How do you respond to fear?
I have recently learned, again, that when I experience real fear, like the kind of fear that occurs when I am in a life threatening situation, my fear can quickly turn to anger and from there I am likely to lash out at the nearest potential scapegoat. Yeah. Not proud of it. But it’s real. I’ve noticed a pattern.
I’ve noticed said pattern because I have had more opportunities than usual in the past year to experience serious fear. Being in the Atlantic Ocean during a storm, even a mild one by the standards of seasoned sailors, can be a terrifying experience for someone who has never been on a smallish boat in a storm out on the ocean before. And then there is the other kind of fear, the long term anxiety, which I began experiencing soon after we bought the boat. I feared that we had made a terrible mistake in choosing to sell our house, quit our jobs, and attempt to sail around the world. i feared that we had underestimated the financial challenges we would face (we had underestimated). I feared that we wouldn’t be able to make the boat attractive enough to guests to be able to charter it after we acquire Captains’ licenses (this fear has dissipated). I feared that my homesickness would remain as intense as it was the first summer away from Colorado (I still miss my friends and family, but the grieving seems to have mostly run it’s course).
And then there was the election. Fear has been a constant companion since the election. Fear that our efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change will be undone. Fear for the safety of loved ones who are on the receiving end of racism and bigotry. Fear for the safety of young women in my life. Fear for the safety of my gay, lesbian and transgender friends, that they might lose their rights. Fear for the people of Standing Rock and indigenous peoples everywhere. Fear for loved ones who count on Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security and for other loved ones whose lives were literally saved by Obamacare. Fear, fear, fear. Legitimate fear. Not overblown or exaggerated. The people now in power vowed to undo the progress we’ve made and they have already started to implement their regressive agenda.
If you are a progressive and you know how to read, you understand my fear. If you voted for Trump, you have fear too. You may believe that your fear is more legitimate than mine, but nonetheless, it is fear that is motivating you. Fear of the Other. Muslims, immigrants, atheists, gay or transgender people, powerful, outspoken women. Fear of Change. Fear that environmental regulations will put your employer out of business or fear that new taxes will put you out of business. Fear that you will not have enough to provide for yourself and your family. You want to go back to a time when you felt safer, less challenged by diversity of religion, color, gender, thought, or a changing planet.
The thing is, whether we are progressive or regressive in our hopes and fears or our politics, we can still benefit from looking at our own reactions or responses to fear.
Unacknowledged, unprocessed fear shuts down our access to our higher reasoning capacity and our centers of creativity. This is a real phenomenon. Pick up any book on neuroscience to learn about the triune brain, the prefrontal cortex, the reptilian brain. When we are experiencing acute or chronic fear, we are not at our best. We are not as able to come up with creative, out of the box solutions to problems. We fight or flee or freeze. What does that look like in you? Have you observed your own patterns?
My pattern, recently, seems to be to want to go somewhere safe and curl up in a little ball and hide. In the absence of being able to do so (my safe place was a sunbeam in a certain kitchen or porch on a certain hillside in Colorado), I lash out at whomever I think is responsible for my inability to feel safe. Guess who is usually standing or sitting right next to me in those moments and who had the idea to go live on a sailboat? Yeah, Adam. The guy I married because I felt more safe with him than anyone else in the world (not to mention he is super handsome and super smart and super generous and kind and I love him). So, in the past 6 months, I’ve noticed that I often lash out at Adam when I am feeling helpless or trapped. It’s not fair and I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. And I want to stop doing that. I don’t want to live in a place of fight or flight or freeze. So, what am I going to do about it?
#1 - Connect. My first priority every day is to Give Love. To myself. To Adam. and to anyone else who crosses my path, online or off. I have a list of people I want to write Love Letters to, a list of people I want to send Thank you cards to. Connection is incredibly important. It’s difficult to measure and matters immeasurably. I want to always remember and never forget that Love is a force, like gravity, that can transcend spacetime. and I want to remember that Love is a verb, too. A verb related to listening. Love is patient. Love is kind.
#2 - Practice guitar, uke, meditation, and yoga. Walk on a beach or run. or bicycle. Not perform. Practice. Play. I don’t know why, I don’t know the science behind it, but making pretty sounds on the guitar or uke calms me down. and yoga and meditation. or long walks on the beach without fb. There is so much science out there about these things. Breathing, grounding, centering, orienting. Nature bathing. These things are good for our brains and our bodies. When we are in fight or flight mode and we simply take some breaths, feel our feet on the ground, or in our shoes, and look around, and notice our own body’s experiences and name them and name our emotions, we can take our brains from the fight or flight or the lower, reptilian brain, and reclaim access to our prefrontal cortex where logic and creativity live. If we practice doing these things when we are not in crisis, we are more likely to remember to do them when we do face real fear.
#3 - Count my blessings, and pay them forward. Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. it is incredibly difficult to feel fear and gratitude at the same time. Gratitude has a measurable affect on the brain, as does Lovingkindness meditation.
Human beings are incredibly complex and resilient and resourceful. And right now, worldwide, we face some unprecedented challenges. We need all of us to be at our best. We need to be able to see these huge challenges not only as existential threats, but as extra hard creative challenges and apply our best, most skillful thinking to them.
What do you fear?
How do you react or respond to those fears?
What does your self-care look like?
How do you take care of yourself?
We cannot give from empty cups. How do you fill your own cup while not emptying someone else’s?
It is my firm belief that there is enough to go around if no one is greedy.
The Women’s Marches reminded me that there are so many people out there who are willing to stand up for each other and that they are incredibly diverse and courageous and creative. And that being around them brings me so much elemental joy.
My fear became a little more manageable last weekend and it has spiked again in the past couple of days. It has been an emotional roller coaster ride of a year for me and for so many of you, too.
My question is, how can we all ride the highs and lows and also take time to nurture ourselves so that we can nurture each other and the ecosystems that we all depend on for life?
How do we lift each other up?
What does fear look like in you? What does it look like in your loved ones? Your neighbors?
How do we disarm each other?
What do you fear? How do you transform that fear into creative solutions?
I know that I need to acknowledge and name my own fears in order to transform them into activism.
I vow to take the time to get my prefrontal cortex back online and highly functioning before I take action.
Action without vision is a nightmare. Vision without action is a daydream.
Let’s put vision and action together.
Please use the comments to answer any or all of these questions and to share any or all of your Beautiful Visions for Action.
And if you’re reading this, a humble request: please leave a word or two in the comments so I know about the connection. I ache for it these days.