Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: aspirations (page 1 of 4)

The fear of the manatee

There is nothing I love more than a person who loves their job and does a kick ass job at doing it. Yesterday, I found such a person – an educator at the Zoo. I first stumbled upon her in the Manatee exhibit, where we were 4 of only 7 people in the building. My inner-Grandma Mary came out to play and I chatted with this treasure trove of information.  Her life-changing scientific observation was this:

Manatees have no fear.

None. They have no known predators. Apparently their body lacks the tasty-substance that carnivores seek, and over time have evolved to be known as utterly useless when dead. So beasts of prey leave them alone. And manatees know this.

The manatees are like the homecoming queens of the ocean. They believe that everybody loves them – or, at least, won’t outright hurt them. They offer more to the world alive than dead and they intrinsically know it.

Can you imagine living without fear? Leaving the house with an understanding that no is was out to get you? Basking in the freedom to love and trust. I can only imagine the life of a manatee to be filled with joy and play and mutually beneficial relationships. Part of me wants to be a manatee.

However, there’s a downfall to such confidence.  Boats.

Manatees seem to be endangered not because of the ecosystem’s natural attrition but because their friendliness toward the world leads them to swim toward, rather than away from, ships. Boats of humans don’t seek to destroy the manatee, but the overly-friendly water mammals swim toward, in their eyes, the new potential sea-friend. And then they die.

You see, fear plays a vital role in our survival. That surge of fight/flight/freeze keeps us safe. A life with nothing to be afraid of will get you run over by a boat.

The moral of the story is not to be fear-less. Our culture touts a lack of fear as synonymous with untouchable. The near-extinction of the manatee proves this isn’t the result.

fearI counter we need more awareness with healthy proportions of fear. The challenge is to put fear in the correct seat – not driving, but an alert passenger, well familiar with the countryside. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes, talk to your fear. Let it come along. Just make sure it’s not tripping you up at every turn.

More than any other command in the Bible is “fear not.” Why? Because the fear cripples the faithfulness. God doesn’t ask us not to feel the fear, but rather not to live by fear. There’s a huge difference between pretending we’re invincible and knowing that your next right step is protected and encouraged by God’s presence.

The sweet spot is to become like the manatee, believing not everyone is out to get us, but grow in our awareness – of our environment, of our natural place within the world, and the ways in which God has called us to live.

Love and live with your eyes open.

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On Sibling Unity

Dearest Children,

I have many hopes for your life. That you find a deep and satisfying love for another person, a partner in life, to hold and hold up, who reveals the best parts of you. That you discover a vocation that resonates with your soul, a means for you to partner with God in the work of redeeming this world. That you cultivate friendships that honor and carry you, a family outside the bounds of bloodlines.

And that you hold on to one another.

I hope you become one another’s loudest cheerleader and biggest challenger. I hope you support without forgetting honesty and love without holding judgment. Please, please, please remember: in this thing of life, you are on the same team. 

May you find that none of you are perfect, yet all of you are good. And when you face the world together, you are complete.

My best gift, my only gift, I can offer you – outside of my attempts to reflect the presence of God and my sluggish struggle to demonstrate the importance of these wishes with my own life example – is one another. With each and every child I gave you, it was my best step toward being a better mother. My own love never feels enough, so I’ve offered you each a team of other humans who love, protect, guide and challenge you.

You will compete. You will be frustrated. You might not talk to one another for a period of time. The idiosyncrasies of each personality will eventually drive you toward an appreciation for solitude, but may it guide you toward compassion, an understanding that God’s image comes in many containers, often that look nothing like your own.

Each of you has a gift to offer the world, and it begins in your love for one another. May it be so.

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In defense of the constant questions

A few weeks ago, I lamented on Facebook:

Screenshot 2016-01-08 09.28.40

My oldest seems to be particularly inclined to ask about anything and everything. Honestly, it can be exhausting, and I do have limits. However, I’m trying to maintain an openness to their curiosity.

A while back, I read that in a particular Jewish culture, mothers (and fathers) would drop off their children to Hebrew School and encourage them, not with parting words of “behave!” or “eat your lunch!” or even “have fun!” but rather they told the kids, “ask good questions.”

The point of the article which shared this tradition directed me to the benefits of raising children with a faith that is open to the questions, as opposed to a more closed system that much of contemporary Christianity tends to portray. I liked the approach, and as I often do, adopted it as one of my own. I encourage the kids to ask questions frequently and impose my Jesus-like quality of answering a question with a question to a frustrating degree.

Beyond the impact on a person’s belief system – one that is developed over time, nurtured with curiosity, comfortable with a few unknowns, rather than simply a product of indoctrination – I believe curiosity to be immensely important in the way we engage with the world. I write because I’m curious. I read because I’m insatiably curious. I spend time on Facebook because I’m curious. I’m curious to the point of nosy (which leads to a few boundary issues, but my truest friends are so very accepting. And forgiving.)

If I were to try to limit my hopes and dreams for my children to only 5, I believe “being curious about the world” would make the list. Please, don’t ask me to list the other 4, this a challenge I don’t wish upon myself. (But, now I am curious as to how I would answer.)

Now I’m backed by scientific research. Mind/shift just posted on their NPR site another article about the effects of curiosity on learning:

“There’s this basic circuit in the brain that energizes people to go out and get things that are intrinsically rewarding,” Ranganath explains. This circuit lights up when we get money, or candy. It also lights up when we’re curious.

When the circuit is activated, our brains release a chemical called dopamine which gives us a high. “The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning.”

Indeed, when the researchers later tested participants on what they learned, those who were more curious were more likely to remember the right answers.

So, while I might be bald by the time the youngest graduates from pulling my hair out at the incessant questions, I will be proud. Those meanderings will lead to further pursuits, I believe. When the oldest wants to know why we “can’t build houses out of glass” it might lead to a lifetime of building or engineering or figuring out which materials will withstand life on Mars. Or when he wants to know how many bones are in the human body or why we can’t tie cords around our feet at night, it could lead to a future in medicine or curing the world of arthritis.

My children, ask away. Keep asking. When you get “I don’t know” keep asking around the issue.

And when mama hides in a dark room, just ask Siri.

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