Much of my life is spent dedicated to reducing stress. I began on this journey into singing, laughter and meditation because I needed it myself, and soon became keen to share this incredible healing process with others. Stress is much better understood these days. Apparently, adrenaline and cortisol are powerful hormones that would have increased our chances of survival when we were hunter gatherers, taking the blood to the legs and arms ready to fight or run. However, we no longer encounter the predators that we needed to run from. An instinct which was an evolutionary advantage is now a catalyst for illness and disease. The stress response not only drains blood from our vital organs and shuts down the body’s healing processes, it informs the body that it is not safe and shouldn’t rest. So alongside the physical, our mental and emotional health suffer dreadfully as a result. Fortunately, we have some tools in our hands. Singing and laughter initiate a switch in the body, from producing stress hormones to producing their antidotes; serotonin and endorphins, the body’s natural healers. And yet we have still a way to go.
I found myself thinking about another outdated evolutionary response this week. Prejudice, bias; the instinct to stick close to the tribe and treat the unfamiliar with suspicion. Historically these have almost certainly been an evolutionary advantage, but like the stress response that we have outgrown, nowadays they have an extremely negative impact on us all. We have come a long way in accepting and understanding stress, and as a result, we are in the process of undoing it. Yet aren’t all aspects of prejudice; racism; sexism; ageism; homophobia; anti-semitism; expressions of this same powerful fear for our own survival? In the wake of George Floyd’s death, perhaps there is an invitation. We can continue to fearfully deny and reject the existence of these deeply entrenched instincts, or we can bring recognition, compassion and understanding to them.
I find myself, in my grief, extending my prejudiced, immature hand to the whole human race with love for whoever each of us is, in whatever stage of our personal development. To George Floyd, to his friends, relatives, girlfriend and daughter who bear the brunt of yet another appalling and distressing wake up call. To every single one of us, because in major and minor ways, on a daily basis, we all suffer from this deeply entrenched, traumatic and sadistic way of thinking. To the police involved who are still so mired in this old way of seeing and doing that they do not realise the dreadful depths of pain inherent in acting upon this outdated instinct. Through their behaviour they demonstrate that they have barely begun the journey into knowledge, wisdom and the flowering of humanity which beckons all of us now. That they still have those very early steps to take on this path of recognising how we block and fight one another when we could cooperate with and celebrate each other, and how it so deeply wounds us all. This behaviour is rife. Here in the UK our role models in government exist within a system which requires them to sit in opposition to one another, aggressively defending their tribe. (Watching the news this week I found myself musing on the fact that the ‘shit sandwich’ – a criticism flanked on either side by words of encouragement, which teachers are so familiar with – has yet to make its way to parliament. The level of acrimony within our House is damaging and dangerous to us all). Rising above these entrenched instincts is not an easy task but it is one that benefits greatly from honesty, authenticity and acceptance of its deep hold on all of us.
So here we are, in this together. Flawed, traumatised and in pain. And yet, on the threshold. Haven’t we all had enough? Not only of our violent, competitive instincts – but of how we respond to them in ourselves and each other. Perhaps we are finally ready to open the door to solidarity, patience, compassion and understanding, to recognise, pay our respects and lovingly undo the old ways that no longer benefit us. To birth life on this beautiful earth where everyone is loved no matter their ability, appearance, sexual orientation… simply loved, valued and encouraged to be ourselves. We have the answer. We have always had the answer. It is love.