THE SELF – A BARRIER IN EXPRESSING AND EXPERIENCING LOVE

Love, being an intrinsic human attribute and need, cannot be effectively caged behind bars. It always yearns for expression. However, love cannot always be expressed and/ or experienced sans roadblocks. Though love faces many barriers in its way, I will talk about one major hiccup to expressing and/ or experiencing love.

The fly in the ointment is none other than SELF.

A few examples –

Joy could never love his wife, no matter how hard she tried to please him. Joy knew this was injustice for his wife, but he did not want to deal with it. The emotional baggage that he was carrying was proving hazardous for his marriage. His mother had deserted him and his father when he was a child. His devoted father had raised him up single-handedly. He had often heard his father lament about his wife of few years whom he had loved a lot. When Joy got married, he decided not to love his wife so that if she deserted him (as his mother had done), he would not whine away the remaining years of his life. Joy erected HIMSELF as a barrier between expressing and experiencing love. In his desire not to get hurt by his wife, he was hurting himself and his wife and was leading a lovelorn life.

Koyna never wanted to enter into a relationship with a man. She saw her friends in stable relationships, but spurned all proposals that came her way. She had grown up seeing her mother at the mercy of her abusive father and had decided in childhood itself that she would never be with a man. There were times in which she felt lonely and in desperate need for the arm of a comforting man around her. But, she had determined that it is better to be safe than sorry. Nightmares of her childhood haunted her all the while. Koyna had erected HERSELF as a barrier between expressing and experiencing love. She chose to stay away from smelling flowers, lest she ended up being stung by a bee.

Shikha had an avoidant attitude towards all her colleagues. No one’s hospitality could prompt her to socialise with others. She sat alone during lunch hours, never went for staff picnics, never attended official parties and never spoke beyond work with anyone whenever she spoke at all. She was fighting an emotionally draining legal battle with her estranged husband. Her health had begun to slide downhill. Her colleagues knew it all and few of them showed genuine concern and love. But, Shikha had erected HERSELF as a barrier between expressing and experiencing love. Her aloofness was killing her from within and from without as she refused to admit entry to genuine care.

Robin was a chain-smoker. No attempts by his devout parents to make him quit smoking were ever successful. He had screwed up his academics and had no fear of God or man. His younger sister had fallen off the terrace to her death when he was six years old. He had never been able to come to terms with it. Initially, he had held God responsible for not saving his sister. Later, he went on to proclaim himself as an atheist, going out of his ways to defy the existence of God and condemn anyone who spoke of God. He held his parents responsible for having built no parapets on the terrace of their new house which led to his sister’s death. Robin had erected HIMSELF as a barrier between expressing and experiencing love. He could not experience God’s love. He was bitter within and venomous without as he rejected the healing that love provides.

The names mentioned in the above examples are fictional, but the stories are not. When we hoist ourselves as barriers in the way of love, the natural inflow and outflow of love is hindered. A build up of plaque in the arteries reduces blood flow to the heart which can eventually cause a heart attack. A blockage in the pulmonary vein obstructs blood from flowing out of the heart and similarly leads to heart failure. It is only when the obstruction or the blockage is treated and removed that smooth inflow and outflow of blood to and from the heart is resumed and the person gets better gradually.

Life events are not always fair. We do not have answers to all the ‘whys’ of life. There are episodes which are within our control and some which are out of our control that leave us shattered. When we carry the baggages of these events and obstruct the expressing and experiencing of love, we start stifling ourselves towards a death of our souls.

SEEK HELP REMOVE THE BLOCKAGE

It is injustice to self, to wallow in the bitterness of life events when help is available to deal with those emotional baggages. At times, the issues are ongoing ones and a one-time cure is not sufficient. At times multiple surgeries are required to remove blockages completely. Seek constant help from the source available to you (it may be from a friend, a colleague, parents, Counselor or any mature understanding confidante) so that the blockage is removed and the barrier-less inflow and outflow of love is resumed.

HELP REMOVE THE BLOCKAGE IN OTHERS

We may undoubtedly have people around us who have erected themselves as barriers to expressing and experiencing love. Sensible sensitivity on our part would help them come out of their self-made cocoons. A hurting person would not instantly welcome your intervention or accept your suggestion for seeking professional intervention. What helps make the way in such cases is prayer. There is no barrier that is impossible for God to remove. Fervent intercession on behalf of such people would gradually make them open to work towards demolishing the impenetrable SELF that has stood tall long enough to make their lives loveless.

There are many barriers to love, but a conscious erection of the SELF as a roadblock mostly goes unnoticed or is often ascribed to other more obvious causes.

HOW GRATITUDE CAN BE THE CATALYST FOR HAPPINESS?

I was wondering about how gratitude can be the catalyst for happiness since Rajnandini said so.

I decided I will do a thorough screening of Gratitude.

Firstly, Gratitude is effected because of three elements –

  1. The Giver – A person who gifts
  2. The Gift – In the form of a good or a service or an action
  3. The Receiver – A receiver of the gifts/services usually expresses gratitude to the giver

Secondly, Gratitude confirms satisfaction for both the giver and the receiver of the gifts or services. The receiver of the gifts expresses Gratitude when he or she is satisfied with what he or she receives. And the giver of the gifts feels satisfied when he or she was expressed Gratitude for what he or she gave/gifted.

Thirdly, Gratitude deepens the bond between both the giver and receiver of the gifts as well as Gratitude.

So from the above screening of the word Gratitude, we clearly understand how Gratitude can be the catalyst for happiness between two people who are bonded in some manner.

But there was another question raised within me, Will Gratitude be a catalyst for happiness between two enemies or two persons who don’t get along well with each other?

I have seen people coming closer to their enemies and saying, “Thank you for showing respect or doing this for me“. And they both come together in a friendship once more. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Gratitude enhances sensitivity and empathy in people toward others and helps decreasing the desire to seek revenge.

So what’s the final outcome of showcasing Gratitude? It is nothing but Happiness

In conclusion, I want to point out that Gratitude has a bigger attribute hidden inside it and that is – Acceptance. That is the secret behind how Gratitude is the catalyst for happiness. A grateful person always accepts everything and that is the reason why he or she stays happy.  

 

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE – A PROPELLER TOWARDS HAPPINESS

Think of the last time someone expressed their gratitude towards you.

I’m sure you felt good, even if you might have modestly brushed it off your shoulders with your feet firmly implanted on the ground! To receive an acknowledgment or appreciation or recognition for something that you have done or said generates an inner pleasant feeling. This is to a great extent due to the constructive neurotransmitters secreted by the brain as a recognition of the expressed gratitude.

So you see, a Thank You does a whole lot more than is overtly evident!

If you take some time to recollect all those incidents in which you deserved gratitude, but they simply didn’t come your way, you would also remember the accompanying strong or faintly sinking feeling which was either momentary or long-lived.

Gratitude is an attitude of the heart. It can never be coercively eked out from anyone. At the same time, it can never be imposed on anyone. Not everyone has the attitude of being grateful. And, not everyone has the heart to graciously receive gratitude.

However, considering the lot of good that gratitude does to self and others, it is an attitude worth cultivating.

A couple of days back, as I walked past a particular lane in my vicinity, I saw heaps of bricks on one side. A house was being constructed nearby. My thoughts instinctively drifted off towards the poor workers at brick kilns in not-so-welcome environments, facing exploitation, bondage, deprivation, and abuse from their owners. And I thought, would the owner of the house that was being constructed ever think of the source of the bricks that are being used to erect his house?

An old Vietnamese proverb says –

“When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.”

In the fast-paced consumeristic world that we live in, we either don’t take the time to look back and be grateful or we make much ado out of the gratitude that we express or we flow with the tide of the formal exchanges of gratitude. The spontaneity of the heartfelt expression has become a rarity!

G.K. Chesterton says –

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

Gratitude sure is a catalyst for happiness. It gives happiness to the one who expresses and to the one who receives.

Family is one such social circle where gratitude is taken for granted. I have heard people say that there need not be such formalities within the informal environment of a family because it makes relationships appear distant. I choose to differ. Within a family are individuals whose need for appreciation, recognition, and acknowledgement is as profound as those of others we come across in the world outside. It sure would seem hypocritical to organize formal Thanksgiving ceremonies, while having a gratitude-starved dear one within the family!

Another significant area of starved gratitude is in the authority-subordinate equation. Words of gratitude are seldom heard from people in authority towards their subordinates on a day-to-day basis. The work done, targets met and tasks accomplished are taken for granted. A word of acknowledgement with a smile would surely do wonders for the boss as well!

How to cultivate the attitude of gratitude?

If gratitude doesn’t come to one spontaneously, it needs to be cultivated. Here is how you can work your way towards cultivating the attitude of gratitude:

First, reflect upon your life and acknowledge the things bestowed on you – by God, by family and friends.

Second, recognize the inner need for gratitude in yourself and others.

Third, consciously decide to express gratitude. An unexpressed feeling of gratitude can be more stifling than no gratitude at all.

Fourth, think of ways to express. It can be by way of spoken or written words, by small or big acts of recognition, or by any gestures that convey the meaning.

Fifth, defeat your ego or coyness as may be the case. Put your guard down.

Finally, just go ahead and express it!

As you make this a habitual pattern, you will sense the spontaneity of the overflow of gratitude in your heart. The more you express gratitude, the more you will notice things that you need to be grateful for.

One of the best personal practices is to be thankful to God each morning and at the end of each day, for the world runs along by His might and grace alone, though we keep chugging on with our share of responsibilities.

The wise Psalmist writes –

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

In Candles Online, we have dedicated this month to explore different facets of Gratitude. This week our writers would continue with writing on the impact of gratitude on happiness. Enjoy reading!

FIRST STEPS ARE NOT ALWAYS CAKEWALKS!

Escapades from the din and humdrum of routine life are fun, exciting, adventurous, a tad scary at times and offer elements of surprise that one would cherish or banish from memory forever. A first step taken either literally or symbolically in any avenue is more often than not, a step to remember – especially if you had been scared to take that step.

To kickstart this week’s topic – ‘Taking that first step . . . when you were afraid’, let me share one such fun episode from more than a decade before.

I was in the University pursuing my Post Graduation. The famous apparel chain Pantaloons had just opened their first outlet in Bhubaneswar. My University being just a few kilometers away, my friends and I decided to pay a visit after classes got over one day. We were excited, especially because there weren’t too many big brand outlets and malls in the city that time.

We weren’t disappointed! The stock of apparels and accessories pleased our eyes, though being students still, we didn’t have much money at our disposal to splurge. Once we were done with the ground floor, it was time to move up to explore what the other two floors had in store. There came the catch! Having been designed as a mini-mall of sorts sans food court, there were escalators to ferry customers to and from each floor. No staircase. No lift.

My first exposure to an escalator and the accompanying hesitation to take the first step! One by one all my friends stepped on the escalator and reached the first floor while I was still stuck in the ground floor. Somehow, I couldn’t muster enough courage to take that first step. My friends soon realised that I wasn’t with them and called out to me, to which I simply gave the excuse that I had to explore a few more collections in the ground floor.

After some time when I still didn’t reach up to the first floor, one of my friends understood the reason. It was very sweet on her part to come down to the ground floor, hold my hand and take me to the escalator – all the way assuring that she would be going up with me holding my hand. And, that is just what she did!

Lo! We reached the first floor hand in hand and joined the others in exploring the stuff there. The same friend held my hand while descending from the first floor to the ground floor as well. The others who had by that time known what had kept me downstairs, went down and and encouraged me to do so. But, this friend stayed back, held my hand, stepped on the escalator with me and gave me the courage to move downstairs.

It has been more than a decade to that first exposure to an escalator. Surely, I don’t spare a second before stepping onto escalators now! But, the memory of that first step sure makes me chuckle 🙂

As I stepped out of Pantaloons that evening thanking my friend endlessly for lending her hand to help me overcome my fear, I learnt a very important life lesson – first steps aren’t always cakewalks!

Across life’s pathways, being sensitive to others’ first steps helps makes the journey pleasant for them. At times encouragement from a distance helps. But at a few other times, what is needed is to extend the hand to hold on to and take the step together. It helps address the inner fear and the accompanying hesitation along with providing the confidence and the courage for an independent step in the future.

Coming to escalators, now that I don’t bat an eyelid before using escalators, I always look out for people who might be in the same place that I was years before and extend them a hand with a few words of courage. I am grateful to God for teaching me such a vital lesson from the experience that day and also for reminding me how He holds my hand across life’s myriad pathways with His promises – “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you . . .”

So yes, a fun outing turned into a vital learning that day. To be sensitive and respond to someone’s inner fear of the first step does more than you can think of in many ways. It helps keep your conscience alive and responsive (that’s to your benefit) and helps the other person reach a new level of confidence along with accomplishing the immediate goal at hand.

 And if you are a person hesitant or afraid to take a first step in any area of your life – literally or otherwise, I would like to encourage you that a helping hand would soon come by. Don’t stop . . . move on!

THE SEEMING LUXURY OF WORKING FROM HOME VERSUS SQUIRMING ONE’S WAY TO THE WORK SPACE

The outbreak of Covid-19 forced governments worldwide to impose lockdowns and shutdowns which in turn locked down and shut down several work places with many being given the mandate to work from home and not physically be present at the work place. The fear of endangering one’s own life and that of others was too real to ignore.

‘Work from home’ was not a much known concept for most of India until March 2020. Though the corporate world was acquainted with working from home, the rest of the job goers weren’t as familiar. A larger part of India being agrarian farmers, daily wage labourers, government office bearers and the business class, work from home was often considered a privilege of the corporate sector. And so while corporate India switched from ‘work from office’ to ‘work from home’ with relative ease and clarity, the rest of the working class was left at crossroads, with many being shown the exit doors forever and others wondering what it exactly meant.

Slowly and surely, a few other sectors caught up with the new normal called ‘work from home’.

Be it in India or elsewhere in the world, ‘working from home’ seems to entail unimaginable luxuries extended to job holders on a platter. That must mean lazy mornings, late night TV shows, more family time, less travel, saved leaves, working from the comforts of home, breaks as often as one wishes and of course more me-time. A treat of a lifetime (hoping that Covid-19 is the last pandemic of all times)!

Though the picture seems rosy and tempting, it surely is not so – at least not for everyone. The mandate of working from home brought out many hurdles in its smooth implementation for all stakeholders.

Not everyone is blessed with decent residential apartments. For the many who live with their families in single-room spaces, having to work from that very same place surely isn’t a welcome mandate. And for those with spacious homes, exposing parts of their homes to lesser known colleagues proves nothing less than inviting intrusion into one’s privacy.

And then for parents, working from home is highly challenging with kids interrupting work every now and then or zoom-bombing during meetings and presentations, leaving parents embarrassed and sorry.

Digital technology has literally kept the world afloat these last few months. Not all would agree to this with ease! I have known people who didn’t own laptops or desktops before the lockdown, simply because they didn’t need to. With the sudden imposition of lockdown and orders to work from home, they spent frantic days trying to borrow them. With shops closed, buying wasn’t an option. Working for long hours using smartphones wasn’t feasible beyond a few days. To top it all, percolation of internet connectivity to all areas and weak signal strength are two major hurdles that interrupt work.

For many job holders, going out to work is an escape from the home environment – be it in because of abusive family members, nagging children, unending household chores, or the sheer boredom of familiar spaces and people. Many people find their me-time not at home, but outside home, often while travelling to and from work or in the office cafeteria. Endless days of work from home with no avenues for change is surely punishing.

To talk of those who do not hold jobs outside, tolerating the constant presence of the usually absent family members has been quite challenging.

So you see, ‘work from home’ is not that goody goody!

While people working from home desperately wanted to breakfree and come out, those working from their job spaces were equally desperate for breaks during the lockdown. With only emergency services operational, we had overworked medical and administrative personnel almost everywhere with no respite in sight.

With performance demands running high, tempers seem to run high as well. Having been one among the ‘work from office’ people with all holidays cancelled, the frenzy of endless activity with oscillating emotions all around were everyday normals for me. Working from the workspace and returning home after the day’s work is what each office goer either craved for or dreaded. Those away from home stations were the ones who craved for it, while those stationed in home towns dreaded the thought of returning home as carriers of the virus.

With things creeping slowly to normal, we are now aware what to expect from situations in future.

‘Working from home’ in normal times is either occasional or one’s personal choice for extended times. And so, it never brought out the hurdles as the imposed ‘work from home’ in 2020 did. Similarly, work spaces were not that obstructing in normal times, as the no-home, no-leaves work demands of the lockdown-shutdown phases did.

We can best vouch for a work culture with mixes of both forms of work in normal times. After all, you cannot have the luxury of settling down on your couch and stretching yourself a bit with a cup of coffee or a glass of juice at your work space! As for future emergencies as in the present situation, we better be digitally prepared!

RESTRICTIONS – BENEFICIAL OR DETRIMENTAL?

Early one morning a few days back, I got frantic messages on my phone from the mother of a ten-year-old girl. The issue in hand was that the little one who suffers from Celiac disease had gobbled up a whole big packet of wheat biscuits and two packets of cake the night before!

Those of you who do not know what Celiac disease is may just laugh out loud on the gluttony of the little girl. However, binge-eating is not the issue here. People with Celiac are gluten allergic. So they need to refrain from consuming those foodstuffs containing gluten, wheat being the chief gluten consisting ingredient. Consequently, the range of food items is much-restricted for them.

After painstakingly preparing all delicacies with gluten-free ingredients every day over and above the family’s normal menu and ensuring that her daughter doesn’t miss out on anything, the mother was understandably aghast at her daughter’s doing. And, what did the little one have to say about it all?

Mummy, I was so frustrated being tied down to dietary constraints for the last ten years, that I just thought to flout them and see what it is like to be able to eat normal food which everyone else eats!!

The explanation was, of course, no consolation to the mother who was desperately praying that allergic reactions should not surface!

Ask diabetics how easily they adhere to sweet and carbs restrictions, and there’ll be endless stories for you to savour!

Restrictions limit us from doing what we so feel to do, but should not/are not allowed to do for certain purposes.

I categorise restrictions into the following types –

The first category of restrictions that come to mind is the restrictions put in place by the Divine Lawmaker. The moral laws of the Divine Lawmaker are universal and absolute – with no space for relativism and slackness whatsoever. That is why making light of such restrictions is called nothing else, but sin.

You shall not steal.

You shall not covet others belongings.

You shall not kill.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not look at a woman/ man with a heart of lust.

You shall not dishonour or take the name of God in vain.

These are few of the many restrictions put in place for us humans by the Divine Lawmaker. Let me present the above-mentioned restrictions in reverse order. It would read somewhat like this –

You are free to steal.

You are free to covet and usurp other’s belongings.

You are free to kill.

You are free to be in an adulterous relationship.

You are free to lust after a woman/ man.

You are free to dishonour and take the name of God as frivolously as you feel to.

How do these sound?

Imagine a world with freedoms as the above!

The restrictions which God has put in place for mankind do not serve the purpose of portraying Him as an authoritarian theocrat but are wise prescriptions for peace and order among human beings on earth. The chaos we see all around in the world today is the result of careless disobedience, lack of adherence and deliberate non-cognizance of the divine restrictions.

The second broad category of restrictions is societal restrictions by the country/ society/ family. In the year 1999, Odisha (an east Indian state) was struck with a devastating super cyclone, the after-effects of which echo in some parts of the state even to this day. The casualties were very high, not to mention the loss of property. However, the state did not fail to learn its lesson from this heavy blow. Many cyclones have struck the state ever since, but with negligible human casualties, the reason being, the stringent imposition of restrictions by the administration – fishermen being debarred from venturing into the seas, timely evacuation of the inhabitants in low-lying areas, and many such well-thought-of restrictive measures.

Nevertheless, there are always a few people who resist these restrictions not wanting to leave their houses and livelihood for the sake of saving their lives. Imagine what would be the reality if these people were permitted to do as they wished without adhering to the restrictions!

Medical restrictions for people suffering from certain ailments, mobile phone usage restrictions during thunderstorms and lightning, lockdown movement restrictions, certain travel advisories comprise those in this category.

Ever been penalised for jumping red lights? A price to pay for making light of well-intended traffic restrictions!

The third category of restrictions that I can think of is self-imposed restrictions. These restrictions may or may not be aversive to the well-being of the individual and that of others. In his book My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi writes of his self-imposed restriction arising from a firm conviction to abstain from consuming milk. Such a restrictive dietary regimen worked well for him to the end he wanted to achieve.

People switch to vegan or vegetarian diets, give up going to the theatre/ cinema, restrict themselves to wearing certain types of clothes only or restrict themselves from socialising with certain types of people. Such self-imposed restrictions are specific to specific people based on the life principles they wish to live by. Flouting these restrictions would result more in one’s own emotional and personal discomfort, rather than cause major repercussions for mankind at large.

The final category of restrictions is what I consider as forced restrictions. These are restrictions that are forced down the throats of people by significant others, with threats of dire consequences if flouted. One example that I can think of in the Indian context is caste restrictions. Though inter-caste mingling has seen a sea change over the years with many of the restrictions having been done away with (largely in urban areas), restrictions on inter-caste marriages persist invariably. These forced restrictions lead to loss of lives every other day in the name of honour killing – just because some young couple chose not to adhere to these restrictions that were forced on them by elders.

Certain families restrict women from holding jobs outside the house after marriage. In certain countries, women are restricted from venturing outdoors without a male accompanying them. In a certain country, women are prohibited from wearing make-up leading to a thriving smuggling industry for make-up products.

Forced restrictions, though not necessarily sinful are definitely detrimental for the mental health of individuals and pose threats to the development of a healthy society.

Whatever be the category of restrictions, if they are well-embraced by people they do not cause many inconveniences. However, if they give rise to rebellion, there remain consequences to bear.

What happened in the case of the little girl mentioned in the beginning of this article, was a slow build-up of a pressure cooker situation. When the pressure was too much for her reasoning and rebelling mind, the lid simply blew off making her do the unwanted irrespective of the consequences that lied ahead of her.

All we need is a prudent mind to discern which restrictions to adhere to and which restrictions to speak up/ go against hoping to bring out well-meaning progressive changes in the society and the in the world at large.

SNIP SAFELY

When I was in the last year of school, my school introduced a new subject called Environmental Science for all students Grade II and above. We 10th graders heaved a sigh of relief that we had narrowly escaped the burden of an additional subject! Thinking of it today, I feel sensitizing children about the environment is surely a wise step to help them behave responsibly and prudently as adults.

This week as I share ‘My Bit for the Environment’, I must admit that it is a tiny bit in the face of the enormous task in front of the whole world population – but would contribute to make a difference, nevertheless. I also wish to state that the practice I’m going to share is not my own ingenious bit. I had read up about it and have been on it ever since.

Plastics are a known menace to the environment by now. We see and hear campaigns and advertisements to avoid the usage of single-use plastics. Most of the shops in India (with just a random few exceptions) are no longer packing goods in polythene/ plastic carry bags as before and have switched over to biodegradable alternatives. This is a huge step, if the cumulative results are assessed.

But, there is one very easy step which each one of us can take inside our homes and elsewhere too when handling plastic packets – milk packets, noodles packets, biscuit packets, chips/ wafers packets, and such others. When opening these packets, we normally tear off or cut off a portion of the packets. What then happens is that these tiny portions become difficult to be segregated by the garbage collectors and ultimately get added up in the cattle/ animal fodder. Research on dead cows, goats, deer, and other free-moving animals has shown kilos of hazardous plastic bits stuck inside their intestines. Even if these small pieces are segregated to an extent, they cannot be recycled.

What can we do about it at our level?

When cutting open plastic packets, do not severe them into two. Just cut enough to open the packet, while the end remains attached. This way, when you dispose off the packets after emptying the eatables or any goods for that matter, you will be doing your bit in preventing the release of small plastic bits into the garbage load.

Image Source: Google

I have been practicing this act with intent since more than a year and would encourage all the readers to try making this simple hassle-free contribution to the purity of the environment a part of everyday routine.

The pristine environment was the best gift of God to mankind. With inevitable progress of civilizations, our environment feels choked now. Though environmental activists and policymakers have been working relentlessly to devise charters and protocols to save the environment, it is ultimately the responsibility of each one of us to do our bit for the environment. Laws, no matter how well framed they may be, fail if they are not obeyed to the letter and spirit.

Climate change is irreversible. (I’m not stating anything pessimistic, just putting a fact out without delving into statistics and research studies for the purpose of this article.) Having said so, I would go ahead to say that it is definitely within our control to slow the process of environmental decay in many ways.

Let’s do our bit for the environment!