Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.

Monitor or Guard

Monitor or Guard?

Day 26-27

Lent 2019

 

When it comes to our self-control or self-discipline, which are we – monitor or guard?  There is a popular television commercial that sets the scene in a bank.  Suddenly two bank robbers appear and order everyone to the floor.  Two customers are seen lying prone on the floor when one looks up at a uniformed gentleman standing by a customer desk.  “Aren’t you going to do anything?” the customer queries.  “Oh, I’m just a monitor” is the response.  “I just give alerts; I am not a guard.” 

 

When it comes to our own habits and those that are not particularly healthy or productive, which are we – monitors or guards?  After all, one seldom needs to tell an obese person that they are overweight.  Neither does one need to point out to someone who has just slipped that they did in fact fall down.  And yet, all too often that is just what we do.

 

Most of us know that if we smoke, we are harming our lungs, circulatory system, and heart.  Diabetics know that they should refuse that piece of pie, especially if it follows a fast food meal of burgers and fries.  An alcoholic knows that going to a cocktail party might just be a recipe for disaster if they have not taken measures to forego having only alcoholic beverages available. 

 

Still…the rate of diabetes continues to rise and while some statistics show a decrease in the number of people smoking, teenagers and young adults are still taking on this habit and older adults are not taking steps to stop smoking.  The number of people killed in alcohol-related incidents continues to be greater than those killed by violence or AIDS worldwide.  Over eighty-six percent of all people under the age of thirty admit to “being drunk”.

 

When it comes to developing self-discipline we must be truthfully and brutally honest with ourselves.  Are we simply monitoring our habits or are we really making an effort to guard against those which can harm, injure, or kill us. 

 

In a report released two years ago, research published in the American Journal of Public Health by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania showed that states with laws requiring drivers who have been convicted of drunk driving to pass a breathalyzer-type test before starting their cars saved an estimated 915 lives between 2007 and 2013. The findings represent a 15 percent reduction in alcohol influenced, driving-related deaths compared to states without legislation requiring DUI offenders to use “mandatory ignition interlock.”

 

If such preventions are possible, then why are we not using them?  Many feel such devices infringe on their personal freedoms.  Much like the pro-gun lobby, they claim they have personal rights to possess deadly agents of harm.  I do not want to debate today the issue of such rights.  What I do want to discuss is your right to live, and that same right that everyone else has.  Living tied to an oxygen tank or dependent on insulin is an impaired lifestyle.  There are enough chances to be hurt forever that we really do not need to make things more difficult for ourselves by drinking or eating to excess.  When that happens, not just the impaired person is affected; so are their families.

 

If I had a garden and in watering that garden, I deprived everyone else on my block their water, people would be in an uproar.  I do not have any personal privilege to something like water or staying alive that others do not also share.  We are in this thing called living together.

 

Together we create the world in which we live.  Together we must not only be honest monitors, aware of our actions and honestly owning them but we also must be on guard against those habits or inherited traits that can be a pathway to destruction. 

 

A monitor simply notices things.  A guard takes action.  It’s your life.  Which are you going to do – watch it pass by or become engaged in living it?

A Vision for Living

A Vision for Living

2018.09.13

The Creative Soul

 

Ask a group of people who amongst them is an artist and probably no one will raise their hand.  Yet, most of us were given visual art assignments as a part of our schooling.  Therefore, at some time, we all were artists.  There are very good reasons why the visual arts are included in the educational process.  Children who receive art lessons are better students, not only while in school, but for life.

 

First of all, creating art relieves stress and encourages creative thinking.  In other words, art encourages positive thinking.  Art also boosts self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment.  We tend to lost that as we become adults.  Think about the delight in a child’s face when they have completed a coloring page.  We will discuss more about the hindrances to creativity next week.

 

Making art, whether it be drawing, coloring, sketching, or free form, increases brain connectivity and plasticity.  Brain flexibility allows new thoughts to form, new avenues of thinking, and opens the door for inventiveness as well as greater creativity.  Even viewing art has its benefits.  It increases empathy, tolerance, and feelings of openness, acceptance, and love.  Goodness knows the world certainly needs more of those!

 

Art develops the whole brain.  Research and studies have proven that art increases attention, strengthens focus, requires practice and develops eye-hand coordination.  Additionally, creating art means one is interacting with the world as well as the various mediums and tools being used.  As Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

 

Dr. Heather L. Stuckey and Dr. Jeremy Nobel, writing for the American Journal of Public Health, reviewed research in the area of art and healing in an effort to determine the creative therapies most often employed.  Four primary therapies emerged: music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing.  In these forms of expression, arts modalities and creative processes were used during intentional interventions to foster health.

 

Drs. Stuckey and Nobel disclosed that art and health have been at the center of human interest from the beginning of recorded history.  “Despite that fact, and despite the invested effort and growth of knowledge and understanding in each arena, it is interesting that we often still find ourselves struggling with the “fundamentals” of art and health and their meaning in society. We make no attempt to clarify or resolve these fundamental issues.  Instead, our intent is to summarize current knowledge about the connection between art and health, identify the most compelling next steps for investigation, and generate further interest in researching the complexities of art and health. Legitimate research questions include whether certain art-based therapies are more or less effective than others, whether the impact of therapy can be tied to other important variables and preconditions, and whether health benefits are sustained or short term. These issues deserve vigorous continued attention.”

 

Art helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a diagnosis of cancer. Some people with cancer have explored the meanings of their past, present, and future during art therapy, thereby integrating cancer into their life story and giving it meaning.  Art can be a refuge from the intense emotions associated with illness.  There are no limits to the imagination in finding creative ways of expressing grief. 

 

In a quantitative trial of mindfulness art therapy targeted toward women with cancer, researchers found that those who engaged in art making demonstrated statistically significant decreases in symptoms of physical and emotional distress during treatment. In addition to the introduction of self-care through guided imagery, the art-making therapy involved the women drawing complete pictures of themselves and engaging in yoga and meditation. The relaxation and symptom reduction produced by creative expression opened pathways to emotional healing.

 

Pick up a pen, a crayon, or a paintbrush or a bit of clay and – poof – you have become a visual artist.  Artists pour out their emotions through the process of painting. This practice encourages artists to look at their own emotional state and take stock of emotions they may not even realize they have. Releasing emotions through artwork is a cathartic experience for many painters. In fact, even therapists suggest painting or drawing as a treatment path for patients who have suffered psychologically painful encounters. Letting out emotions by painting promotes healing through abstract emotional expression.

 

People that paint/draw/sculpt experience an increase in their emotional intelligence level. Allowing your emotions to come out in painting helps you understand your own emotional state and realize which factors contribute to your varying moods.  Experimenting with different visual art forms can help one understand what triggers feelings such as happiness, sadness, love, or anger. Often, the emotions you feel when creating this work project onto the people that view your paintings. Painters have the ability to bring others happiness, sharing their positive mindset with viewers. This skill makes the artist better company for themselves and those around them.  Art gives us all better living.