missed all the signals and paid the price the following day. It is said that “third time is the charm.” After my third hangover experience, I was determined that I would never be intoxicated again. I finally had learned that the price of the party was not worth the suffering of the following day. I also began to realize that drunkenness was not remotely attractive, even prior to the nausea, vomiting, and pounding headache. I am glad to say, I did learn. I found that I could have a wonderful time without excessive alcohol consumption. I learned to enjoy the flavor of a single glass of wine, a small cup of spiked cider, or a refreshing Mango Mai Tai, but had no desire to drink myself into a stupor.

Right about now, you are asking, “What is the reason for this confession?” My point is, individuals and societies have the capability to learn that behaviors and beliefs can be counterproductive. Human beings have the ability to discover, reconsider, and change thoughts and actions. Throughout history, humankind has made mistakes over and over, but sometimes the consequences have made us become wiser.

I admit, there are many human faults we have not outgrown. Our personal and societal tendencies toward anger, greed, laziness, envy, jealousy, gluttony, and lust are still the underlying causes for most self-interest and disagreement in our world. Still, we continue to strive to find a code of law and moral action that benefits both the person and society. It is difficult to think that, at one time, the notion of “an eye for an eye” was a legal concept which actually provided an improvement over ever-escalating revenge. The stipulations of the Geneva Conventions improved the civil treatment of people during wartime. The laws supporting a woman’s right to vote, as well as civil rights for all, were certainly improvements in how men and women interact in our society.

Today, most individuals and many societies have awakened to the evils of slavery, the value of personal freedoms, and the benefits of female participation in decision making. We have a long way to go to achieve true respect for the gifts of every human person, but we HAVE made progress, I have personally witnessed these advances in my own lifetime. (For more on that topic, look back to my blog “The Good Old Days?” https://grandmasdoor.com/2016/05/02/the-good-old-days/ .)

Here is just a small slice of the real world through history. In the 15th century BCE, Thutmose III and Amenhotep II tried to obliterate Queen Hatshepsut’s name from history. She was their own mother/grandmother. Leaders in the Roman empire (and others) regularly crucified and butchered people. Eleventh century church leaders waged war in order to grasp greater power. Early explorers looked upon native populations as inhuman savages. Our founding fathers were slave holders. Early settlers and native populations killed each other for territory. Today, all these actions are outrageous and we recognize them as brutal and in error. Yet, the actions were common in the the respective eras, and the larger population either did not have the power, inclination, or wisdom to change those ideas and behaviors. Somewhere along the line, wisdom and learning won out and these actions were called out as evil and misguided. I feel we should examine the strengths and weaknesses of our progenitors, but it is unfair to judge them according to the understandings and sensitivities of our current time period.

This line of thought impacts all the arguments presently being made regarding memorials, civic holidays, and the reinterpretation of history. As centuries pass, we often discover unpleasant truths about some of our heroes. Given enough time, most famous people are found to have feet of clay. When I was a girl, we admired (almost worshipped) President John F. Kennedy. In my adult years, the revelations surrounding his womanizing were jarring. However, after thought and reflection, I realized we all have our faults and I began to appreciate his leadership without ignoring his human frailty.

I will always support the desire to tell the ENTIRE story. I believe that details of history should always be balanced alongside the mindset of the original participants. History needs to be taught in comparison and contrast to current codes of ethics and morality. For example, when we tell the story of medical advancement, we should relate the brutal facts along with the laws and morality that allowed those actions. Early physicians enlisted the services of grave robbers before people had the desire and means to donate bodies to scientific investigation. During the Civil War, limbs were amputated, often without anesthesia. Barbers extracted teeth, before the advancement of dental science. Husbands committed their wives to mental asylums, because of marital disagreements or the onset of menopause. Doctors used prisoners as human guinea pigs to advance new treatments. In our minds, these practices and many others are barbaric, but it was not so in the respective centuries. Ethics surrounding scientific advancement favored knowledge over persons. If you doubt that, read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Our knowledge is continually expanding. When I was in high school, I was taught that there were 3 parts to the cell and 3 parts to an atom. My grandchildren are learning that there are many layers to each of those cell structures and that the atom is much more complex. In high school, I never heard of gluons or quarks. It was not that textbook writers were lying or insidiously hiding information. The books contained only the general information a high school student needed to know.

It has been said that history is always told by the victors. When I consider the statues and monuments erected in bygone days, I always try to get into the mindset of those who chose to memorialize the person or event. I try to see the human story behind the monument. It doesn’t eliminate the reality that those monuments are being reinterpreted in the light of current information. It makes me wonder how future generations will examine the actions we are taking in this first quarter of the twenty-first century. I wonder who will be considered “victorious” four hundred years hence. Will our children’s children feel the need to tear down the and “debunk” the histories or “her-stories” being written today?

It has taken me sixty-five years to begin to understand my own motivations. I have to admit that suppositions regarding my ancestors’ motivations will never be completely accurate. Still, I continue to learn how to forgive shortcomings, my own and that of my forebears. I focus my attention on strengths and admirable qualities. I certainly hope that my great-great-grandchildren will look back at my lifetime with the same understanding and empathy. I hope that they will see that my generation did the best we could with the knowledge and understanding we had. I hope that they will see beyond the short-sighted weaknesses and ignorance. I hope they will emphasize the times we acted with courage, generosity, and concern for others. As the poet says, “Hope springs eternal!”

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Manage Your Fears

Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you unable to relax? Do you feel like your mind is being hi-jacked by anxiety? Do you feel more tired than usual without a change in your level of activity? Do you find your heart racing for no obvious reason? If your answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” you may be experiencing an unmanaged fear-response.

Many of us know that fear has a physiological effect. When fear enters the mind, the body increases its production of adrenaline. This has been called the “fight or flight” response. The boost in adrenaline increases the heart rate and can make our hair follicles react. Have you ever said, “that makes the hair on my neck stand up”? In the short term, that physical response is a blessing, because it enables self-preservation. We have heard stories of the adrenaline boost that helped someone lift a heavy barrier to free a person who was trapped. Adrenaline helps us to be brave. Our bodies gear up and give us the strength to fight an adversary or protect a loved one. Adrenaline also gives a body the speed to flee when prudent.

In recent weeks we have been inundated with news that produces anxiety. Reports detailing earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and unprecedented violence, overwhelm our brains. Sometimes, for our own good, we just need to take a vacation from anxiety producing stimuli. I assure you, it is okay to shut off the news and social media to help manage your fears. I am not recommending that we stick our heads in the sand or become ignorant of the troubles in the world. I am advocating balance! As many have said, “prepare for the worse, hope for the best!”

In this day and age, we are surrounded by negative words and images. Take some time each day to pay attention to the beauty and love that also surrounds us. Focus on everyday simple words and actions. “Please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” “forgive me,” are not just empty words. They are small phrases that require us to consider how we are interacting with another person. Many people have written about the benefits of a gratitude journal. From experience, I can tell you that my own fears are significantly decreased when I take time daily to count my blessings, reach out to help someone, and regularly express my appreciation.

However, for varying reasons, our minds and bodies may still get seized by fear which triggers a vicious cycle and keeps adrenaline pumping long after the danger has passed. Take heart! There are physical ways to stop that cycle! You have the power to manage fear!

The very first thing you can do is BREATHE! Be aware that adrenaline causes your body to shallow breathe and take too many breaths (called hyper-ventilating), which in turn, can cause numbness, tingling in your extremities, light-headedness, and greater anxiety. If this happens to you and needs immediate action. Find a paper bag and breath into that for several minutes, to prevent yourself from passing out.

If you are not hyper-ventilating, but feel anxious, take notice of where your breath is traveling. When you inhale does it feel like the air is going past your breast bone or does it feel like your breath is stopping just beyond your throat? If you are physically able, try to breathe in through your nose and think of the air going all the way down to your navel. Take a few of these deeper breaths. When you know you are able to breathe deeper and more slowly, proceed to the next exercise.

Breathe in deeply to a count of 5-7. After holding that breath for a short count of 3-7, exhale through your mouth by pulling in your tummy first for a another count of 5-7. If you can manage, take eight to ten of these long slow breaths. This breath-pattern signals your body to decrease its adrenaline production and allow you to become more calm. When facing stressful situations, practice this breathing often.

If your breathing is under control, but you find your mind is still racing, tell yourself, “STOP!” If you need, say the word out loud! Depending on the circumstances, you might even decide to clap your hands when you say the word. This alerts your mind and body that you are about to change your focus. Then immediately begin taking those long slow breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, concentrating on pulling the air past your heart down into your belly.

Another practice to help manage fear and anxiety is to focus on a pleasant visual image. Ask yourself, “where do I feel most safe, happy, or comfortable?” If you are able, picture that place clearly in your mind. I must admit, I have never been very good at imagining vividly, so I have a packet of magazine and calendar images that I keep in a desk drawer for this purpose. When I’m having trouble clearing my head of anxiety, I take out those photos and focus on the image. Then I begin the deep breathing exercise.

One of the reasons fear can take over is that our minds begin repeating negative messages. The terrible “what ifs” get hold and we have a tough time shaking them. A simple technique to help manage that negativity is to occupy your mind with positive thoughts. When anxious, begin repeating a comforting phrase. For example, “I can do this! I will get through this! Peace!” I have several favorite phrases that have served me well, they are, “Fear not!” “This, too, shall pass!” “Jesus, I trust in You!” and “All will be well!” Repeat your favorite phrase over and over until you feel your body responding.

In the days and weeks ahead, no matter what challenges might come your way, I pray that these simple techniques will help to bring you peace, courage, and hope. I assure you, light casts out darkness and you can manage your fear.