Changing the Atmosphere

It seems like we humans have a great tendency to look for and find what’s wrong in any situation.  It’s what we naturally move toward, almost as if by an irresistible force.  Sometimes that’s a good thing – we can’t conquer what we don’t confront.  We can’t change things if we won’t face them.  Our ideas about what will change things may need rethinking though.

After I graduated from high school, I went to college for a short time and then decided to work for a while until it became more clear to me what I wanted to do.  I worked as a secretary at a car dealership and shared an office with two other people.  The office manager was a chain-smoking, kind older gentleman who rolled his own cigarettes and often let them burn down to nothing in his ash tray, so the office was pretty much continually filled with smoke.   I was a smoker too but saved my smoking for coffee breaks and lunch hour when I would “enjoy” my cigarettes with a cup of coffee or a can of diet soda.  Needless to say, it was not the healthiest time of my life.  The drinking age was 18 at this time and my parents owned a bar, so vodka gimlets and tequila sunrises were a frequent part of my life also.

During this time, I met some wonderful people who had prayer meetings in their home and also had a little health food store on their farm.  I became very interested in natural foods and a healthy way of life and had easy access to nuts, seeds, whole grains, and raw milk almost straight from the cow.  It was wonderful!  I stopped drinking, eventually quit smoking, and started to be more active, sometimes walking or biking the two miles to work in the morning.  Sometimes I would get up extra early and run in the dark before I got ready for work.  I didn’t have any health problems, but I started to feel so much better, gaining energy, stamina,  and clearer thinking.

Because I became so interested in healthy living and because I had always been kind of a nurturing, care-giving kind of person, I decided to go to nursing school.  It just seemed like the natural thing to do, and I looked forward to making a difference in people’s lives.  I did enjoy caring for people.  I did clinicals at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester and many of the patients were very ill.  I especially enjoyed working in pediatrics, and I remember a 5 year old boy with severe burns who didn’t want anyone to give him his shots for pain except me.  We formed a close bond, and it was hard to leave him to move on.

I don’t know what I was thinking that nursing would be like, but it gradually began to bother me that all we did was look at what was wrong.  Yes, we tried to make people more comfortable and help them recover after surgery or illness, but so many of the things that I knew were healing and restorative couldn’t even be addressed.  Many years later I agreed to teach a medication administration class to new staff, and I did that for a few years, but eventually I couldn’t bring myself to talk about drugs and side effects anymore.  Medications are sometimes a godsend to get someone through an infection or a difficult time, but I knew they weren’t ever getting to the root cause of most illness.  Surely we can do better than that.  Surely we can begin to look at creating health instead of just managing disease. With that said, I am thankful that there are wonderful people in health care who are making a huge difference and fulfilling a calling.  We need them.

Often when there is something wrong, whether in a relationship, business, or in our physical bodies, we forget that disease and dysfunction can’t gain a foothold as easily in a healthy environment.  Proponents of organic gardening say that we should first create healthy soil before resorting to chemicals to control weeds and insects. When the environment is healthy, problems are less likely to occur.

When I took a course in mediation last year, one of the books we read was called “Bringing Peace Into the Room”.  Each chapter was written by a different experienced mediator talking about how the personal qualities of the mediator impact the process of conflict resolution.  These mediators help to create an atmosphere or environment which can help greatly to bring about healing in different types of severed relationships. It isn’t just about reaching a compromise where one party is probably not going to be happy anyway (although sometimes that’s the best you can hope for with what you have to work with); it’s more about seeing the big picture, bringing clarity by bringing out information, and modeling presence and authenticity.  When they are helping to create a healthy environment, there’s a greater chance for a healthy outcome.  The mediator, just like the doctor or nurse, doesn’t bring about the healing; they help to create conditions to allow for self-healing.

In marriage and family relationships, in workplace situations, in our bodies and minds, and in society as a whole, maybe we can concentrate less on what’s wrong and more on creating health or allowing the health  that’s always there but sometimes hidden, to emerge.  We aren’t looking for perfection necessarily; we’re looking for wholeness.

So many of the problems and issues we face were created in an atmosphere of fear. Fear usually comes from a place of feeling disconnected and separate and feeling that we have to protect ourselves.  We think we might lose something or not have enough so we lie, cover things up, grab more before someone else can get it.  We resort to harming the earth and our environment or people to make big bucks and get ahead.  We fight over children, property, and land.  Or maybe we become so fearful that we hide, shutting ourselves off from people and situations we are scared to face, and closing down our hearts and creating illness in the process.

What’s the antidote to fear and to always looking for what’s wrong?  The only real antidote is love.  As I’ve said before, not just a touchy-feely sentimental feeling that lets people run all over you, but a strong, powerful force that literally moves fear out of the picture.  Oh, it will try to come back and get a foothold again, but you’ll get wiser and recognize it more easily each time.  Love says we are ONE and need to start acting that way.  I can’t hurt you (or lie to you or about you or steal from you) without hurting myself.  I can’t damage your environment but think that because you live across the country or across the globe that it won’t affect me.  I can’t get ahead by ripping you off.  I can’t practice forgiveness and kindness without it changing the atmosphere around me and sending out ripples into the world at large.  I can’t be authentic and vulnerable without my words and actions encouraging someone to do the same.

When we live from the premise that we are safe, cared for, and connected, then we are in a position to create a healthier environment.  People may still take advantage of us at times, and we should definitely speak out and act to expose evil and remedy injustice.  We may need sometimes to point out what’s wrong, but we need to spend even more time creating what’s right.  We don’t need to change the whole world by ourselves – we just need to change the atmosphere around us – we just need to bring peace (or love or honesty or respect) into the room. . .

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