Did you know that each of us has a superhighway within our bodies that carries information between the brain and the internal organs and controls the body's response in times of rest and relaxation? It is the vagus nerve. Maybe you have heard of it before, but if you are like me, you don't know much about what it is and what it does. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body, running from your brain through your neck and ear and down to the body. It connects your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart and lungs. In fact, the word "Vagus" means “wanderer” in Latin, which exactly represents how the nerve wanders all over the body and reaches various organs.
Researchers have discovered that keeping our vagus nerve in good health helps us better manage stress, stay out of fight-or-flight response, and keep in overall good mental and physical health. Learning to pay attention to our bodies is part of surrendering to the fact that we need to take care of ourselves so that we can be better partners, parents, children, friends, and co-workers. We cannot have deep connections with each other when we are stressed and ready to snap at the next frustrating thing that our child or spouse does or says.
There is so much information available on the internet for you to educate yourself more about the vagus nerve and why it is important to you. Google it for yourself. But I would like to leave you with some simple ways that you can support a healthy vagus nerve for yourself and your family.
Recently, I heard a sermon based on the passage in Matthew where Jesus is talking about not pouring new wine into old wineskins. The scripture in Matthew 9:16-17 continues, "If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."
Because we’re unfamiliar with ancient practices, sometimes it’s difficult for modern readers to understand Jesus’s parables. In those days, people used animal skins-like goatskin-for storing liquids. Fermented drinks like wine expanded, and since an old wineskin would already be stretched to its limit, the new wine would tear the seams. Of course, Jesus wasn't just talking about wine and wineskins--he was making a very specific point. He was here to do something completely new.
If his disciples or others tried to make sense of what he was speaking about through a lens of old expectations and regulations, they’d miss the amazing thing that was happening. Through Jesus, God was beginning the process of redeeming the world to Himself. And if people expected this to look familiar to what God had done before, they wouldn’t understand.
Although this lesson was being taught about matters of faith, I believe that we can apply this to the many relationships in our lives--with our spouse, children, parents, siblings, co-workers, boss and ourselves. What kind of lens am I looking through to see the people that I care about and interact with? How do my preconceived ideas about how they will act/react or what they really think about a situation color my relationship with them? How much do I try to manage or control the outcome of a conversation? In addition, what concepts about myself limit my ability to care for and love myself and others?
Surrendering is an important step in beginning to change attitudes and concepts that no longer serve me. This starts with an awareness that maybe there is a different way for me to approach or think about things. Begin to identify attitudes and words that get a strong negative reaction from others. Recognize when I am taking things personally and consider that similar past experiences may color my perception. Strive to see situations, people, and myself from God’s point of view. Acknowledge that all that I can really control is my response to others, not their decisions.
I'd like to ask you to do a small experiment. Make a tight fist while focusing on some part of yourself that you have difficulty accepting--your reactivity, anger, strong feelings, unworthiness. Let your other hand represent you wanting to work on/fix this issue. Try to force the first hand open by trying to pry it. It will likely be a battle. But stop for a minute, shake out the open hand. Now, approach your fist with empathy and gentle, loving energy. Using compassion, encourage your fist to begin to open.
Let this love and compassion be your new approach to surrendering control and creating greater connection in your relationships. If you didn't have a chance to read the first post in this series, click the link below. Stay tuned for more on Surrender and Connection.
There is a story of a man who went into a gift shop that was filled with beautiful rocks from all over the world. He noticed a bowl of small, polished stones on the counter. The sizes ranged from about one to three inches in diameter. They were so highly polished that a myriad of colors was clearly visible and incredibly beautiful.
He asked the old man behind the counter where these beautiful stones come from and the store owner replied, “We got them from the stream outside.” The customer quickly informed him that he had been in the stream and there were only ugly rocks there and asked, “How is it possible that these exquisite rocks came from the stream?”
The old man took him to the back of the shop and showed him what a rock tumbler. It was a large cylindrical container set on electric rollers that turned the cylinder over and over. He said that when he put the rocks in the tumbler and let it run for about a month, they came out like the rocks on the counter. The man still found it hard to believe and asked if that was all he did. The old man laughed and said, “We do one more thing. We pour some special oil into the tumble with the rocks.” He laughed again and said that one time he forgot the oil, and when we opened the tumbler, it was full of dust.
Discovering the beauty within each of us and our family members means being willing to examine our limiting beliefs, allowing ourselves to grow, develop and becoming more than we are right now. If I think about my life, it has taken a lot of challenges and bumping up against situations and people to become more beautiful, more polished. Sometimes that means working through disagreements with my family, friends, and church community. It also involves wrestling with my own pride and stubbornness and recognizing what stands in the way of being my best self—allowing my higher self, the light, and God to shine through me. If our path in life includes a rock tumbler of sorts to help us work on our rough edges and find our inner beauty, perhaps the oil in the tumbler is love and connection within our family and community.
This is the first blog in a series. Check back next week for more.
As a kindergarten teacher, I had a marble jar, often called the “Good Choices Jar.” The idea behind the jar was simply that I put marbles in when the students were helping each other, making good choices and cooperating together. When students were hurtful or mean, marbles had to be taken out of the jar. A filled jar of marbles meant a “Good Choices Party” that the students helped to plan.
In Brené Brown’s novel “Daring Greatly,” she shares a story of her young daughter, Ellen, coming home from third grade sobbing. After helping Ellen to feel more calm, Brené was able to figure out that Ellen had told some friends something in confidence but by the end of recess, the whole class knew. They were laughing and making fun of her. When her daughter announced, “I will never trust anyone again,” Brené was struggling to find a way to help her.
It turns out, her daughter’s teacher used a marble jar in her classroom, so she used the concept to explain how trust is built. She told her, “Trust is like a marble jar. You share those hard stories and hard things that are happening to you with friends who over time you’ve filled up their marble jar.” They talked about what marble jar friends look like. This is the key points that Brené and her daughter came up with:
Wouldn’t this be a great conversation to have with your child, youth or even young adult? We can guide our children in making friend choices and understanding the role that trust plays in those relationships. To see the whole Brené Brown TED talk on this, https://brenebrown.com/videos/anatomy-trust-video/
Trust is built one marble at a time.
As many families are preparing their children to start a new school year, I would like to share some parenting advise on how to help your child get off to a good start. Great teachers are amazing! As a former teacher for 25 years, I found that one of the best gifts parents can give teachers involves good parenting. The most wonderful display of our appreciation is to send them students truly ready to be respectful, responsible, and eager to learn. No doubt this gift also benefits our children, who will rise to the top when equipped with such character attributes.
A tradition has developed in many schools whereby parents feel compelled to provide a tangible expression of their gratitude toward teachers. The original motivations for this tradition are unclear. Some may have been prompted by genuine appreciation; others may have been spurred by guilt and attempts to atone for the unruly classroom conduct of their children; some may have darker motivations where it was hoped a small payoff would “grease the wheels” a bit toward a better grade for their child.
While I’m sure that most educators truly appreciate the gesture, I’m not sure how many apples an average person can eat. I wonder how many of those cute little picture frames, paper weights, plaques, and other cute thingies eventually get regifted.
Of course, all of us dedicated educators want to be appreciated for our hard work, long hours, and willingness to be exposed to every germ known to humankind. It’s nice to be appreciated for the fact that we choose to love kids even when they behave badly and produce noxious fumes. It’s great to be appreciated for the fact that we take classrooms full of kids with different needs, abilities, behaviors, and troubles and turn them into high-powered learning teams.
Listed below are just a few things you can do to support your child's readiness to participate, learn and grow in the classroom.