The Leaning Soul of … Us!

Let’s revisit perhaps the most famous bell tower in the world, the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”:

Leaning_tower_of_pisa

In one of my earlier entries I posted a picture of this tower, and mentioned that it is actually a freestanding (freeleaning?) bell tower, or ‘campanile’, adjacent to the Cathedral, or Duomo, of Pisa.  It was built primarily in the 12th and 13th centuries, but further adornments and other work was added over the following two centuries as well.  The tower actually began leaning shortly after the work began, in 1173 A.D., as the weight of the marble and stone structure was much too heavy for the sandy ground on which the tower was built.  Fortunately, the work was interrupted soon thereafter, as the Republic of Pisa became frequently engaged in war with surrounding city-states in the late 12th and most of the 13th centuries.  Thus, no work was done on the unfinished tower for nearly 100 years, which allowed the soil undergirding the tower to fully settle and firm.  Once wars ended and the ground seemed more stable, the builders decided to carry on to completion, relying on God to keep the tower from toppling.  So far, stand it has!

Actually, two past efforts to stabilize the tower have been successful.  The last effort, made by digging down under the lower edge of the tower and pouring concrete down underneath to stabilize, and then using expansive lifts to straighten the tower, decreased the tilt from 5.5 degrees to 3.99 degrees.  In fact, the engineers believe they could have fully straightened the tower to 0.0 degrees tilt, but it was felt that this would severely cripple tourism, which would greatly impact the economy of Pisa and the Tuscany region of Italy.  I would agree.  Unless you’re like me and have an unnatural love of bell towers, would you go out of your way to visit the Non-Leaning Tower of Pisa?

*****************

Please consider a few quotes regarding the soul …

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”  Aristotle

“The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected.”  Nicholas Sparks

“What Is Love? I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed through his shoes, and the stars through his soul.”   Victor Hugo

“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”  Marilyn Monroe

“Whatever you are physically – male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy – all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.”  Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel

“Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”  Walt Whitman

“Inside us there is something that has no name; that something is what we are.”  Jose Saramago, Blindness

“Prayer is not asking.  It is a longing of the soul.  It is daily admission of one’s weakness.  It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”  Mahatma Gandhi

“What is soul?  It’s like electricity – we don’t really know what it is, but it’s a force that can light a room.”  Ray Charles

“I simply believe that some part of the human Self or Soul is not subject to the laws of space and time.”  Carl Jung

“Why do you hasten to remove anything which hurts your eye, while if something affects your soul you postpone the cure until next year?”  Horace

“Be careless in your dress if you must, but keep a tidy soul.”  Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, 1897

“You are a beautiful soul hidden by the trench coat of the ego.”  Mike Dolan

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”  St. Augustine

****************

We (I?) concluded during our last rendezvous that a belfry, while being primarily distinguished from other similar architectural structures by the necessary inclusion of a bell, really cannot be reduced to the bell(s) alone.

belfry in kenai peninsula

The essence of a bell tower consists of the entire structure, including the bell.

oslob_belfry05

Thus, the walls, the floor, the roof, the windows, the rafters, the bell, the ropes and pulleys attached to the bell, and some crazy bats are all necessary parts of a belfry.

Bats roaring out of the belfry!

***************

Is a human being similar, or different?

By way of reminder, in my last entry I spoke of a quote by C.S. Lewis:  “You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.”

Lewis’ assertion is that a human is actually, in essence, a soul.  That “soul” is then intrinsically linked to and possesses the body that we associate with that particular human being.  By extension, then, anything else that makes up that human being would therefore also be a possession of that same, central soul.  This would include the brain, which allows us to “sense” or perceive the world around us, to think, to remember things, and to feel emotions.

Now, what do you think about this line of thinking?  Is this so?  Ought we to think of ourselves as primarily a “soul”, whatever that is, walking around “clothed” in a fleshly body, and possessing a brain capable of consciousness, rational thought, and emotions?  And if so, and if we think in this way, would this change the way we live?

My answer to these questions is … “Probably”.

Taking things further, though, can any of us define the “soul” in words?  Ray Charles admitted in one of the quotes above that, like electricity, he couldn’t really tell you what a soul is, but he knows it sure can light up a room!  Jose Saramago says it’s the part of us that has no name, but it is who we are.  Carl Jung stated that he believes it’s that invisible part of us that “is not subject to the laws of space and time.”

I think most of us would allow that, if soul exists, then it is something that:  is not physically visible or “touchable”; is not infinite (that is, that I have a soul “assigned” to “me” and to me alone.  In other words, we don’t all share the same infinite, spiritual soul); and is something that lies underneath all the physical and mental “stuff” in our own consciousness which we are most aware of most of the time.  It has to be something that is at our “core”.

So, a soul would thus be an invisible, intangible, spirit-world entity.  It would travel around “inside” one’s body, but would not be something you could find in a surgery or autopsy inside that body.  But, there must be more to it than this, I would submit.

Let’s consider something:  I have long had the belief, since my days of consulting in nursing homes, that persons who are born with profound intellectual disabilities, who have extremely limited or even non-existent ability to communicate with other humans, still have a soul.  If this is true, what can or what does that soul do within those persons?  Well, in my way of looking at it, their soul is the spiritual part of them that:

–  is aware of God and other human souls;

–  can connect with others, beginning with their Creator, at a level deeper than conscious awareness or language.

The soul connects (or not, if it so chooses) in ways other than words or language of any sort, in ways other than physical touching, or even than “emotional” touching.  I don’t believe that, even though your brain may be highly limited in intellectual capacity, or in its ability to speak or to understand speech, your soul must also therefore be “limited”.  In fact, I believe, if souls do in fact exist, and I believe they do, that THEY are the things in humans that are “created equal”, NOT our bodies or brains.  Does that make sense?

Do souls “think”?  I don’t know, but I don’t think so.  I also don’t believe the soul “feels”, either.  I believe they simply “know”.  They are “aware of” things, and others.  Mostly others.  (Because, in the end, even though we are meant to be good stewards of the natural world we live in, including plants and animals, life is mostly about God and Us.)  I believe souls operate within one primary sphere, along one primary axis:  to yearn for, and lean toward, stronger and deeper connection with God and/or other souls, or to lean or push away from those connections and thus to pursue isolation and “self-satisfaction” alone.

To me, this is the “root” of the soul – connecting with other soul beings, or avoiding that connection.  The connection doesn’t have to be verbalized, such as getting to know someone better by conversing over a cup of coffee; nor does it have to be physical in any way.   But, as Nicholas Sparks noted in his quote above, our souls nevertheless can and do connect with one another.  And when they do, and it’s a good connection, it can be very strong, and have a great effect on the quality of our lives.  Because the soul is not infinite, though, being physically apart, or being unable to communicate with someone with whom we share a connection, can hurt.

The soul, then, is the very deep part of us that, moment by moment, decides either to lean toward a humble yielding to our Creator, toward joyful connection with that One, or lean away from that kind of connection, and thus rely on itself as it goes through life.

The soul therefore “leans”, much like certain bell towers!

Hearkening back to the biblical account of “The Fall”, in the Garden of Eden:  The soul was the part of Adam and of Eve which chose, at the time of the Serpent’s deceitful sales pitch, to pursue its own goals on its own terms, to “be God” within those two lives at the moment of choosing to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It’s my view that the information coming into Eve’s brain/mind from the serpent, that she would NOT die if she ate the fruit, but would rather become like God, wise and knowing many things, and then from her eyes, seeing how tasty and beautiful the fruit looked, all filtered its way into her soul, which then decided to “lean away” from God and the boundaries God set up to provide peace and joy for her.  This “leaning away” was a decision thus made by the deepest part of her in that moment.  This decision, now working its way back, led to her mind rationalizing how good this choice to eat the fruit would be, her emotions already starting to feel a “high” at the delicious thought of biting into it and then being flooded with new wisdom and insights.  From there, her “will” – the executive part of her mind and brain – directed her body to carry out the act of eating the fruit.  Thus, information came in, was believed, and filtered down into her soul.  The soul leaned in a new, different direction, which then percolated back up through her mind, emotions, and will, working out in her physical life the inner leaning of her soul.

A little while later, Adam went through essentially the same process, the only differences being the serpent’s words came to him through Eve’s mouth, and the fact she had not died once she ate the forbidden fruit was, I’m sure, a boost to his confidence!  Otherwise, it was exactly the same, with his soul’s change in leaning again being the critical driving force.

I chose the story of the Garden of Eden and the fateful fruit choice because to me it illustrates and symbolizes perfectly the constant dilemma and choice that our souls face in life:  whether to lean toward, and ultimately to “lean on”, our loving Creator, or to lean away from the Creator and toward our own self-directed motives, and thus choose to lean only on ourselves as we journey along through life.

And so, if the views I’m presenting here are true, how does one get his or her soul to change the way it leans?  I can tell you what I believe, though I freely and humbly admit that I am not as effective or as diligent with this as I wish to be.

I believe the soul is most closely connected to the “heart”, which in my view is partly based in the body and partly based in the soul (so, part flesh and part spirit).  The heart represents and contains the deepest yearnings we have.  It is the part of us that contains our inner motives, as pertain to ourselves and others around us.  It is the part of a person that, as Jesus taught, serves as the “root” of the tree that is our life, and will thus lead to our lives producing either good fruit or bad fruit.  It is through the heart, I believe, that the soul can then be influenced to change its leaning.  The heart can be “opened up”, or made willing, to receive influence from new, truthful information, in many cases coming from other persons whose own hearts and souls have opened and are now leaning toward healthy connections.  By opening up, the yearnings of my heart can then change, from selfish motives to more selfless ones, as I seek after and discover these “truly true” insights in life.  This then finally can lead to a directional change in my soul’s leaning, allowing me to connect with God and others in that deeper, beyond the physical, way that we discussed earlier.  From here life can become more giving, less contentious, more joyful and contented.

Unfortunately, this can also go in the reverse direction.  When we begin to receive and then to believe and accept information that is false, but we (want to) think it is really true (i.e., delusion), this filters down into our hearts and then we tend to “close off” the heart to all other information which might contain real truth.  This false information then reinforces more self-centered and selfish motives and intentions, and tends to then pull the soul away from life-giving sources and connections, and toward isolation.  This eventually leads to a more insecure, more frustrated, more taking, less satisfying life.

I certainly hope that with all the material above I have not been too confusing.  I doubt I could explain my thinking any more clearly at this point in time, but I am still pondering these things and am sure this may evolve over time.

Again though, for me, the things I want now, compared to before I came across the quote from C.S. Lewis about truly being a soul, are:

–         to be more aware that I AM a soul;

–         that my soul, in harmony with an “opened-up” heart, and from there working out through my mind (seeking to discern truth from falsehood), my emotions (enjoying the people and things in life, but not “running the show”), my brain, and my body, can thus “lean” my life in better directions;

–         that the first direction I want to lean in is toward my Creator God, and from there toward others, seeking to connect with them and to give to them.

These paths are the ones I hope to follow, the ones I hope we all can more diligently follow.  Leaning, therefore, might not be a good thing for a bell tower, but is a very good thing for your soul, so long as your soul is leaning in the right direction!  Peace to you.

Craig Meek, M.D.

What is a belfry, anyway?

It’s been a long time since I last posted an entry here.  A number of things have been percolating inside my head during that time, but the brewing process keeps getting interrupted … Not really “writer’s block”, as I don’t consider myself a ‘writer’, and I haven’t really been ‘blocked’.  In any case, here are some current thoughts …

**********

??????

Let’s consider a question:  What is a belfry?

By this I mean, what is the ‘essential nature’ of a bell tower?  What is its essence?  What is it that makes a belfry a belfry, and how is a belfry different from other tall or rooftop structures such as towers, domes, parapets, cupolas, etc.?

The true nature of bell towers is, undoubtedly, a subject upon which many people spend hours and hours meditating, so this is likely not a novel question for you all.  Of course, the obvious characteristic that sets belfries apart from other similar structures is the presence of a bell, as none of those other listed architectural features typically have bells hanging within.  But is there more to the answer than simply the bell?

Bell_Diagram

As a shrink who likes to, from time to time, think of myself as dwelling within a belfry, how would I describe the nature of a belfry?  First, I think of the walls of the belfry.  A belfry cannot exist without walls … else there would be nothing to support the roof and rafters, from which to hang the bell!  And all belfries’ walls must have openings, in the form of windows or louvered shutters, through which emanates the sound of the bells when they are being rung.  Wouldn’t be worth much as a bell tower if you couldn’t hear the bells!

2011-08-03_11_09_55

The walls are placed atop either a tower or the roof of a building, usually a church, sometimes a municipal building or courthouse.  A belfry therefore sits in an elevated position.  Then, obviously, I think of the roof of the bell tower, including its rafters, from which hangs the bell, or bells.  Most belfries would also have some kind of a floor, a set of stairs by which to access the tower, a rope with which to pull the bell(s) back and forth, and probably some bats hanging from the ceiling!

Bell_Ringers02

All of the features highlighted above are characteristic of bell towers.  They all, together, are belfries.  But, once again as we come full circle, the one thing that differentiates a belfry from every other tower around is the presence of the bell itself.  Without the bell, you cannot call it a belfry.  I think we can all agree on this point.  Again, though, back to the original questions, can we say that the bell IS the essential nature of a belfry?  Or, is the essence of a belfry better defined by both the bell AND the rest of the total structure?  If you leave out, or take away, any single part, would it still be a “belfry”?  To me, this is interesting to ponder …

**********

About three months ago I came across a quote by famous British author C.S. Lewis (of The Chronicles of Narnia fame) which has triggered a lot of reflection for me.  The quote reads:

“You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.”

Lewis’ premise is that we as human beings are first and foremost spiritual beings.  That our true, original, core essence is “soul”, a spiritual entity, and that our bodies, along with our brains and our minds, are layers of “housing” that clothe our soul, and allow it to interact with the physical, visible world and the people and things in it.  At first glance, I can’t say that I disagree with Lewis, but I can say that I don’t fully understand this idea, or know how to think about it in clear terms, let alone discuss it using our limited language.

Of course, his thesis, and this entire discussion I’m about to enter into, are based entirely on a view of “truth” that is rooted in a belief, or faith, that there does exist a spiritual world which underlies our entire human experience.  I am not intelligent enough to formulate a testable, scientific hypothesis regarding the existence of a spiritual realm.  And if someone were to lay out such a(n) hypothesis, how could an experiment be designed to test it out?

Lewis himself, in his book Mere Christianity, bypassed scientific experimentation, and instead appealed to logical and philosophical arguments for the existence of God and soul.  He pointed out in significant detail how the basic moral value that all known races, tribes, and cultures seem to have in common – the seemingly innate belief that we must treat fellow humans and the world around us with care, respect, compassion, and fairness – proves that a single, common Mind must have designed and created it all; that such consistency running through all of human history, with all of the widespread migrations people have made, into every corner of the planet, through hundreds of generations, over thousands upon thousands of years, “proves” that all of us come from and possess the same “moral genetics”, rooted in and descended from that common Designer/Creator Mind.  And since we have yet to locate that Creator anywhere in the physical universe, it must be of a “spiritual” domain that remains invisible and intangible to our biological senses.

In contrast to that line of thought, there is a view of life based on the notion that all there is, both within ourselves and “out there”, is the physical, tangible, measureable world.  Other than conceptual notions such as emotions or dreams or values or thoughts, nothing exists unless it can be touched, seen, weighed, or measured.  All that is came into being in unknown ways, through random events over billions of uncountable years, for no real purpose, and will continue evolving, or devolving, as we all hurtle through space until some unforeseen and “random” event leads to the destruction of our sun or our planet … who knows?  The only important value in this view of life then becomes the need to ensure our species’, or our nation’s, or our race’s, or our family’s, or our own individual, survival.  Everything else becomes subservient to that value.

However, this belief system (and yes, it is as much a matter of belief, or faith, as the view espoused by Lewis) cannot explain the remarkable consistency of moral values across almost all known cultures down through human history.  Even within violent and warlike tribes and cultural groups, the rule of being good to one another is central and maintained, and acts of unfairness frowned upon or sanctioned.

When those, often referred to as “humanists”, who hold this view try to explain the central moral value noted above – the rule of fairness and kindness (or, “justice and mercy”, as the book of Micah calls it), they do so in some variation of the following:  humans adopted this value because they learned that looking after one another and treating each other well helped to keep families, nomadic groups, or villages bonded together, and thus this value was maintained solely as a means of protecting the species.  That sounds well and good on the surface, but this kind of world/life-view also possesses a central contradiction:  that is, when it becomes necessary to aggress against other humans in order for me or my group to survive, then it’s ok to set aside this basic value.   Huh?!!?  That doesn’t sound either moral or consistent to me.

To illustrate, if we consider the extreme atheistic beliefs undergirding the Marxist views of Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao, among other genocidal autocrats, we see that such a reductionist view of life cannot help but to violate that consistent moral value of thousands of years of human life to which Lewis refers.  Such a view sees the killing of millions of humans as not only acceptable to them, but as necessary to help humans “move forward”.  It makes some humans more necessary than many, many others, and those less necessary as thus expendable.  This is terrible, ridiculous, and universally seen as evil (that is, in “violent violation” of all commonly held rules of decency) by anyone and everyone else, whether ‘theistic’, ‘atheistic’, or ‘agnostic’, even by those within those tyrants’ own cultural groups, even their own families.

Not only this, but as Lewis points out, those who study child development often comment on the fact that infants and toddlers, long before they could have “absorbed” the concept of fairness from their parents, seem to innately practice it, as well as expect it in return.  Little children are often noted to protest unfairness in interactions with peers before they can even speak.  How did we learn this notion at such a very young age, unless it were “wired-in” from conception?

Once again, therefore, the two ways to explain this consistency and primacy of central moral rule are either:  1)  A Creator Being brought all of our universe and our species into existence, and implanted within all of us a central moral genetic code which, when we are in selfish and self-centered mode we can choose to violate, but it still calls out to us (our “conscience”) from within;  or, 2)  Humans adopted this moral value as a means of survival, but will always set it aside when the TRUE central value – assuring my own survival and that of the few others I may care about – becomes threatened!  Which of course, renders it as not a moral value at all!  Merely window-dressing.  I believe it’s clear which view best accounts for the sociological and anthropological facts as we know them:  View #1.

I’m certain that I have not done justice to Lewis’ arguments, but they are compelling nonetheless.  I commend them to you, if you can locate the book referenced.

***********

Now, with all of that said, if you are willing to describe yourself as standing in the circle of folk who believe that there is a spiritual Creator Being who planned all that exists beforehand, and brought it all, directly and indirectly, into existence, then I invite you to look with me more deeply at the Lewis quote.

If we then accept that we are, in fact, as human beings at least partly spiritual beings, what if the real and true core of us IS that spiritual part?  What if Lewis is correct that we are really “SOUL”, and all the rest is or might be only temporary “machinery” for that soul to use?  Would this change your thinking about yourself, if you accepted this idea?  I think it is changing mine, though I’m still in the infancy stages, as I said above, of understanding it, or knowing what it means.

Next time, we’ll talk more about what this thing called a soul might be, and how it might, or even should, change how we view our lives.

Every once in a while …

… I come across something that makes my eyes open wide, makes me sit up and REALLY pay attention, gets my juices flowing, and makes me realize that my life might soon dramatically change.   I think I am in the midst of one of those instances right now.

Last week I was sorting through emails and happened to click on a link back to my friend Shelly’s blog:  On Being Mindful

There, in one of her posts she had posted a link to another blog entitled:  Evolutionary Psychiatry

Being a psychiatrist, my first question was, “what in the heck is ‘evolutionary psychiatry’?!!?”  Images of a bushy-haired, disheveled shrink leading a distraught patient through exercises in personal “evolving”, from simian to java to neanderthal to cro magnon to homo sapien, and finally to transcendental “sidha” states, popped into my mind!  On first visiting I then saw that the author was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and so then I was fully betting on some kind of quackery.  After all, we ALL know how those nerdy eggheads at Harvard are, right?!!?  😉

Well, I can tell you that after reading a couple of posts from this psychiatrist, Dr. Emily Deans, I could not stop reading.  I did everything listed above … sat up in my chair, felt my adrenaline begin to churn, my eyes opened wide, anxious to learn more.  I scrolled back to the earliest posts she had written in June, 2010, and have spent the majority of my reading time over the last 5 days reading her posts, and reading materials from other websites she has linked to.

Basically, this incredibly sharp physician (my most humble and heartfelt apologies to her and to Harvard doctors everywhere!) focuses most of her own curiosity and study on the whole supposition that, over thousands (she and other “paleo” followers would say ‘millions’, but I like my views better) of years, we humans have adapted best to a set of nutritional and lifestyle guidelines.  And, we would be most healthy and happy if we continued to follow those patterns.  Their belief is that over the past two centuries we have gotten away from those “hunter/gatherer” principles, most especially in our eating, but also in our activity levels and our culture in general, and as a result we have created many disease states that have become premature killers of human life (coronary artery disease, diabetes, depression, stroke, etc.), and numerous other diseases that are highly disabling (obesity, arthritis of various sorts, anxiety disorders of many types, and almost all of the autoimmune diseases, etc.).  What we eat is the big culprit, the area in which we have changed the most.

Now, there are literally uncountable tons of written material out there about our diets, what we eat and how we eat it, and how we ought to change this, and change that, eat this and not that, etc.  You know the routine.  There seems to be no way to have any clue about who’s “right”, and which way is most healthful.  Most of us tend to give up and buy and eat what we want, having given up on sorting stuff out.

Well, Dr. Deans and her friends have compiled an incredible amount of research and factual data that seems to solidly undergird their beliefs about making basic food changes.  In fact, the mound of data is immense, and growing.  This flows out of a movement which I noted above has entitled themselves, the “paleo” lifestyle, a title which I presume refers back to the Paleolithic Age of earth’s history.  In that age, humans seem to have existed largely on diets of various wild game meats, fish, and fowl, and wild-grown vegetables and fruits.  There was very little “dairy” (milk and all of its derivatives), and virtually no grain.  And, of course, there were NO refined sugars, no bleached flours, no synthetic fats and oils, no chemical additives, no artificial sweeteners.  All of these are gifts we have given ourselves in the past 150 years.

More coming below …

***********************

Speaking of learning new, potentially revolutionary stuff that could turn your whole belief system upside down, what would you think if you learned that some people out there are actually trying to get bats to move BACK INTO belfries?!!?

I mean, come on!  Here we are over here, trying to exorcise all the bats we can from our mental belfries, and here is a group of folks trying to dream up ways of coaxing bats to roost once more in bell towers!!

Turns out that past efforts within the Anglican Church to clear bats out of belfries, where they were causing much damage, had an unexpected result:  the bats began finding ways to get into the sanctuaries, and have been hanging from the ceilings in there, thus leading to a lot of uneasy worship services, and a lot of guano piling up on the floors and pews.

Well, in England bats of all species are protected, and they can’t just exterminate them … so these churches are now reversing course.  They are now opening bell towers back up, and trying to better seal off the sanctuaries, in hopes that these thousands and thousands of bats will  return to their thousands of belfries, which, while not the optimal nesting ground, is better than messing up the interiors of the halls of worship.  Here’s the story:

A big bat reversal!

Anyway, just goes to show that some things we THINK will make a positive difference in the world aren’t always the best idea …

… such as chasing bats from a bell tower, or adding wheat and sugar to our food array!

************************

In short, it appears – though I do plan to continue to investigate more sources and more information – that I might have been missing the boat on what real nutrition is all about, when it comes to how to best match up our metabolic machinery, our immune systems, and our real energy needs.  It may well be that I need to put a few big bats back inside my own belfry.

Actually, the concept of matching our diet to the foods we humans are best equipped to handle, I had first seen in the writings of Dr. Robert Atkins, the guy for whom the famous “Atkins Diet” was named.  His main premise was that we were primarily designed to have the solid majority of our energy intake in the form of protein and natural fats, NOT carbohydrates or synthetic fats.  By changing the primary focus of our “healthy nutrition” message to encouraging low fat, lean protein, and plenty of bread and pasta, we succeeded in arousing the sleeping (but wicked) giant:  insulin.  And insulin, now flowing wildly and frequently, in response to all of the sharp spikes in blood sugars brought on by our sugar, starch, and grain-centered diets, is the main culprit in the emergence of many of the diseases I listed above.

So, while I will continue seeking to learn more, I’m already beginning to try out some changes:  like trying to eliminate all kinds of sugar and sweeteners from my diet, to keep breads and grains to a bare minimum, and to stick to only olive and some canola oil in terms of oils.  I also want to try out some different forms of exercise.  But beyond personal change, I want to see if perhaps I can actually do more good for some of my patients by prescribing major diet changes than I can by carefully prescribing medicines.  I’m very curious …

Two books I am looking to read soon are:  The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson,  and It Starts With Food, by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.

I’ll let you know if either or both lead to any more of those “every once in a while” moments!

Craig Meek, M.D.

Loving ourselves …

You shall love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself.  ~ Jesus, Matthew 22:39

*******************

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a long time.  The subject is extremely dear to me, and  is one about which I am very passionate.  In every setting in which I have ever worked, I have tried to encourage colleagues, patients, AND myself to put a higher priority on this theme.  I believe it is truly the linchpin that, if firmly set in place in our moment-by-moment choices and daily habits, could and would pull our lives forward into having great positive impacts on the little worlds around each of us.

This subject is:  loving ourselves.  Now, in this phrase I am first and foremost referring to the word ‘loving’ as a verb.  That is, I’m not so much speaking of the emotional, feelings side of love.  I’m talking about how we treat ourselves; the things we do, or not, to take care of ourselves, our lives, on a daily basis.

Do you see what I am saying here?  I am not saying that liking ourselves, or feeling deeply in love with ourselves, is the big key here.  Actually, if you are like the vast majority of people I know, suggesting that you ought to like yourself, or have strong, passionate feelings of love toward yourself, would at first be an appealing suggestion, but it would have very little chance of happening simply by us deciding that, yeah, hey!  I’m going to really like myself today!  For whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to work that way.  We seem to, most of us, not really like ourselves much at all, in fact.  And just deciding to do so would fade very quickly as our longstanding feelings of shame, guilt, inferiority, unloveliness, and unlikeability would soon take over once again.

So, what I’m actually suggesting here is to do an end-run, a “flanking maneuver”, in military parlance, around our feelings about ourselves.  I’m saying, let’s forget how we feel about ourselves, and see if we can use our powers of reason to come up with enough motivation to take good care of ourselves anyway, in spite of not really liking ourselves.  Does that seem doable?  I hope so, because if you’re like me, it ain’t gonna happen if I wait for the good feelings to come first, or to stay!

Alcoholics Anonymous has many slogans, some of which have been very helpful to me after I had learned of them.  One of these is “Fake it ’til you make it!”  This refers to the fact that when a real alcoholic first enters into recovery, he or she finds that they have to start doing a lot of things that, a) they don’t like doing;  b) they are not used to doing;  and c) seem pretty downright silly!  Things such as attending meetings with people you don’t know very well, telling your story (the whole truth!) to strangers, or picking up the phone and calling your sponsor when you’re REALLY craving a drink, are not fun things to do for these folks!  But, as oldtimers who have built up a lot of serenity and strength of recovery will tell them, that’s okay, just “fake it ’til you make it.”  Actually, this again points up one of the great, but little known truths about us humans:  we don’t long keep doing things that we feel are useless or pointless, even though they are very worthwhile.  Sooner or later, one or the other will change.  We’ll either stop doing those things, or our feelings about them will change toward the positive.  And that’s what we’re talking about here.

I want us to look at ways to treat ourselves better, despite the fact that we might think it’s selfish, or that we’re not worth treating well, or that it won’t matter in the end ‘cuz WE don’t matter.  I really believe that if we do begin making healthier choices for ourselves, and KEEP doing this, that eventually we WILL start feeling good about ourselves.  We will start liking ourselves.  We will begin believing that we have a good purpose here on earth, and that our future will be successful in the ways it was meant to be!   And then, one day we’ll find that we have made it!  That our feelings match up with our choices!  That will be a great day.

*******************

Here are some quotes that I found helpful … hope you’ll agree:

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.  ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I have an everyday religion that works for me. Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line.  You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.  ~ Lucille Ball

He lives long that lives well, and time misspent is not lived, but lost.  ~ Thomas Fuller

Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.  ~ Edward Stanley

If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself.  ~ Charles Schulz

Eat to live, and not live to eat.  ~ Benjamin Franklin

We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not a single act, but a habit.  ~ Aristotle

The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.  ~ Aiden Nowlan

The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  ~ Albert Einstein

Our bodies are the gardens to which our wills are gardeners.  ~ William Shakespeare

If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.  ~ Barbara De Angelis

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who lives within you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a very high price.  Therefore, honor your Creator with your body.  ~ I Corinthians 6:19-20

I see my body as an instrument, not as an ornament.  My body is not an object on display for pleasure or judgment.  It is a vehicle, equipped with legs that allow me to visit my favorite places; with arms that allow me to embrace the people I love.  It is my home; the bearer of my soul and the carrier of my spirit.  My body does not reflect my self-worth.  ~ Alanis Morissette

Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.  ~ Veronica A. Shoffstall

Self-love is not opposed to the love of other people. You cannot really love yourself and do yourself a favor without doing other people a favor, and vise versa.  ~ Dr. Karl Menninger

We are wont to condemn self-love; but what we really mean to condemn is contrary to self-love.  It is that mixture of selfishness and self-hate that permanently pursues us, that prevents us from loving others, and that really prohibits us from loving ourselves.  ~ Paul Valery

*******************

The picture below is of a small church known as St. Leonard’s Church, located in the town of Wixoe, Suffolk County, England.  It is said to be well cared for, and sits at the heart of the village.  The belfry dates from the 15th century, and as you can see, compared to so many of the pictures of belfries I have posted here on these pages, this is a very modest and yet self-assured bell tower.  Like the old belfry on the campus of Radford University, this one seems perfectly OK with who and what it is, what its job is, and does it very well.  And the people who love it so much don’t mind making the effort to take care of it, knowing that this care will pay great dividends, both in their lifetimes and in those of Wixoe citizens’ lives yet to come.  So far as I could find, there is no reference to any person or persons having their names engraved on plaques or other monuments in or around this church or bell tower:

*******************

Now here is another church with a bell tower, also described as very “well cared for”.  This is the  Church of St. Mary Magdalene, located in Sutton-in-Ashfield, which happens to be located in the county of Nottingham (ring any ‘bells’?) in England.  This church dates from the 12th century A.D.  It is very pretty, certainly.  The description also goes into great detail regarding the tidy (I am sure) sums that various members of the Sutton family paid to make sure this church and its bell tower were well cared for as time passed.  To make sure, their names are engraved on several plaques located in and around the church.  Do you think Walter, Gerard, Jordan, and William Sutton were more interested in the beauty of the church and its grounds, the clarity, tone, and volume of the belfry’s bells, or their own legacy, when they paid considerable sums to ensure that both the stones of the church as well as their names were well-preserved into posterity? As I said, though, this is a pretty church!

*******************

One of the things I most appreciate about the small town in which I live is the small, Christian liberal arts college located here.  They now call themselves a University (ahh, modern times!), but I still know who and what they are and were meant to be (a college!), and I appreciate them for whom they are.  This College (yes, I AM obstinate!) has a very nice bell tower that sits atop the administration building.

Every day, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., the bells in this belfry sound out the time every 15 minutes, playing the old Westminster Chimes theme.  In the spring and summer months, when in the afternoons and early evenings I am likely to be outdoors in my back yard, pulling weeds, or pruning trees or perennial shrubs or flowers, or relaxing on the swing, or just walking around admiring God’s marvelous handiwork, those chimes fill me with peace and quiet joy.  Just hearing them makes me feel as if there are still little parts of the world that remain secure and steadfast, just as they were SUPPOSED to be.  Occasionally, such as at noon or around 5:00 p.m., the carrillonneur (the person who plays the bells) will play a hymn, and this makes it even better, in my opinion.

And then I find myself appreciating and mentally thanking all of those persons who, a hundred or so years ago, advocated for the building of that belfry and the purchase of those bells, and the many other persons who have, over the decades, maintained that tower and the bells, as well as the ropes and chains from which they are suspended.  None of them did this for me.  They did it because it was right and good in their eyes.  They took the time and effort, and paid out the money, so that the present and the future of the college and the town in which it sits would be a little bit better because of the wonderful tone of those bells in that tower!  I strongly doubt that any of them has their name engraved on a bronze plaque over at that college (errr … University!).  As I said, I am very grateful.

*******************

Taking good care of ourselves is about just that:  taking … care … of … ourselves.   It is a mindset, a commitment, an attitude, and a set of practices that is very, very hard for us to introduce into our lives, and to build into habits.  It requires, for most of us, making changes in our lifestyle.  Remember, it does NOT require us to FEEL LIKE making changes.  And, it does not require us to feel “sick”, or that we’re “getting old”, or that there is something wrong with us in any way.

Similar to the contrast that we drew a few weeks ago between mental health and mental illness, good self-care does not imply the existence of some kind of disorder or illness, but neither does it imply the absence of such.  Self-care, caring for oneself – one’s body, mind, soul, time, talents, interests … everything that comprises each of us – is really the verbs that would comprise loving oneself, again, in the non-emotional sense we talked about above.

Many people have told me that they interpret Jesus’ quote from Matthew at the top of the page above to mean that since God knows that we are hopelessly selfish and “in love with ourselves”, we should use our ‘boundless, ego-centered love for self’ as the measuring stick by which we ought to boundlessly love others.  It was God “giving in” to our self-centered nature, knowing we would never stop loving ourselves, so He was just commanding us to give at least as much time and effort caring about others as we give ourselves!  Well, I am certainly no theologian, but this does not jive with what I know about God (who in my belief is, after all, all-knowing), and about us!  Not at all.

In my view, the commandment is indeed twofold.  We are instructed to love our neighbors AND to love ourselves.  And what did Jesus mean by the use of the word, ‘love’?  Did he mean the passionate, romantic feeling kind of love we often think of?  Apparently not, as the very next thing he said, in response to the question, “And who is my neighbor?”, was to describe a set of almost incredible (especially to the Jews who sat there listening) and selfless actions of a Samaritan (whom the Jews apparently despised) in caring for a Jewish man who had fallen prey to robbers who beat him and left him for dead.

Now, ’tis true that the main thrust of this command is to do just the same as the Samaritan for anyone whom we see in need around us, when we have the opportunity and ability to help.  But the command does, indeed, also refer to loving ourselves!  And, whether or not we believe Jesus is being somewhat resigned about our selfish natures, it is clear that he expects us to be looking after the needs of ourselves in the same mindful, compassionate, and selfless way.

As you might imagine, I work with a lot of people who are or have been very depressed.  I can tell you that in almost every case, most of these persons are the kind who would rather take care of others than to take care of themselves.  In many cases, shame and guilt drive them to try to please others by serving them all day long.  While there may be unhealthy beliefs at work underneath this “others-first” mindset, I really believe most of them are very unselfish.  When I talk with them about exercise, or speaking up for themselves, or eating in a healthy way, or resting when they are tired and are at their limit, or simply saying ‘no’, they almost invariably shrink away, as they believe this would be “selfish”.

On the surface, so it might seem.  And certainly, you could do some very good things for yourself FOR selfish motives and reasons!  In fact, “looking out for #1!” was an American national catchphrase through much of the 1980s and 90s!

But, as the Karl Menninger quote above describes, when we do ourselves a favor and take care of ourselves, such as going to bed at an early hour, we are really doing others a favor, as this makes us better people!  It helps us be better able to take care of them!  I discuss with people all the time how, if they can’t be with their lover or their spouse, or their children or grandchildren, or anyone else whom they care for, by taking good care of themselves now they will be the very best friend/lover/spouse/mother/father/grandparent, etc. they can possibly be when the time comes that they are reunited!  So whatever your motives are, Love-ing yourself is a good and kind thing to do.

********************

So, how do we get started?  Well, lots of ways.  But we’ll have to flesh this out over time.  I want to look with you at several different ways in which we can take better care of ourselves.  We will talk about exercise, about eating (and drinking!), about rest, about dressing and grooming, about taking care of our minds, about having fun, and about taking care of our souls and spirits!  Maybe even one or two things that will come up as the winds change!  So please stick around!

Let’s begin to think of our lives as if they are gardens, and we have just been hired to be the gardeners.  And as the bells chime out the hours from the belfry in the distance, we’ll work to make those gardens wonderful and beautiful for the “neighbors” we’re loving!

Craig Meek, M.D.

“My nerves are shot!”

For the uninitiated, “My nerves are shot!” is a phrase very commonly heard by this wandering pilgrim in his days seeking to help those suffering from seemingly insurmountable anxiety and stress.  It basically means, “I can’t take all this anxiety anymore!!  I’m completely beaten down by all of it!  Please help!!!!”

*************************

After hunting around, I managed to find some pictures that illustrate the following fact:

Even though I myself might not have the courage to trust in rickety, rusty, rotting stairs to climb to the top of tall belfries, and then to lean out over the top to look down at the tiny buildings, cars, and people below, some folks DO possess this bravery, and I tip my hat to them!

For example, these young ladies certainly had a lot of intestinal fortitude while mounting up to this belfry at the top of the Basilica in Quito, Ecuador:


But, once they reach the top, what a view they received as their reward!!

Amazing!

And then here is another young man who overcame, undoubtedly, tremendous fear to climb out onto the precipice of imminent disaster to capture great photos:

I’ve got to hand it to him … he’s got a ton of courage!  Courage which I do not possess.  And likely never will.  Which, taken with the long range view in mind, is perfectly ok by me.

I do very much appreciate the photographs he has given the rest of us, though!

***********************

As we decided in our last installment (well, at least I decided!) anxiety is the degree to which our bodies are activated, in any given situation, moreso than is needed to deal with that situation.   And as we also talked about, anxiety disorders are extremely common, with as many as 40% of American adults having a diagnosable anxiety disorder at some point in their lives (in many cases, for their ENTIRE lives!).  That means 2 of every 5 of us will be impaired by anxiety in some way, shape, or form during our journey!  This outnumbers almost any other illness we might ever face.  And as such, anxiety disorders ought to be taken very seriously.

Now, we also discussed the fact that there is a very big difference between having an “anxiety disorder”, and having an “anxious” or “fearful” state of mind.  This is a huge distinction, and we’ll talk more about that later on, down the road.

***********************

Currently, the most common form of treatment for anxiety disorders is medical, i.e., medication.  Whether it ought to be or not is a debate for another venue and time.

There are 3 primary classes of medicine used to help people with anxiety disorders:

1)  Tricyclic Antidepressants:  The word “tricyclic” refers to their chemical molecular structure.  The word “antidepressant” means that all of these medicines were originally marketedas antidepressants.  It has very little to do with how they actually work within the nervous system.  And they are used to treat far more than just depression.  Anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, migraine prevention, etc. are all within their purview these days.   The class includes:  Amitriptyline (Elavil), Nortriptyline (Pamelor), Desipramine, Imipramine, Clomipramine (Anafranil), Doxepin, and Trazodone, among others.

2)  SSRIs (aka, Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitors):  This class also is primarily considered to be “antidepressants”, but once again, we find them being used to treat other problems, most especially anxiety.  The list includes:  Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa), Fluvoxamine (Luvox), and Escitalopram (Lexapro).  All of these medicines can lessen anxiety, though they typically take longer to achieve this dampening effect.

3)  Benzodiazepines.  This is by far the most effective class of medicine if you simply want to lessen anxiety in its global context.  It includes:  Diazepam (Valium), Alprazolam (Xanax), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Lorazepam (Ativan), Chlordiazepoxide (Librium), Clorazepate (Tranxene), etc.

The problem with “Benzos” is that they have developed a negative connotation and reputation for many people, both inside and outside of the mental health profession.  ‘Tis true, some people do abuse benzodiazepines.  A slender few become addicted to them.  Not even close to a majority, but that fact seems to matter little to many people.  In my experience, VERY few people who truly do struggle with a real anxiety disorder will ever abuse their medicine.  They simply want relief!  NOT to get high.  But, as with so many things, a few people with selfish or unhealthy intentions can often ruin things for many others, and this has been the case with these medicines.  However, it is also true that many prescribers have too often written scripts for these medicines without really finding out whether and to what degree their patient actually has a crippling anxiety problem.  I have been guilty of this at times.  Most of the time, though, when I prescribe such a medicine for someone, I have been careful in the diagnosis, but I do often choose to trust people until such time that they might prove to be not trustworthy.  The vast majority of the time my trust in them has been well-founded, and they end up very grateful for the help with this hugely disabling condition!

There are other medicines commonly used to help with anxiety, but they are usually fairly unique-type meds, not a part of a larger class.  Examples include Buspirone (BuSpar), Hydroxyzine (Vistaril or Atarax), Gabapentin (Neurontin), and a couple of other more obscure medicines not used much in a number of years.

**********************

However, there are other ways beside medicine to treat anxiety disorders.

There is what is called, “Cognitive Therapy”.  This is a form of treatment in which you work with your therapist to identify some of the “automatic thoughts” that go through your head in certain situations.  In this case, these would be situations in which you ordinarily begin to feel symptoms of anxiety arise within your body.  Then, while you are in a safe and calm place, you begin to REALLY examine these thoughts, as well as the beliefs that underlie them, and see just how true and accurate these beliefs and thoughts actually are.  For any of us who do this sort of exercise, we quickly realize that there is an incredible amount of pure junk (I wanted to use a word that includes a large case ‘B’ next to a large case ‘S’ here, but as this is a “family” forum, I’ll stick with ‘junk’!) percolating around in our minds, and it has a huge impact on our lives.  But, again, that’s a discussion for another day.

As you identify the falsehoods and silly thinking or logic that permeates your belief systems, you begin to try to change those automatic thoughts with other self-talk which you, yourself, script out.  Some people will actually write down a few “true” statements on a 3×5 index card and carry it around with them, to pull out whenever they start to feel anxious.  You could also write a few such lines on your cell phone.  As you begin to practice responding with more accurate statements about yourself, the situation, the worst case scenario, and other “outside-the-box” choices you can make for yourself in that instant, and as they become more habitual for you, the less your anxiety and worry become.

Almost all forms of therapy are really exactly like this, though other forms don’t have the specific “homework” assignments that cognitive therapy does.  They are all about looking at what we do (and feel and think), why we do it, and how unsound our thinking is that undergirded the reasons why we did so.  Then we look deeper to find truths about ourselves and others around us, and try to build our future upon more truthful and sound foundations.  Some therapies will have us delve back into our childhoods, or walk through traumatic experiences over again, or examine the relationships we had with our parents, or siblings, or various authority figures, etc.  But the goals are still pretty much as I’ve laid out above, when you distill them all down.

**********************

Other forms of treatment are not exactly “therapy” in the common lingo, but they are still ‘therapy’ in the purest sense of the word!  These other forms I categorize as “Mind over Matter”!  Or, in this case, “Mind over Body”!  These forms include such things as Biofeedback, Deep (Abdominal) Breathing Techniques, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and Visual Imagery.  In addition, while they are not specifically treatments for anxiety problems as the things listed above are, Yoga, T’ai Chi, Pilates, and other forms of exercise which emphasize breathing, flexibility, and mindfulness, are excellent tools for people to explore who deal with anxiety disorders.

In all of these endeavours, the goal is for the person practicing these things to maximize one’s control over one’s body.  To slow things down to at least a manageable level.  When we again think about how the body automatically begins spitting out huge amounts of adrenaline (epinephrine) and norepinephrine in response to, say, standing on the parapet of a 500-foot tall belfry, and how this leads to dramatic increases in heart rate, breathing rate, cold sweats, dizziness, churning guts, shaky hands, weak knees, and a strong feeling that we may very well die, the one thing we would most wish for is the ability to control some of this, so we could make it go away!  If by deepening and slowing our breathing, or by closing our eyes and imagining ourselves in a “safe place” (for me, it’s always been sitting on the sand at Holden Beach, North Carolina, on a warm, breezy summer day, with the constant and soothing sound of the surf driving all fear from my mind!), we can actually direct our bodies to shunt some of that adrenaline away and feel quickly less tense and panicky, so much the better.  The best thing about these techniques, if practiced repeatedly, is that they can be called upon at any time in any place, and no external chemical is needed!

Actually, one of the best non-specific treatments for anxiety is to simply exercise.  Walking or running, or any of the numerous forms of dance-type exercises now popular … really, any kind of what is called “aerobic” exercise … will help build resistance in your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to the over-stimulating effects of adrenaline.  I often tell my patients of the stories I saw a number of years ago during a summer olympics broadcast of a couple of marathon runners who first started out running, in response to their doctor’s recommendation that they start exercising as a way to prevent or lessen panic attacks.  Lo, and behold!  They became world-class long-distance runners, and had no more panic attacks to boot!  Now, of course, one does not need to run 26.2 miles in 3 hours or so in order to overcome panic disorder … but you get the idea.   🙂

***********************

I’ve very superficially described only a few of the many treatments available for anxiety disorders.  Some of these disorders, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, require very intensive treatments that have to be tailored to that person’s specific patterns and O-C drives.  Social phobia or specific phobias (such as fear of heights!) will often require a form of therapy known as exposure, or progressive desensitization, to help someone go from the panic caused by even the mere thinking about the thing they dread, to actually being able to be in that situation for several minutes, and to see that you CAN live through it and do okay.

The one thing I have hoped above all in these last two posts is to convey the truth that if you or someone you care about is dealing with some kind of anxiety disorder, there is hope.  In many cases the hope is that it can be managed better, feel better, and NOT be an obstacle to living a normal and happy life, or to achieving your goals and dreams.  In some other cases, there is good hope for a complete cure … learning and finding a way to live free of whatever anxiety has haunted you for so long.  Either way, I urge you to seek help, as it is out there.

I wish you calmness and peace.

Craig Meek, M.D.

OK, let’s have some fun!

Now this is a glorious picture!  Just look at these bats madly rushing out of this church’s belfry!  What a fantastic shrink must have just moved into the belfry to do some bat-ousting!!!  Got ’em all out of there immediately!  I’ll bet all of that leftover guano smells PRETTY bad, though …

**********************

A linguistics professor was lecturing his class one day.

“In English”, he said, “A double negative forms a positive.  In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative.  However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

A loud voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right!”

**********************

Now these young ladies are doing the world a HUGE favor by holding up the leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy!  Just like the young boy who still, to the best of my knowledge, has one of his fingers plugging that little hole in the dike, holding back the sea from drowning Holland, these two heroines will be sacrificing their lives for a while, at least until some others volunteer to take their places.  Let’s all give it up for servants of the world like these young people!

By the way, did you know that the leaning Tower of Pisa is actually a free-standing bell tower?  That’s right!  It serves as the bell tower for the Cathedral of Pisa, pictured above to the left of the tower.  So this tower is actually a leaning belfry!!!  And I thought bats were a problem!

**********************

Newlyweds …

Husband:  Sweetheart, am I the only man you’ve ever loved?

Wife:  Of course you are, dear.  But why do all of you men keep asking me the same silly question?!?

**********************

For all of us Doomsday Count-downers:


**********************

And now for some more belfry humor:

After Quasimodo‘s death, Bishop Thomas of the cathedral of Notre Dame sent word through the streets of Paris that a new bell ringer was needed. The bishop decided that he would conduct the interviews personally and went up into the belfry to begin the screening process.

After observing while several applicants demonstrated their skills, he decided to call it a day.

Just then a lone, armless man approached him and announced that he was there to apply for the bell ringer’s job.

Bishop Thomas was incredulous. “You have no arms!”

”No matter,” said the man, “observe!” He then began striking the bells with his face, producing a beautiful melody on the carillon. The bishop listened in astonishment, convinced that he had finally found a suitable replacement for Quasimodo. Suddenly, while rushing forward to strike a bell, the armless man tripped and plunged headlong out of the belfry window to his death in the street below.

The stunned bishop immediately rushed down the stairways. When he reached the street, a crowd had gathered around the fallen figure, drawn by the beautiful music they had heard only moments before. As they silently parted to let the bishop through, one of them asked, “Bishop, who was this man?”

“I don’t know his name,” the bishop sadly replied, “but his face rings a bell.”

************************

Have a great day, and an even better week!  And please, try to do something good this week that you’ve been meaning to do for a while.  It will help your self-esteem, and that alone will make the world a better place!

Craig Meek, M.D.

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb … ” Isaiah 11:6

 This belfry is located on the beautiful campus of Radford University.  It sits atop a small, older building at this 100 year old school in the New River Valley of western Virginia.  It’s a bit of an odd bird on the campus, as nearly all other buildings are of brick and stone, much larger, more impressive, and more imposing.  Just going by appearances, this clapboard-sided building and its aging belfry stand out like a sore thumb, in my opinion.

I took this picture while my family and I were touring the campus following our daughter’s dance audition.  My cell phone camera did not do this belfry any favors, as you can see, and I’m obviously no photographer.  But, in my mind this illustrates something interesting:  this building, surrounded as it is by much larger buildings that are considerably more appealing and more impressive to the eye, still stands.  It offers little to the overall ‘feel’ of the campus, yet it stands.  It could have slunk away long ago in shame over its diminutive size and odd look, but it stands.  It is not defeated, and you get the sense that it will never let itself feel in any way inferior.  It is “who” and what it is, and is perfectly okay with that.  It is NOT in competition with any of the other gorgeous buildings nearby.  It knows its role, and plays it well.  It knows that what is on its inside is a heckuva lot more important than what it looks like on the outer surface, and it agrees with me that any building with a belfry is in the cool club anyway!

So let’s return to where we left off when last we met.  Competition.  Today I want to talk about how I would distinguish between healthy, or “positive”, competition, and the destructive, “negative” types of competition.

First off, the title of this post comes from a passage from the Old Testament of the Bible that is very often misquoted.  Most times you will see or hear it as, “And the lion shall lie down with the lamb.”  Isaiah 11:6 actually reads:  “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”  This is a picture of how things shall be in the new Kingdom that God will establish in the next age on the earth.  Do you deduce anything from this verse?  Do wolves and lambs, or leopards and goats, or calves and lions, or little children and wolves, leopards, or lions, cohabit in our world peacefully?

This is obviously a world in which competition, as well as the food chain, have been rendered obsolete.  This is “The Ideal”.  Utopia.  Heaven.  God’s Magnum Opus.  No more tears.  No more war.  No more pain.  No more sickness.  No more competition.  No more, “Thrill of Victory, and the Agony of Defeat.”  God’s peaceable kingdom.

In that day, all will know that they are perfectly ‘OK’.  All will know that they are perfectly loved as they are, and there will be no more perceived need to puff myself up, or put others down.  No longer will anyone need to be in control, to demand respect, to cast aspersion through gossip or social scheming, or to keep up with the Joneses.

Can we get there now?  Well, given that we are all indelibly flawed and fallible human beings, and given that we are all on a long journey through life hoping to better and better learn to depend on one another, to love one another, to help one another, to not fear or worry but to trust in God and safe people around us, but also knowing that we will likely never completely get there this side of the grave, it’s doubtful.  But, that is not to say that we can’t achieve progress.

Real progress, however, can only happen beginning with me and with you.  I know … sounds corny, but it’s truth.  Each of us can, a little at a time, grow closer and closer to the knowledge that we are OK.  Completely, just as we are, with all of our mistakes, all of the things we do selfishly or with hurtful attitudes.  We are still OK.  We are loved by our Creator.  No matter what.  Believe that … I mean really KNOW that truth … and then there will be nothing anyone can say to you, think about you, or do to you that can take your peace away.   Believe that, and there will be much less need for worry or fretfulness.  And once we know we are OK, then we can live the serenity prayer we looked at a couple of weeks ago.  Loving ourselves, our Creator, and one another will be easy.

And what does all of that have to do with the idea of competition?  It has everything to do with it.  Starting with a solid foundation of “OK-ness”, no longer must any form of day-to-day human competition cause us fear.  Now, I’m not speaking of military warfare or dealing with burglars or muggers.  Perfectly normal to feel fear in those situations.  But in any other typical form of ‘competition’ – academics, business, clothing, social, sports-related, etc., etc. – fear of “losing” does not any longer have to be a part of one’s normal experience.

Healthy vs. unhealthy thus becomes, not the actual competition itself, but all about my own attitude.   Healthy competition is anything that causes me to strive to be my very best, to give my best effort, to play fairly, to examine my strengths and weaknesses, and to build on those.  It leads me toward greater and greater teamwork, to become more interdependent with others, to not fear sharing things I’ve learned with others in order to help them.  Healthy competition can result in some “pain” if I “lose”, but not the kind of pain that leads me to want to get back at the winner, or to beat myself up, or to be ashamed of myself.  Rather, this is the kind of pain that can still enjoy the experience, love and have fun with the “winners”, but then look at ways I can, with God’s help and assuming that we believe it’s our Creator’s will that we even be involved in this particular competition, improve myself and further improve my mental health and attitude.

Unhealthy competition is, likewise, mostly about my own mindset and approach.  If I believe that winning the pretty girl’s approval, or getting her to go out on a date with me, or catching the eye and attention of that very cute and popular guy, is all-important for me if I am to be “worthy” or valuable, then this is not healthy.  If “winning” makes me feel better about myself, but losing makes me feel there is something terribly wrong with me, that’s not healthy.  If winning makes me laugh at my opponent, or losing makes me hate or resent the winner, that isn’t healthy.

Two different women who worked at two different women’s domestic violence shelters here in central Kentucky have each told me that when the Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team loses a game, they have notably higher rates of women being admitted into the shelters within hours afterward.  Something is horribly wrong and unhealthy when competition, not even involving me personally, becomes so important that I get angry enough to lose all control when I lose.  We’ve all seen reports of fatal fights and brawls following NFL and college football games, and during and after soccer games in Europe and elsewhere.  We’ve all seen MANY cases of violence and murder involving “competition” between men and women, when one someone leaves another someone, and finds a new mate elsewhere.  The jealousy and anger we can feel about competition is boundless … IF, again, we base our worth and self-esteem on coming out ahead vs. losing.

So, in conclusion, we again see the truth that being healthy people, especially in any situation in which we are vying with others, involves first and foremost our own attitude.  Knowledge that we are not more or less valuable or worthy, no more or less loved, no more or less OK, whether we win or we lose, must be the foundation.  Then, taking the attitude that I am only ever going to measure myself against myself, against my own self’s very best, in preparation, practice, effort, and resilience.  I can look to others for inspiration, for tips and wisdom as to how to do things better, but never to let myself fall into the trap that when, not if, someone out there does things “better” than I that therefore I simply don’t measure up; that I am a loser.  Hogwash.  Please, let us all move from that kind of mindset, day by day, toward the truth that, just as in Special Olympics, we can and should all strive to win, but also to be brave, to give our best, and to celebrate all participants when the results are announced!

Thoughts?

Craig Meek, M.D.