We did an experiment in high school biology with a Petri dish. The instructions were to take our dishes to benign places in the school, leave them for 30 minutes, seal them and wait. Then we’d be able to view airborne microbial contaminants in our building. My teacher droned on, for a significant portion of the class, that if we walked down the hall with the dish open or left them next to the toilet—he would know.
I was well past the point of believing things adults told me. By then, I’d discovered enough omission of truth to want to check for myself. So, I skipped down the hall with my dish opened, swirled through the bathroom and set it on the floor by the toilet. We closed the lids, put them on a shelf and waited for whatever floated in our school’s air to culture.
No, he couldn’t tell. My dish looked much the same as everyone else’s. Maybe every single kid in the class was as disbelieving as me—but I doubt it, based on what I’ve learned from personality types. Sometimes science teachers lie.
One thing I learned from the exercise was that nothing would spontaneously generate. It has to be introduced. This, and pasteurization, made even more sense when I learned to make yogurt. I would heat the milk to kill any unknown and therefore unwanted bacteria, introduce the bacteria I wanted (a spoonful of yogurt) and then put it in a place warm enough to be conducive to growth.
Since I regularly make sourdough and kombucha, I’m constantly trying to get bacteria to grow in my kitchen.
Interestingly, some things that prevent or slow growth are light, air, heat, and cold. Basically, exposure. I once went to a writer’s conference with a Christian Publishing Darling who started to go off the rails doctrinally.
As our local group discussed some of the skewed things we were hearing at the conference, one gal said, “That’s what happens when you live in a vacuum. There’s no way to find out if you’re on a tangent if everyone agrees with you.” I felt like she prophesied in that moment.
Tell me a story
My mom once warned me that when you look back on your past, you can turn it into something it never was. She warned of romanticizing old flames, but you can make things worse than they ever were, too.
One of the best and most dangerous places for me is to be alone in my head. I need ample quiet space to organize my thoughts. But, if I stay alone in there too long, I grow stories. This isn’t because I’m a writer; we all share, need and live inside of stories. It’s because not everything in there is always true. Our minds are not sterile, and we don’t always know what contaminants live there until they get big. Too much skipping down the hall, I guess.
At some point, I need to look outside myself to see if the things I’ve made up about myself and the people in my life are actually real.
I’ve seen exposure in practice with someone close to me when he said something like, “This is what I assumed was everyone’s sentiment/motivation, but I’m going to think about that, to see if it’s true.”
Emotional health isn’t ignoring emotions. Neither is health always feeling “good.” It isn’t even feeling the appropriate emotion in every situation.
The beginning of emotional health can be when you are able tell that what you feel may not be congruent with the situation. It’s taking a step back and accepting that you feel something, so you can better understand why. Victory Over the Darkness by Neil T. Anderson has beneficial analogies to comprehend how human experiences create spiritual “ruts.” If you drive over that same groove in the dirt again, it only gets deeper and more packed.
No more stories please
My husband has told me to get out of my head before, and I think I’ve done the same for him. But it isn’t a healthy place to always need someone else to “talk you off the ledge.”
Two ways for me to know that it is time to let in light are when:
My thoughts don’t focus on solutions, only fears.
I feel worse the more time I spend on it.
If ruminating increases negativity, I need to pull back. This unproductive spiral usually ends with someone else saying to me, “Where did that come from?”
This is a good thing to consider as we enter an artificially bright season where most of us expect to feel more love, connection, and optimism than normal—and more than we can muster.
If there’s any sadness, hurt or loss in your life, it’s exasperated in the hangover of expectation.
When you are driving around, shopping and doing life this month, know that some are hurting worse than normal. And if that someone is you:
Acknowledge the emotion. Pretending and ignoring are stunting, and frankly, weird.
Expose it. Let in light to check if it’s accurate.
Don’t stop there. Introduce what you want to grow.
The Bible tells us to think about the beautiful and praiseworthy. We are supposed to report the goodness of God and repeat it often. We need to fill our mind with what we want to grow and make it hospitable to increase. That’s the spoonful of yogurt.
Maybe grandma was right that an idle mind is the devil’s playground, and it wasn’t just an excuse to give chores. Trust the maker of your mind to know the solution for it, and fill it with him.