Friday, January 15, 2016

With peace comes wellness - By Mary-Therese Duffy

Most people are aware that without peace in a community, infrastructure is damaged and accessing basic needs is difficult. Safety and security is a critical second to our first needs for food, air, water, etc. We are fortunate in our country for the ability to seek even greater goals than needs of survival. Sustaining goodness, beauty, wholeness, autonomy, and meaning, ensures the flourishing of a community, its leaders, its mentors, and the aspirations of its youth.  

We are currently confronting threats to this, however. Many people are coping with food insecurity, inadequate health coverage, and threats to our safety and security now include “active shooter” situations, for which many of us are studying and training. This impacts our health and well-being in subtle and surprising ways.

As witnesses to dramatic world change, none of us are immune to the very real damage this causes. Studies indicate that observers of trauma can be as effected by it as the victims of it. Observers are just as helpless, and they do not experience that direct fight or flight response of protecting and sustaining life. Witnesses experience freeze. Inaction. Their helplessness imbeds deep within their physiology and does subtle damage over time and just under awareness. An entire range of uncharacteristic coping may arise: lying awake for hours without reason, becoming irritable, and most commonly, no longer caring as much as one did.

Like the infrastructure of a nation state, the cells of our bodies erode during periods of high stress and cease to perform effectively. The higher our stress levels, the more the caps protecting our genes, “telomeres” shrink and leave us vulnerable to chronic disease. Conversely, the more we adopt the means to effectively cope, the stronger these caps become, contributing to lifelong vitality and longevity.

We know that the quality of our life is determined by the sustained efforts we put into it. Sustaining peace is no different. Peace is not the absence of pain or stress; this is impossible. Peace, like everything of great quality in our lives, must be felt, practiced and nourished as often as possible in order to be of true power when needed.  

Amazingly, we have one of the most effective tools available to us at all times to practice and feel peace. It is called “The Half Smile.” The premise is simple: The body informs the face. For example, when we feel sad, our face appears sad. When we feel happy, our face appears happy. Studies now show that our facial expression also informs the body. Committing to a practice of keeping a half smile on our face encourages the body’s feelings of well being, thus lengthening telomeres. Our stress does not disappear, but the body experiences that all is being managed effectively and does not weaken. It strengthens.  

We need not grin. We need simply create and enjoy a soft, half smile upon our faces and enjoy the benefits it brings. With practice we absolutely feel peace, heart, mind and Spirit. And with time, we become its instrument. Now that’s infrastructure!

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