Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But Stress Is More Likely To

imgresOf the many curious things that I’ve come across as an information-junky, I find it especially fascinating when ancient wisdom seems to mirror modern scientific knowledge. It makes me wonder what observations an early human must have made in order to put into words something that would take millennia for science to prove. Case in point, the link between disease caused by stress and ancient writings from one of Israel’s early kings.

In a book called Psalms, found both in the Torah and the Bible, the beloved King David is credited for writing seventy-three of it’s one hundred and fifty chapters. His writings, which include songs, poems, and prayers, describe a wide range of human emotions, from joy, gratitude and praise, to desperation, fear and anger. The psalms of David tell about his life including precarious circumstances he finds himself in, like hiding from people who are out for his blood, and especially, his steadfast yet complicated relationship with God. Nevertheless, David writes:

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. (Psalm 17:22)

 and,

 When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. (Psalm 32:3)

Here’s what’s interesting about these passages (besides the fact that they rhyme!)- David is describing painful emotional states, (i.e. broken spirit, perhaps pointing to sadness, and I kept it all inside, possibly meaning stuffing down or hiding one’s feelings). Then, he describes how these states are bad for the bones- they dry them up and turn them to powder. Interesting! In these passages David is linking painful emotions to the degradation of bones. So what does this all mean?

Now, I’m no expert on human physiology but here are some basics on hormones and stress. When we experience stress the hormone adrenaline is secreted, followed by cortisol (cortisol is the one we’ll be looking at here). These hormones are meant to help regulate the body during the fight or flight response, which is a good thing, however, the experience of stress on a regular basis makes for elevated levels of cortisol in the body, which is really a not-so-good thing. The reason is because cortisol triggers bone mineral removal and blocks calcium absorption, which ultimately decreases bone cell growth and therefore decreases bone density. No bueno.

So why does this happen? When the body is under stress, it needs to focus on survival and so it will shut down other functions and focus it’s efforts on things like sending blood to muscles and vital organs in order to flee or fight off the stressor. Ironically, a twenty-first century stressor for a person like me is likely to be something non-life threatening, like being cutoff in the parking lot at Food 4 Less or the sound of my cat Curry crying for my attention.

So, why is this interesting? It’s a curious thing that some of our more painful emotions can trigger the release of stress hormones. And, if in fact high levels of stress hormone lead to greater risk for diseases of the bones, then it’s even more interesting that this condition was described so early in history by way of the historical figure, King David. Not to mention yet another reason to focus on destressing. Spa day, anyone?

Here’s what I’m not saying: science proves that the bible is true! I’m not saying that. I think that there are metaphors and stories and myths and legends and truths in the pages of this holy text that can be life changing when applied; and I also think it’s cool that there are layers of understanding within its passages that perhaps we and it’s original writers never saw coming.

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Have you found curious overlaps in science and spirituality? Share them here!

The Power of ‘I See You’

IMG_2848I have a friend named Kristen who has a special practice for showing love- not just saying she loves, but showing that she does. I don’t think that she knows how special and unique it is nor do I believe she would call it a practice, but in doing this particular thing on several occasions over the years, it’s enough for me to believe that this thing that she does is love in action.

The first time she practiced this thing that she wouldn’t call a practice was when we were twenty-six (we’re a month apart in age). On this particular warm autumn evening, we headed out for a drink at the restaurant where we both worked, to relax and talk about life. As we sat on the patio sipping craft beer out of our fancy frosted goblets, she announced that she had something for me. It was a card that she had hand written and wanted to read aloud to me. From that card she read all the things she knew about me and appreciated about our friendship. She used words to tell me that she thought I was courageous; she thanked me for sharing with her words of wisdom during times of sadness; she told me that I was empathic even though I feared that I suffered from apathy. As she read these things to me, I recognized something- she had remembered the very things that our relationship was made of. I felt known, heard, and remembered. I felt seen.

Another time my friend practiced this practice that she wouldn’t call a practice was when I was preparing to be married. She handcrafted a letter made from cream card stock, bound the pages by wire, wrote words using different colors of ink and carved out misshapen hearts here and there throughout the pages. In this letter she shared with me other things she knew about me. She shared with me that she noticed how much time and effort I had put into reading books on self help, studying every religion I felt called to study, and coming to peace with my faith of origin. She shared with me that she was witness to the pain that I had experienced over the years and that every good change that I made in my life was a positive change in the lives of those I interacted with and a positive change in the world. She shared with me that the misshapen hearts represented life and how when painful things happen, our hearts change a little, but that that is what makes us beautiful and unique.

Now, I don’t mean to shine a light on myself by describing the details of these love letters that my friend wrote to me. I simply want to show the depth of her attention to her friend (fortunately this friend is me). My friend, this girl Kristen, has a special gift for really seeing people. I know this because I feel seen by her. I feel seen by her because she told me that she sees me. She told me she sees me by telling me what she sees. And what she sees is the things that I’ve shown her, and maybe even, a few things more.

The letter Kristen gave me before my wedding wasn’t the second time she practiced this practice, nor was it the last. She did it again and again, most times in conversation- she would repeat to me the things that I had shared with her in the past, almost as if she was reminding me of who I really was. In fact, that’s exactly what she was doing.

And so, all this to say, in life and in showing the ones we love that we love them, perhaps grand gestures or fancy gifts aren’t the only things that send the message. Perhaps sending a message that says, “I hear you and I see you,” is the best gift of all.