Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lead Better - Joy to You & Me

Gandhi advised that until you find God in the person in front of you, you must travel no further. Happening upon the guy pictured above and his fish on a long drive in the Smoky Mountains, I was reminded that we also have to look within.

If the G-word is troublesome to you, fill in with another huge, blank, encompassing concept. One like kindness, beauty, compassion, wisdom - a word is beyond analysis. Because when you think of fishermen and their fishes, it doesn't take images of the christian Christ, Allah or Yahweh to find a lesson that resonates. And if you are willing to give Gandhi the benefit of the doubt, God is always worth finding.

In this case, we found it when driving down a twisty mountain road just on the boarder between North Carolina and Tennessee and stopped to observe a fight for dear life. In this fight the fisherman above had hooked his catch, and she was fighting for hers. Her fight was one of those epic struggles. I-got-her, I-lost-her, I-got-her, I-lost-her ran the comments from the fisherman. No romance, after more than a half-hour of drama the fisherman successfully pulled her from the water and we caught this picture. Happy to see his joy, the part of me that likes to think meat comes from packages lamented his success and was quickly cheered when he put her back in the water to go FREE.

Within seconds the oddest thing happened: the fisherman became very concerned with FINDING the fish again. This made no sense at all. Why would someone fight so tenaciously to catch a fish, immediately let it go, then be distressed that it is gone?

If you fish or hang out with people who do, you already know this: animals who are stalked for a prolonged period will die from the fight. Fish, the mice my cat chases (and yes, catches), even humans having heart attacks on sunday nights before going to work on Monday morning - we often more threatened by our response to fear than we are from the actual source of danger.

As he looked for his fish, I was told if he did not care for her now, she would give up. The lactic acid in her body (effect of adrenaline) would literally shut down her systems and she would die. Thrashing through the water he found her belly up in the reeds, and turned her right side up, rubbing his hands over her gills repeatedly for several minutes literally calming her down.

This striking lesson from nature is one we need to learn: fear-triggered adrenaline taxes our many systems. Prolonged states of perceived threat generates to cortisol, a common factor in many stress-related diseases. Sure, there's no hook in your mouth, but how frequently are you hooked on worries about issues at work, concerns about achievement, social standing, financial status or familial approval?

In this case the fish was lucky enough to have an expert there to set her straight (literally), and calm her back into a survivable state. But most of us don't have a kindly fisherman or other big daddy/mommy to point out the warning signs for us. From behavioral red flags such as insomnia, irritability or irrationality, sexual torpor or eating disorders, burnout to physical dysfunctions that may be digestive, circulatory or immune, there's a lot going on to remind us to be our own wise fisherman. Take a time out, take a breath, realign with life and remember that unlike the little fishy, most of our suffering is caused by fears about social survival. In such moments you just might find God (wisdom, beauty or whatever word you prefer) within.

The fish lived, after all. And if we're smart and conscious, for a time so will we.

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