Archive for September, 2016

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from Volcanoes

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Lassen Volcanic National Park, one of the parks I visited during this U.S. national park service centennial year, shows the incredible energy of volcanic activity at work. The park comes alive with boiling water and roaring gas exploding up to the ground’s surface from deep underground. Brightly colored minerals escape in the process, creating a lovely landscape that’s contrasted by noxious smells and silly noises like gurgling and thumping. Spending time in nature is always good for our well-being, and a volcanic natural environment is especially useful to enhance our wellness through anger management.

We live in an angry world — one that’s full of problems because of its fallen state; one where hurt people hurt others through their anger on a regular basis. All of us get angry sometimes. It’s fine to get angry, since anger is a natural emotion that’s meant to direct our attention to something that should be changed. Where the trouble comes is when we react to that anger in harmful ways rather than responding to it wisely.

Volcanoes symbolize anger. Some volcanoes are mountain cones with magma seething beneath for a long time that occasionally explode lava at the top with tremendous force. Others are flat fissure vents in the ground that ooze lava slowly.  Lassen Volcanic National Park features every kind of volcano that exists on Earth (plug dome, cinder cone, shield, and composite). Every person on the planet has a temper, as well. What kind of “volcano” is your temper? Do you blow your top suddenly, erupting with force that damages others around you at the time? Or are you passive aggressive, with anger that seeps out at others in hidden yet still dangerous ways?

My own style of expressing anger is passive. As a result, sometimes I don’t realize when I’m angry until I realize that I’ve spoken mean words or avoided spending time with people who have upset me. When that happens, I know I should pray for God’s help to deal with the situation. The Holy Spirit empowers me to change so I can respond to anger in positive ways that lead to good results, rather than reacting to it in negative ways that prevent real progress.

How about you? Whatever your temper style, volcanoes are useful reminders that anger is a fire that needs to be managed well so it doesn’t lead to destruction. Let volcanoes inspire you to figure out the reasons behind the anger you experience, and get to work addressing those issues in positive ways. Prayer is the best way to start. Ask God to show you why you’re angry and what you can do about it to find peace of mind and try to to resolve the issues behind your anger. Then — here’s the hard part — take action on whatever you discover will bring healing to the situation. Sometimes that involves challenging decisions, such as forgiveness.

Anger is an emotion that we will all feel sometimes. Just like fire from volcanoes, anger has incredible power. If we respect that power and respond to it well, we can use it to accomplish something good.

What’s making you especially angry right now? How can you respond rather than react to the situation?

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from Lakes

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Looking into a lake is a beautiful reminder of the importance of reflection for our well-being. The water’s calm surface mirrors our reflection back to us, inspiring us to consider how we’re really doing at that time. Underneath the surface of lakes, water runs deep — just like the workings of the body’s cells and the soul’s thoughts and emotions. The lake park I visited for this series of wellness blogs on the U.S. national park centennial was Crater Lake National Park in Oregon: home of the deepest lake in the USA, and one of the deepest lakes in the world.

Crater Lake, which formed over the top of a volcanic basin after an eruption thousands of years ago, is 1,943 feet deep. It’s also one of the clearest lakes on Earth, with water that comes from pristine rain and snow. Plankton live in the lake, and so do two kinds of fish: rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. Two islands pop up from the middle of the lake, which is five miles in diameter. The lake’s water is such a deep, pure blue that simply the sight of it inspires awe. According to a legend from the Native Americans who lived around the lake years ago, the mountain bluebirds in the area were first grey and acquired their vivid blue color only after dipping into Crater Lake’s water.

This wonderful lake is just one of many on the planet, though. There are lakes of all shapes and sizes dotting the landscape for us to visit to reflect on our lives. So you won’t have to travel far to find a lake to visit for some refreshing reflection whenever you can make time for it. Afterward, let your lake time motivate you to reflect on your life every day — perhaps when you first get up in the morning, or just before you go to sleep at night (when you’re less distracted and more relaxed).

Water promotes reflection in a variety of powerful ways. It symbolizes clarity and purity, inspiring us to try to understand our lives better and clean up the messes that linger under the surface, with God’s help. Not only that, but water molecules transmit energy that affects us at the cellular level. Since our bodies are made up of so much water (between 60 and 70 percent for most adults), the water in our cells resonates with the energy of the water molecules we encounter at natural places like lakes.

Masaru Emoto, who conducts fascinating research into how water molecules change scientifically in response to people, writes in his book The Secret Life of Water that if readers “simply look at water” then “you will discover that water takes you to another world where you will feel the water within you being washed clean … it will heal you at your core.”

What situation in your life right now could you understand more clearly if you went to a lake to reflect on it? What decision are you trying to make that you could make with more confidence if you reflected on it thoroughly first?

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from the Forest

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Need a fresh dose of healing? You may find it simply by visiting a forest. Trees promote well-being in a wide variety of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ways.

Out of all the different environments I visited this year for the U.S. national park service centennial, the forest is my favorite. I ventured to Redwood National Park in California recently for this blog series, but in the past I’ve hiked in other national parks with majestic trees, such as Olympic National Park in Washington and two other California parks, Sequoia National Park and Muir Woods National Monument (on a trip that led to significant healing in our family). Forests full of trees are also full of valuable lessons that benefit us tremendously (pun intended) when we make the time to learn them.

Naturalist John Muir, who helped start the U.S. national park system (the world’s first), once said that “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”

Just by breathing in the air around trees, you can experience many health benefits for your body, including lower blood pressure and higher immunity to diseases like cancer, according to research from Dr. Qing Li at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. That’s because trees emit natural substances called phytoncides, which are linked to biological benefits in humans who breathe them in.

Trees are good for the soul as well as the body. A 2015 multi-university research study published by the American Psychological Association found that people who looked up at tall trees for only 60 seconds experienced a sense of awe as a result. The awe that trees inspire has been associated with lowering disease-causing inflammation in the body, promoting peace of mind by fighting anxiety and depression, and motivating spiritually enriching actions such as prayer and meditation.

Redwood National Park is home to the the tallest trees on the planet: coast redwoods. Many of those majestic trees tower more than 300 feet above the forest floor. The redwoods are also ancient, living for hundreds of years or more; some survive to be more than 2,000 years old.

People who visit the redwoods from all over the world are often overcome with emotion in their presence. I saw people cry at the sight of them, and tears welled up in my own eyes when I entered the forest.

Trees that tower over us and exceed our lifespans illustrate an awesome truth: We are each part of something much bigger than ourselves. Our personal stories are all connected to a greater story of what’s happening on Earth — the history of all us, traveling through time together. The Creator we all have in common has designed us to be closely connected to each other in relationships of love and respect. When we forget that, trees remind us.

Although trees are silent, they speak to us loud and clear about the vital roles we all play in creation. No wonder why so many people throughout history have walked in the woods for inspiration. One of the most famous was author Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in his book Walden that he “went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” In that same book, he urged: “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake” to our life’s purposes by regularly visiting forests and letting trees remind us of who we are.

How have you experienced benefits lately from spending time around trees? How can you incorporate more time in the woods into your regular schedule?

Well-Being with Whitney: Lessons from the Ocean

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

The ocean has helped people throughout history navigate their way through journeys. While kayaking in Channel Islands National Park during this national park service centennial year, I learned a lot about how spending time on the sea can give us guidance for our well-being. Nature always promotes wellness, and ocean environments especially can teach us valuable lessons about how to make wise decisions.

I needed wisdom to make good choices about how to get around well in the kayak as my daughter Honor and I navigated the waters near Santa Cruz Island. We tried to explore as much as we could in several hours without tipping over, drifting away, or getting stuck inside one of the sea caves we paddled into together. Thankfully, our kayaking group had two expert guides. They gave us helpful suggestions — but it was up to use to make the ultimate decisions about what to do when.

As we navigated the kayak through a large group of seagulls taking off and landing on the ocean’s surface, I locked eyes with some of the birds and noticed that they seemed to be watching us as intently as we were watching them. What are they thinking? I wondered. The gulls were expert navigators. Did we look foolish to them as we paddled by? Or did they appreciate seeing humans trying to get around in their habitat? Around the ocean, all living creatures are constantly on the move.

Channel Islands National Park has helped people and animals alike navigate the ocean for thousands of years. The native Chumash tribe of people traveled back and forth between the remote islands in simple boats routinely, because they knew the routes well. But explorers from other places sometimes wrecked their ships in Channel Islands waters. The islands have served as sanctuaries for nesting animals like sea lions for years. The area is rich in wildlife. We encountered humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, and a plethora of birds on the water. While hiking, we also came to face to face with a creature that exists nowhere else on Earth except the Channel Islands: the diminutive island fox (we saw several, including a mother and kit together).

Everyone and everything living in an ocean environment knows the importance of working with the water when making decisions. The ocean’s power is far too great to discount when getting around.

Sometimes the water is calm and visibility is clear, so the best way ahead is easy to find. At other times, waves crash wildly around and storms obscure the view, so it’s confusing trying to figure out which way is the best way to go.

That’s true of the changing circumstances we go through every day, as well. When facing important decisions, sometimes the best choice is clear, but sometimes the options swirl around us in a stormy mess and we can’t figure out what to choose.

So the next time you need to make a significant decision, let the ocean remind you to seek guidance first. Don’t rush into it. Respond, rather than react. Make time to reflect on the pros and cons. Pray about it, and then listen for insights that come to you. Ask someone you trust and respect for advice. Be patient, waiting until you have clarity and peace before making your decision.

As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote in her beautiful book A Gift from the Sea: “Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea.”

What important decision are you trying to make soon? How can you make time to seek clarity and peace about it, despite the pressures swirling around you like a stormy sea?