Protection and Growth

Posted: June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized
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As I was re-reading Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief I zeroed in on his chapter on Growth and Protection. The simple, condensed summary of this portion of his book is this: We are designed for both growth and protection but they don’t usually don’t coexist well at the same time. In fact, they often compete with one another for center stage.

We have several blessed mechanisms developed over millions of years to protect ourselves and our species. One is the fight or flight response which mobilizes the whole body to protect or flee from threats. When this response is activated against threat – like a tiger prowling around your tent – adrenals pop into high gear, blood flows to the limbs and all other functions are put on hold: immune system, digestion, reproduction, higher cognitive functioning. The frontal cortex of the brain involved in higher reasoning actually takes a snooze as the rear portions of the brain – earlier in evolutionary development and responsive for reflexive response – jump into high gear.

Imagine this: Your community is going about its happy, fruitful existence – working, attending class, exercising, eating supper, having sex, praying, doing something compassionate, when the tornado siren sounds. Suddenly all these common, growthful, flourishing activities cease. None of them will matter if you get whisked away to Oz. So the survival instinct makes a decision and all the blood rushes to the storm shelter, the mechanism of survival.

Any of us can do that for a short time. We can suspend everything else for a while. But if this becomes protracted and continues without ceasing, then the survival instinct, the impulse to protect, shuts down growth and flourishing. They can’t co-exist forever without undermining the other. If we stay in the storm shelter of protection for too long we will neglect other healthy functions like nutrition, learning, emotional flourishing, reproduction, compassion, and spirituality. The drive to survive will undermine the drive to grow.

That’s what happens in our bodies if we are dominated by fear. The good stress that mobilizes protection becomes bad stress that undermines health: our immune system, the function of our visceral organs, relational health. If we are placed in a position of constant defending our overall health is compromised.

Likewise, if a society is in a constant siege mentality, always defending against real or imagined enemies, in a perpetual war against something, bracing against the next attack, remaining hypervigilant – it drains off all the blood from the organs that make for higher functioning, creativity and flourishing. Those who want to control the populace (and make sure they remain unthinking) keep them in a state of fear, mobilizing for the next attack, arming against all slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The answer to every situation becomes more defense against more threat. If that message is believed – and it is because people are afraid – they will sacrifice all other functions that contribute to growth in order to make sure that protections are in place; realities like education, health care, personal freedoms, creativity, diversity, and spiritual wisdom are all sacrificed at the altar of fight or flight.

We who serve in the church business know that to be doubly true. Churches preoccupied with survival can’t grow; all their energies are drained off to the storm shelter. People who want to stop churches from growing (especially in ways they don’t want them to) instigate siege and attack so energy is drained away from growth to protecting.

A storm shelter is a very important thing – a blessing for protection. But we are not meant to stay there forever. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the amount of energy we put toward protecting ourselves and the diminishing of all other higher functions. In our personal lives it will make us sick, powerless and without moral compass. In our social life the moral nerve and social contract will become diminished, greedy, self-centered and tattered. And if Maslow was right, and I think he was, an obsession with constant protection of self or tribe will inevitably keep us from attaining to the higher states of personhood and spiritual life.

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