A dear friend said something brilliant this weekend regarding the wildness of self-professed gurus and cult leaders: ” It seems that some people are trying to provide simple answers to questions that have no easy answer.”
When questions have no answer (IE: What is the meaning of life? What is love? What is going to happen next?), you are either OK with the idea that there is no answer or unsettled by the uncertainty. What makes some people OK with scary situations and risks and the wilderness of the unknown? Why do some people not care and others care so much? Why do some people shrink and stop moving in the face of fear?
It seems to go something like this in my own life: Fear of the unknown leads to needing answers. Needing answers to questions without an easy answer that can be boiled down and bottled can turn into more fear. The worst fear I have felt has been in situations where I so wanted a specific outcome that I was paralyzed by the lack of that easy answer. Easy answers are what I understand to be “snake oil.” I’ve tried some of the best quick-fixes around to have “certainty” and eliminate that fear of the unknown. I only wound up in more paralyzing fear, because, of course, quick-fixes are a big joke that people reach for when they are scared. Have you done this? I’m raising my hand. I’ve done this quick-fix routine too many times to count. It’s a thankless game!
Lately I’ve been reading lots of research about the emotions of fear and what causes the fear-feeling in our brains and bodies. It seems the more that “science” tries to probe the question the more elusive the answer becomes in a concrete sense! That said, there are interesting parts of the modern science of fear that have been helpful to see.
I was most impressed by THIS article in Psychology Today that breaks down the difference between the passive response to fear (freezing up, having panic attacks, diving into destructive behavior) and the active response to it (facing fear with determination):
“Fear can make you run and hide, it can motivate you to take action, and it can freeze you dead in your tracks. In a 2010 study published in Neuron, scientists in Italy at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and Glaxo Smith Kline in Verona identified that a specific type of neurons in the amygdala determine how mice react to a frightening stimulus. Their findings revealed that deciding whether or not to freeze when you are faced with fear is a much more complex task for our brains than was formerly realized.
The scientists found that when they inhibited certain neurons in the amygdala of mice they were able to switch the response to fear from a passive stance to a more active one. Do human beings have the same response? Can we consciously condition ourselves to be more active and less passive in the face of fear? I believe the answer is yes. ” (via)
The actual way this information can be applied is none other than the very basic idea that if you are present and mindful, life becomes easier. As it turns out, we are less apt to have knee-jerk responses to fear like freezing up if we can assess situations from an active perspective. There’s no such thing as a life without fear. After all, sensing fear is vital for our survival in many ways. Fearlessness seems to be the ability to stand up to fear when it matters. I don’t want to oversimplify something as big and bad as fear, but, essentially, facing it when it counts is the only way that seems to make a difference.
That was my own freedom from fear paralysis: deciding to be more OK with the unknown. Ditching woo-woo superstition (HERE’s why I don’t practice superstition in feng shui) helped me get more comfortable in the idea that there were no quick-fixes. Being more present (here’s a classic Mind Body Green article I wrote about feng shui and being present) in the day makes a difference in how scary stuff is handled or avoided. And, of course, I begrudgingly stopped dwelling on questions that have no easy answer. I like “big thinking” but I am aware that too much thought and too little action turns to a mess in my own world. Life is exponentially less “stuck” now, and, actually, far more enchanted at its best…!
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