What’s Your Story?

          There’s a major player in our lives that is unseen but real: our inner dialogue. The way we perceive a situation creates our experience to that situation. The way we speak to ourselves affects the world around us.

The other day, my friends drove about twenty miles for us to meet for lunch. When I asked them how the drive was both simultaneously responded:

            “The traffic was horrible.”  

              “It was good.”

            One car, one trip, and two completely different experiences.

            We can see these alternate reactions from a young age. A mother tells her children they can’t have a cookie now. One child howls, like something heavy landed on her foot, the other shrugs her shoulders and continues playing in the figurative (or literal) sandbox.

            Then there’s the difficult, harrowing experiences, like those who lived through and experienced life in a concentration camp during World War II. The inhumane conditions of life at Auschwitz; the incomprehensible cruelty, abuse, violence, and firsthand witnessing of genocide caused many to lose the will to live. Then there were those survivors like Elie Wiesel who wrote:

            “We are all brothers, and we are all suffering the same fate. The same smoke floats [gas chambers] over all our heads. Help one another. It is the only way to survive.” -NIGHT

            Wiesel was only fifteen when the Nazi’s deported him and his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau—only fifteen when, on their first night in the camp, his mother and younger sister were killed in the gas chambers. And yet, his spirit spoke of helping others, of survival, of help as the oxygen for their survival.

            Many Holocaust victims did not find helping others as a means to survival. Many victims were lost in incomprehensible fear and depression. Same situation but a very different experience again. 

            What causes us to react so differently to similar situations? What causes one person alone on a Saturday night to feel sorry for himself and another to relish his own company?

            A major player is unseen but real: our inner dialogue. The way we perceive a situation creates our experience to that situation. The way we speak to ourselves affects the world around us.

            Take a moment to think about something that happened today. If an unpleasant experience arose for you, consider the following:

  1. What were you thinking about the situation at the time?
  2. Is it possible you could consider perceiving the situation differently?
  3. If you answered yes to #2, how does the alternate perspective(s) make you feel?

   When we grow mindful of our inner dialogue, we are less likely to fall prey to negative thinking and more likely to experience compassion for ourselves and others.

The Dish that Calms…Everyone

There IS something we can do to tame our frayed nerves RIGHT NOW. It’s free and lowers inflammation and our flight or fight stress hormones.

If the world were a person, it would need to see a therapist…PRONTO! Between COVID-19 and its ever-growing variants, politics on everything from abortion rights to gun laws, climate change—you name it, the discussions are more heated than a tea kettle screaming with boiled water. Throw in the omnipresent specter of social media and economic uncertainty, humanity is at an exhausting, precipitous crossroads.

It’s not surprising that the global effect of so much uncertainty over a sustained amount of time causes tempers to flare and spiritual bank accounts to feel depleted. On an individual level, anxiety and depression emerges, and mistrust of “Others” grow (whether it’s the person in line at the post office or the governor of one’s state). 

While it was before my time, the polio vaccine protected millions of American children in 1955. According to historians, back then many Americans deeply respected science.

“After World War II, you had antibiotics rolling off the production line for the first time. People believed infectious disease was [being] conquered. And then this amazing vaccine is announced. People couldn’t get it fast enough.”- David M. Oshinksy, medical historian at NYU and author of Polio: An American Story

Compare the absolute faith of Americans in 1955 regarding the polio vaccine and science in general to Americans fractured, ambivalent feelings toward the COVID vaccines available and recommended by both WHO and the CDC.

Where’s that therapist for humanity when you need one?

There IS something we can do to tame our frayed nerves right now. It’s free and lowers inflammation and our flight or fight stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline).

What is this simple, free, and highly beneficial thing that helps each of us and those around us?

Kindness. Yes, giving someone (even a stranger) a genuine compliment or speaking compassionately to yourself reduces inflammation and boosts our emotional wellbeing.

“Many scientific journals suggest that there is a strong link between compassion and the vagus nerve, which regulates the heart and controls inflammation.” -Gabrielle Bernstein- Miracles Now

The vagus is the longest nerve in the human body and makes up our sensory and motor fibers. When we demonstrate an act of kindness to ourselves and others, we are literally helping to regulate our heart.  According to Dr. Fredrickson and Dr. Kok, “people with a higher vagal tone have better overall heart health, lower levels of inflammation, stronger social bonds, and tend to exhibit better emotion regulation.” Psychology Today

So if you want to start feeling good, turn off the news and start appreciating the good you see—in yourself and others. Serve up kindness to those around you, offer a generous dish of self-compassion and watch its miraculous effect grow.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/03/988756973/cant-help-falling-in-love-with-a-vaccine-how-polio-campaign-beat-vaccine-hesitan

Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/kindness-towards-oneself-and-others-tones-your-vagus-nerve