Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Personal Strength of Optimism - Sea Hearts Full of Hope

One of the items in Kathleen’s karma bowl is her favorite sea bean. About an inch-and-a-half in diameter, it's smooth, hard, dark brown and shaped like a heart. Next to her karma bowl is another bowl, full of these heart-shaped sea beans.

When we lived in Miami Beach and the Atlantic Ocean was only four blocks away, we would walk on the beach several times a week. Usually we’d walk briskly, for the exercise. Sometimes we would stroll, enjoying the air, the ocean, the people and whatever we discovered in the sand.

On occasion we'd find another of these heart-shaped sea beans. Kathleen would exclaim with pleasure, examine it and put it in her pocket. She saved every one, cleaning and polishing each before putting it with the others in her collection. Once, when her latest treasure kept rolling off the top, I asked, “Do you have enough sea beans now?”

Her answer was simply, “No.”

The bean’s familiar name is “sea heart.” The seed of the liana vine, it ripens along the banks of rivers in Central and South America. Some of the seeds fall into the river, where they are carried to the sea. The beans are hard and buoyant, so they float on the surface. Ocean currents carry the beans for as long as two years, eventually depositing them on distant shores.

Before Kathleen was sedated for her cancer surgery, she had a sea-bean taped to her palm. It took a special dispensation from the surgeon but once she explained, it was impossible to say no. Later when Kathleen went for radiation treatments and then chemotherapy, she held her favorite sea bean in her hand. To her, the bean symbolized nature’s buoyancy, the power of endurance and hope. This little form of life had survived a long sea journey, and so would she.

The body’s immune system, which works to repair damage and fight disease, is intricately connected to the brain. Thoughts signal the release of neurotransmitters, which stimulate the discharge of various hormones and other chemicals. The hormones trigger emotions and other visceral experiences. All of these activities are monitored by the brain, which regulates chemical levels in the body. Scientists know that the immune system regularly requires a peaceful, relaxed mental state to regenerate. Thus, prolonged, unrelieved stress can weaken a person’s ability to fight disease and heal injury.

People who lose hope lose the desire to fight. Their thoughts, feelings, hormonal activity and immune response are not the same as those of people who believe that success is possible. Hope has a physical dimension. Hope can be a vital element in a person’s recovery.

You don’t have to close your eyes to the harsh realities of life to have hope. When bad things happen, the good in your life hasn't vanished. Even though you may be challenged, you haven’t lost all your strength. Tough problems may arise, but there are usually solutions. You can look for what's real, true and possible. You can take charge of your situation. You can get information and find out what’s possible. You can set realistic goals. You can do the work.

To Kathleen, the sea bean is a more than a symbol. It’s a tangible thing that speaks to the heart. Today, when she learns that one of her friends is overwhelmed by adversity, she’s likely to bring this individual several heart-shaped beans and ask her to choose one. She explains that if a little bean can survive a perilous oceanic journey to live another day, we survive our troubles, too. Hope is a real thing.

ost by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (2004 photo by Kathleen Scott, used with permission.)


Kathleen Scott said...

It's true, all of it. If a small bean can survive drought and hurricanes, we can too.

Lovely post, Denny.

ntexas99 (nancy) said...

Thanks for sharing this inspirational story. It was a good day to hear this reminder of how important it is that we cultivate our ability to keep hope alive. In fact, I was inspired to write a blog entry about the subject, and included a link back to your original post. Thanks again for sharing a fresh perspective.

Barbara said...

Hi, I found you via Nancy's blog. Sea beans shaped like hearts . . . little droplets of eternal hope. Thank you for sharing this story.

Anonymous said...

That is so beautiful and inspiring :-) so glad I read it!