Moms know about knots. We are usually the go-to person to untangle shoelaces, necklaces, and little girls’ hair. Knots are worked out with patience and care.
Entanglement theories in Quantum Physics describe relationships between subatomic photons acting in concert with or reaction to each other, defying space and time. There are proposed entanglements between root systems of forests, a communication of sorts, possibly via a fungal network.
Is there entanglement within humanity? Are we somehow deeply, invisibly connected? Ira Progoff, a 20th Century social scientist described human connectedness like deep underground water. Invisible, a life force, a Living Water that grounds us as individuals, and in essence connects every person. It is ironic that in this modern world our electronic connectedness and multi-tasking create negative entanglements, and though these connections are instantaneous and exponential in number of contacts, we can still feel desperately alone.
A psychologist friend told me that the number of calls in regard to completed suicides have increased dramatically, family members and friends searching for help in order to cope. The political and social state of our country is fragile and fractious: Covid 19, brutal killings, fomenting anger. Crime and violence begin with a small ripple that gains momentum. If only we could remember the innocence with which we were born. If only we could remember that each of us holds a dignity in being human. If only it were as easy as Rapunzel singing “I’ve Got a Dream” in the Disney movie Tangled. The state of the world is arguably depressing–unless we remember that goodness also begins with one small act.
What is the human default-mode? Is it essentially bad or is it good? Recent scientific research on the brain suggests levels of complexity and adaption thought impossible in years past. Neuroscientists contend that unhealthy thoughts, fears and uncontrolled anger literally form toxic entanglements in our brains. As best as I can explain, thoughts are faster-than-lightning electrical impulses which form the building blocks of stored memory out of proteins. A part of the brain called the amygdala stores many of these memories. How we think about what we think (metacognition) determines our world view, which in turn lends interpretation to future thought.
We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. Whether Eastern Meditation in which one empties the mind of conscious thought, or Lectio Divino where one reads and then listens for what God says, or meditative prayer where one quietly listens for inspiration of the Holy Spirit, our blood pressure is reduced, anxiety calmed and thinking re-ordered. Rational thinking is less likely to result in what has been coined an “Amygdala Hijack,” an uncontrolled outburst usually followed with great regret. The fight or flight response of the adrenal glands readies us to protect ourselves, but it can be mistakenly triggered even when there is in reality no actual danger. A wrongly perceived threat (from an event interpreted with negative-bias) floods the body with hormones to ready one to fight or to flee. Triggered too often, this causes ill effects in the body and the mind.
Dr. Caroline Leaf, an audiologist and neuroscientist, discusses something called optimism bias, believing it to be the default human state. Focusing on gratitude for what is good in the world helps one to see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels. The opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. We can strive to replace fear with wisdom from meditation, and with love.
In the classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch is a southern lawyer defending Tom Robinson, a grievously wronged man who is good and innocent. The accuser is an uneducated, prejudiced racist who spreads evil lies. It is clear that Atticus is right in his defense of Tom. Atticus faces the man who has done so much harm. That man is symbolic of Satan, “The Accuser.” He speaks vilely to Atticus and spits in his face. Many would have been tempted to strike out as John Wayne did in McClintock, yet chaos is more likely to erupt after any violence. Atticus coolly wipes his face, returns to his car and leaves. He knows that nothing he could say or do would change that man, and violence would solve nothing. His response was not to lower himself to that level, making things worse. Reasoning and wise action at times involve sacrifice. It could be said that Atticus’ peaceful response was weak. I believe it was sacrificial. It showed greater strength than any act of retribution or revenge.
Augustine of Hippo lived in the Fourth Century. In a commentary on Psalm 17 he wrote:
“Lord, You perfected my love, that I might surmount the troublesome entanglements of the world. Direct my desire toward the heavenly home so that I may be enriched with every good thing.”
A millennium and a half after Augustine, the children’s television host Fred Rogers said in an interview that his mother taught him he should not be afraid when the world was chaotic; rather, he should “always look for the helpers,” the ones who act for good. Their work holds greater effect because it is accomplished in spite of evil. These helpers prove that there is hope in the world.
We are connected, whether we see it or not. We are not alone. In difficult moments, pause. Meditate or pray whenever possible and if you can only breathe, then breathe in the spirit that gave you your first breath–consciously breathe in God who is Love. If you cannot call on God then start with love. The next moment holds possibility and hope. Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray for others. Like the molecules and energy of Quantum Entanglement, perhaps prayer moves quietly beyond time and space. United with the source of all love, prayer is powerful.
Fred Rogers’ Mom knew best. I’ll bet she untangled his shoestrings deftly, and peacefully tied them into neat bows when he was young. Look for good and you will find it.
There is always hope.